As we kick off National Health IT Week, I can’t help but reflect on the state of women in our industry. We’ve made tremendous strides since the #healthITchicks community got off the ground in 2013. Now more than ever, it seems there is a laser-focused spotlight on not only the issues that need fixing (the wage and investment gaps, parental leave, sexual harassment policies), but on the women driving that change. (HIMSS EVP Carla Smith comes to mind, with her personal crusade to achieve equal pay for women in health IT. As does Annie Lamont, co-founder of venture fund Oak HC/FT and Lisa Suennen, venture capital investor and industry advisor – both of whom seem to be on a personal crusade to get more money into the hands of female entrepreneurs.)
And then there are the innovators. The women who develop the technology, lead the research teams, publicize the groundbreaking-ness of it all in new and different ways. Many of them you don’t hear about. I like to think of these women as “quietly fierce” – a description I heard in a Be Still podcast that dove into the Old Testament character of Jehosheba – a princess who, in true movie fashion, rescues her baby brother from their wicked stepmother so that he can one day take over the kingdom to make it righteous and prosperous again. Her story, which takes up only two verses in the Bible, changed the trajectory of the kingdom of Judah for centuries to come.
How many women do you know like this? Who work quietly in the midst of their passions, dedicating themselves to improving the patient experience? The workflows? The care outcomes?
Deborah Estrin comes to mind. A computer scientist, professor, dean, and healthcare technology researcher, Estrin won a 2018 MacArthur Foundation fellowship and “genius grant” for her work with consumer-generated data and its potential in mobile health and personalized healthcare management. When she took the call from the foundation, she didn’t even realize they were calling to congratulate her – she thought she was being tapped as a reference for someone else!
“I was and remain very humbled and grateful,” she told the Cornell Chronicle. “I feel a sense of commitment to do good by it, and to live up to it.” Now that is quietly fierce.
As we celebrate National Health IT Week, I encourage you to think about the folks in the background – those who don’t necessarily eschew the spotlight on purpose, but sidestep it to focus on doing good and giving back through their passion for health IT. Feel free to shine a spotlight on them here. Share your stories of “quietly fierce” women in health IT in the comments below. And happy #NHITWeek!