WOMEN IN MEDICINE
CEO, Bayfront Health
Climbing the corporate ladder to earn a seat in the boardroom is competitive enough for women today, but in the male dominated healthcare field, the playing field is even narrower. While 73% of women work as managers in the health and medical field, just a fraction – only 18%— earn the title as hospital CEOs.
Veteran hospital administrator, Kathryn Gillette, 60, is no stranger to the demands of a 24/7 schedule or transforming an industry deeply rooted in compliance issues and regulations. As the Chief Executive Officer and Market President of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, Gillette has the task of growing the hospital system to meet the needs of patients, but also of restoring the reputation of one of the oldest hospitals in the Tampa Bay area.
Healthcare is big business but it’s also big politics. The competitive business of running a hospital in a growing metropolitan area like Tampa Bay alongside several other chains means offering more specialties, recruiting the best doctors in the country, and providing the latest state-of-the-art technology and services under one roof. In order to thrive in the healthcare marketplace today, administrators need to offer more for less while improving patient care and access to the best medical care in the country.
In the two years since she was named CEO, Gillette spearheaded the formation of the Bayfront Health Network, which includes six other hospitals along Florida’s Gulf coast. She also infused $50 million to upgrade technology and surgery systems for physicians and revived the culture and reputation of the nearly 110-year-old Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.
Gillette is soft spoken but firm when we address the needs in Florida’s healthcare system and what needs to be done to improve patient care. She is honest, but optimistic about the change in the healthcare field, and equally as optimistic about the role of women in the industry. In her own words, she shares how knowing when to speak up helped advanced her climb in healthcare administration, and how she balances strict government regulations with a compassionate side for managing patients.
You came into medicine through management. What was that “aha” moment that you decided healthcare administration over practicing medicine?
I got to where I got through some good advice, some good luck, and hopefully a lot of skill at the same time. When I was in my bachelor’s program studying finance, I had an advisor say to me, “What are you going to do with that degree?” Frankly, I didn’t have a clue. He advised me to get a degree in something I could get a job in and directed me into accounting.
In college at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, I took co-op classes, whereby I was placed in the field of my study to earn credit. Most of my colleagues in my class were interested in the oil industry and they were going to Houston and all these different places and I didn’t want to move. I got assigned to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola in their accounting department.I was on the finance side but I enjoyed the work and the people. I really did enjoy being in a hospital. It is a small city, it goes 24/7, and there’s always a lot going on. I stayed on the finance side of healthcare until actually through my time in Tampa in General Hospital, when I left as the Senior Vice President of Finance of the Chief Financial Officer.
What that was like for you working in a male dominated accounting field in the late 1970s?
I was not discouraged, nor was I encouraged. At the time in the accounting profession it was still largely a male-dominated profession. I also made a conscious decision not to go into the accounting part. I knew that I didn’t want to be at a desk doing work papers. I knew that I didn’t want to do audits. In a hospital though, the larger majority of the work force has been, and continues to be women. I think there was a natural relationship that might have occurred by being a woman in the finance department in a largely male-driven professional path, but in a setting that very much encouraged women. In fact, as part of the Catholic system, Sacred Heart Hospital was led by a nun and there were women in leadership positions.
You had an opportunity to open a new hospital but then came some struggles as a manager. What happened?
I opened up a 114-bed psychiatric hospital that was also a teaching and research facility. I stayed there until the hospital was sold to Tampa General in 1993. As it came to be, the hospital hired me, reporting to the CFO. The CEO and the CFO both left after a very tumultuous board meeting and I was put in as acting CFO. The rest is history. I stayed there through the privatization of Tampa General from a government hospital to a not-for-profit. There were a lot of management changes that took place and during that time. It was an agreed upon departure, shall we say?
I love how you talked about opportunities to speak up, use your voice, and say this is what I want. Is that part of the career plan that you carved out for yourself?
Encouraging women not to be afraid, or letting their wishes be known. I think that some women, and I’ve seen it happen enough times now to know, will still take a back seat. I also think it’s really, really important for you to know the audience, know your place in that room. If you’re in a meeting, if you’re able to participate in it, and know when you should and are expected to speak up versus when to defer to others. That’s a lesson that sometimes you can’t learn except through hands-on experience.
What is one of the biggest lessons you learned in your career?
My boss taught me that I had great speaking skills but not great facial expressions. He taught me how to control those, especially in front of the media.
You have a particular love with Bayfront Health and its long legacy, but also for the human side interacting with patients. Tell me about that.
There must be a side of me that allowed me to show that compassion and help solve problems. Not every patient is a happy patient, and not every family is a happy family. I am not opposed at all to stay with a family and hearing what their worries or why they are upset. Many times that does happen in many of these jobs but I also love hearing their positive stories. I like the human nature side of this work. I know that the reason that I’m here is because of the patients and the doctors. I have a particular love and appreciation, and believe with my heart that the great medical care across this country specifically happens at teaching and trauma hospitals. I would always read about Bayfront in the newspaper and I just felt this appreciation of what must be going on here as it related to patient care was because it’s been in the community for over 100 years.
How do you see your role to lead employees to achieve the common goal of an improved patient experience?
I can tell you that is one thing that I’ve always said, and truly believe. I’ve been successful in my job because I managed to surround myself with very good people. I think I have a talent for hiring people. I have very dedicated employees throughout my career. Part of my management philosophy has been to make sure I hire the best and the brightest who work themselves to make sure that they succeed and therefore make my job a whole lot easier.
How do you manage a hospital to improve the patient experience amid new government regulations?
When Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services came out with their new payment plan, which ties payments to hospitals according to the outcomes of the patient experience and the number of readmissions. I think that is exactly the right thing to do. It’s what we would want if we were buying a service. We buy for quality but we also buy for price. We buy for experience. The experience that you might have at Target is very, very different from Walmart and people make choices to go to certain places based on that experience. It’s the same with hospitals. Doctors make choices to admit patients based on that experience in that hospital.
Do you feel a need to uphold the legacy that Bayfront has held for more than 100 years?
Absolutely. I made it very clear to them and to the medical staff when I came here that I came here because it was Bayfront. I continue to try to make sure that some of the traditions that we have here, for example, with the way that we recognize and celebrate our trauma services with our patients coming back and getting to see their caregivers. We have to always continue to do that.
What do you value in your employees?
We just had our employee recognition banquet for years of service. We had an employee there who’s been here 50 years, and another one who’s been here 40 years. I looked at this woman from the podium – like I want to look like her after I’ve worked at Bayfront 50 years. She looked amazing! She’s 73 years old. She was in OB nursing. I am immensely proud of what they do here at Bayfront because we celebrate those special things.
At the end of the day, how do you define success?
For me personally, I try to keep a balance. Personally and professionally are two different things. Professionally, I want Bayfront Health to be restored to that beacon on the hill. I continue to talk about that at every public format that I’m given, whether I’m in front of the City Council, the Downtown Partnership, holding a seat on the board at the St. Pete Chamber, or being the top sponsor for the American Heart Go Red for Women. I’m a woman and I can carry that message easier than men. My job is to bring this hospital back to where it once was.
And success to you personally?
I held a golf club recently for the first time in three years. I’m pretty darned excited about that. It was fun too so I’m hoping that that will be a chapter that I can start to expand upon now that I’ve kind of gotten my roots into St. Petersburg.
Do you feel a responsibility to carry that torch as a woman to help other women in healthcare management?
I do feel a responsibility and I do want to have a legacy. I am very proud of the fact that when I worked for HCA, I think I was the first female CEO, not in the company, but in this part of the state. I want women to know that it can be done and you can be successful at it, and you can create a vision and deliver on that, and be successful at it. I love talking to women about that. I don’t have any magic bullet to give them. I just know that if you can find your confidence and do it without being overly obnoxious but yet knowing when to use your voice, you can have a great deal of success in your profession.
Do you see teaching as part of your future to grow other women as successful healthcare leaders?
I’ve had opportunities throughout my career to do just guest lecturing. I had an opportunity to address the health economics at the University of South Florida last fall. I went out and addressed the student chapter of the American College Healthcare Executives at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Some day I do want to do some part time teaching. Of course I’d want to do that in healthcare management, organizational structures and healthcare, that kind of thing.
Outside of work, what’s important to you?
I have a very strong exercise program, which has helped me deal with stress and I am committed to making sure that I get up early and I exercise early. Most of my sessions either start at 5:45 a.m. or 6 a.m. I know when I don’t work out and it makes a difference. I know that that keeps me mentally strong, helps me with stress and keep me physically fit. That is hugely important to me in dealing with the stress of life. My son is grown. I have grandchildren. They are the love of my life. They live in Jacksonville so I try to see them as much as possible. They are a busy young family so we have to work around their schedule a little bit. When I’m not here I try to take long weekends and go places with girlfriends or friends or family, and it might be a trip to Chicago or it might be a trip to Charleston or last year, a group of us girls went to the New Orleans Jazz Fest. It’s creating those opportunities, and sometimes you have to work at that just as much as you do your job because we all get so bogged down in life.
By Katherine Ferrara Johnson
Photo Credits: Styling by Sandra D, Makeup by Ginny Dworchak, Photography by David Hart. Attire by Dream Weaver Collection, St. Armands Circle.