With two aunts, a grandmother and her mother working in hospital settings, it's no surprise Aiisya Williamson, 29, ended up in healthcare. After getting a "more than you see on TV" look at how nurses and physicians worked together to care for patients, Williamson knew she wanted to help people in the same way.
She started out with plans to become a doctor, and early in her career shadowed physicians and served as a nursing assistant. After an administrative internship at the Detroit Medical Center and seeing the barriers patients faced, Williamson realized she wanted to "have an impact on the broader scope of things," which led her into administration.
When unprofitable Mercy Hospital, Detroit, closed its doors in early 2000, Williamson worked as a planning analyst for its parent system, Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Mercy Health Services. There she created need estimates and volume projections for a potential health center to continue the hospital's mission of meeting the needs of poor, underserved communities. (Mercy Health later became Trinity Health, based in Novi, Mich.)
Mercy Primary Care Center opened in 2001 and Williamson continued to develop measurement tools, such as a database that tracked emergency department use by the uninsured and identified success in changing patient behavior based on access to care.
She went on to earn her master's degree in health services administration at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, but returned to Trinity in 2003 as a senior planning analyst. When the executive director's role opened up at Mercy Primary Care Center, Williamson went for it.
David Spivey, president and CEO of Trinity's 247-bed St. Mary Mercy Hospital, Livonia, Mich., felt upon meeting Williamson that she possessed the drive and experience to lead the center.
"The connection she had to the planning origins of the center was a real plus, but her focus and commitment to providing services to the uninsured was really evident," Spivey says. "She's just got a lot of energy ... and as you're looking to take the center to a new level, that's a positive attribute to have."
Williamson took over as executive director in March. She has since been developing a strategic plan to determine the center's sustainability so it can continue to provide primary-care services to 1,500 uninsured adults annually and additional assistance programs for the homeless.
For Williamson, this role gives her an opportunity to break down those healthcare barriers she recognized early in her career as well as to enable the center to provide services with dignity. "It's about recognizing that healthcare's a right," she says. "There are a number of individuals working low-wage jobs who don't have access (to care). ... and it's something that needs to be addressed."