Top 25 Emerging Leaders
Chief Experience Officer,
University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System
The way Airica Steed sees it, there was never any doubt she would pursue a career in healthcare.
Every woman in her family was a nurse, including her mother—a pediatric nurse and the person she calls her first role model. “I wanted to follow in her footsteps,” says Steed, 35.
So after graduating from high school in a small town outside of Chicago, Steed attended Rush University in the city and earned a bachelor's degree in nursing. All the while, she paid her own way by working a variety of jobs that included bill collecting, banking, insurance and a student nursing apprenticeship. It was during that time that Steed realized she didn't want to be a traditional nurse and would rather combine the business skills instilled by her entrepreneurial father with the aptitude for patient care inspired by her mother.
Though she went ahead and took a job as a nurse after graduating from nursing school, Steed was itching for something different; she just didn't know what it was. But barely a month into her new role, when she was selected to be the champion for her hospital's electronic health-record system, Steed says she had reached a turning point.
“That was a door opening for me,” she says. Steed credits being in the right place at the right time with positioning her to learn a new skill and a new field—clinical informatics. Once she did, her career path rapidly began to change.
Steed was first recruited to a consulting role at software developer Picis and then to consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she says she became bilingual in the business world and the clinical practice world. She would next take her fluency in those languages to Advocate Health Care, based in Chicago's western suburbs, when she began serving as Advocate's vice president of clinical operations.
As Steed was working in these roles, she was also pursuing her MBA, followed by a doctorate of education in ethical leadership. But it didn't end there. “Literally, my M.O. is working 100 hours a week and raising three children,” Steed says. She had her first son when she finished her undergrad degree, her daughter when she was getting her MBA, and her next son during her doctoral program.
Today, though she has left the consulting world in the traditional sense, Steed looks at her latest role—enterprise chief experience officer for the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System—as a form of consulting at the executive level. In simplest terms, her responsibility is to drive change to the organization that translates into better patient, employee and physician experiences.
For her accomplishments, Steed won a place in Modern Healthcare's 2013 class of Up and Comers.
“Her passion is truly transformational leadership,” says Lorraine Saintus, senior director of the service and operations excellence division at the University of Illinois system. “It's not something she just says. It's something she truly lives.”
Saintus first started working under Steed at Advocate more than five years ago and has followed her ever since, pointing to Steed's focus on mentoring and leadership, her willingness to “get her hands dirty,” and a results-oriented approach.