Meet Santa Rosa Community Health's Lisa Ward, a 2019 North Bay Women in Business winner

Lisa Ward

Chief Medical Officer

Santa Rosa Community Health

3562 Round Barn Circle, Santa Rosa 95403

707-303-3600 x3678

Read more profiles of 2019 North Bay Women in Business Awards winners:

North Bay Business Journal asked 2019 Women in Business Awards winner Lisa Ward to fill us in on her background, responsibilities and community involvement, and insights into what makes her a notable professional in the region.

Professional background: I trained as a family physician at UC San Francisco where I worked alongside amazing mentors and teachers in an intense, innovative and progressive learning environment.

Next, I went to public health school in London, England. I wanted to learn about health systems and health are in the context of a health care delivery system that provided universal health care where quality was high and costs were better controlled than our own.

Then, I studied health research and began a career as a medical researcher, not in the laboratory with a pipet, but in health systems studying massive national-level data about health insurance and health care quality.

Then, I did specialty training in women's health and spent many years delivering babies, treating osteoporosis and heart disease in middle aged women, and managing common chronic diseases in women as they aged.

I then used my expertise in women's health and health policy to work as clinical professor teaching medical students and residents at UC San Francisco and at San Francisco General Hospital.

I next moved to Santa Rosa to teach at the Family Medicine Residency Program and to work at Santa Rosa Community Health in our community health centers. I have been here for 11 years, doing less teaching over time, but more and more executive leadership.

For the last five years, I have served as the chief medical officer where I lead the work of our 100+ medical providers, mental health specialists and nurses taking care of the whole community building health systems to deliver the best care possible to our patients.

Education: Medical School --Masters in Public Health; masters in Medical Research

Staff: 475

Tell us about yourself and your company: I am a family physician at Santa Rosa Community Health where I see patients from infants to elders in a work environment where we believe that health care is a human right.

We care for over 40,000 residents in Santa Rosa. Most of our patients are poor, some speak languages other than English, and many are immigrants. Most are working class people doing the work that makes our world go ‘round.

In my work place, everyone deserves the highest quality of care and our work culture teaches us to meet people where they are, to offer them a sanctuary with care and respect, no matter the circumstances that brought them to our doors. My work is both incredibly challenging and deeply rewarding.

I love my job because it allows me opportunity to provide amazing, high quality care for our community. At the same time, I am able to challenge people's assumptions about our patients, our work product and health care for the poor and underserved.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?

In 2017 I traveled to Cuba where I toured medical facilities, neighborhood clinics, vaccine and medication factories, and visited one of their medical schools in Havana, Cuba.

I was surprised by many things at the medical school.

First, they graduate thousands of medical doctors each year. A single medical school in the U.S. graduates 100-200.

In Cuba, their entire medical education is subsidized by the Cuban government. U.S. graduates have on average student loan debt of over $500,000 by the age of 25.

In Cuba, they also graduate 30-50 American medical students each year, and most of them are people of color who want to work as primary care doctors in the U.S. These young physician graduates have difficulty getting residency training back in the U.S. once they complete their Cuban medical school training.

I knew that our organization at Santa Rosa Community Health could help by creating summer internships and a medical student rotations where these students could learn about our medical system and get highly respected training and references.

Now two years later, we have has five medical students over the summer and recruited our first family medicine resident who is an American citizen and a graduate of the Cuban medical school in Havana to start as a resident in our residency training program beginning in June.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

I have used my leadership positions to make recruitment into health care positions more diverse, recruiting more people of color and people from different backgrounds in life.

For example, when leading the recruitment process for the Family Medicine Residency Training Program at our Vista Campus, we created a process that acknowledged and valued cultural competency and life experience through the application metrics.

I have also used my leadership position to systematically search out inequity in pay by merit, gender and race and apply mechanisms to more fairly balance compensation. This approach, in collaboration with a skilled and thoughtful HR executive, has reinforced systems of merit-based compensation and achieved our goals of fair, transparent, and reproducible compensation and the diversity in our more recent hires really shines as a bright asset for our organization.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Health care is an incredibly mercurial industry.

The pace of change is rapid and the politicization of the health care system has amplified the level of uncertainty. Change in health care comes from insurance regulation, legislative mandates, quality improvement processes, funding mechanisms and supports.

At the same time there is a critical workforce shortage of primary care physicians across the country. Working to convince a shrinking workforce that there is joy in clicking information into an electronic health record all day long is a heavy lift. And outside forces like the cost of housing and an economy that doesn't always support jobs for two-professional households have been barriers to hiring locally.

Words that best describe you: Advocate. Systems-thinker. Dogged

As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

I have typically been the youngest leader in the room and one of few women.

People will often tell stories about their grandchildren whose ages were similar to my own children. The challenge that this creates is the need to overcome assumptions about what I may be able to contribute. I don't get that much attention or inclusion automatically.

I listen, I process, I see solutions.

Then I use my words carefully and my work effectively to add value, to collaborate, and to problem solve. This approach has served me well to be an active, fully engaged member of a given team.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

Health care will become increasingly politicized, chaotic and less patient centered until we re-vision the systems underpinning health care delivery and financing. And then we will evolve a system that is more fair, simpler, more effective to achieve health, and will be less costly.

Who was your most important mentor?

My most important mentor is my mother. She worked as one of the first women meat inspectors in the country. She had a career trying to prove that a woman could lift slaughtered carcasses, gut animals, and develop and deploy safety and sanitation programs is a world that was unwelcoming to women.

She always said that each of her promotions came after she was so over-qualified for a position that it would have been embarrassing for the program not to promote her. I don't experience the world exactly as she did.

But her lessons are sound. She taught me to never let a good education go underutilized; to work wicked hard to be the very best; to use my intellect to gain respect; and to use the full force of my gifts and privileges to make the world a better place at every turn. She, like me, had to dispel assumptions and create safe and constructive spaces for women to do their best work, to diversify the workforce and to work toward a principle, even if the road is a bit uncertain.

What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today?

The career of the average woman physician is over 30 years. Women come to medicine with incredible talent and drive.

I see early career women trying to do a good many leadership efforts at one time. Over the arc of your career, you can do anything and everything, you just can't do it WELL all at once. Pace yourself so that you take the time to enjoy motherhood as a professional woman. Be truly excellent at a few areas of work to avoid being spread so thin when trying to work in may promising areas simultaneously. Look for opportunities to grow your skills over time and play these learnings forward because the time horizon for women to contribute to the health care system makes us a highly valued long term investment!

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Mary Maddox Gonzalez, past CEO of Redwood Community Health Coalition and past pubic health officer of Sonoma County

Typical day at the office: Usually back to back meetings with a sprinkling of totally unexpected events that make every day different.

Best place to work outside of your office: A hotel room when I am on a business trip without my kids-I can get so much work done so quickly!

Current reading: “Dreamland-The True Tale of America's Opioid Epidemic” by Sam Quiones and “The Healing of America” by TR Reid

Most want to meet: Albert Einstein: scientist, pacifist, advocate

Social media you most use: I use very little, but Facebook

Stress relievers: Exercising 3-4 times each week and travel abroad

Favorite hobbies: Volleyball. Salsa dancing. Hiking.

What would parents or significant others say if asked to brag about you?

My mom always called me the “Peanut butter between two pieces of toast” as a middle child between two big personalities, I was the kid always trying to make the peace and get everyone in the family working in the same direction.

Lisa Ward

Chief Medical Officer

Santa Rosa Community Health

3562 Round Barn Circle, Santa Rosa 95403

707-303-3600 x3678

Read more profiles of 2019 North Bay Women in Business Awards winners:

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