CHICAGO—In the late 2000s, Dr. Joanne Conroy was on well her way to being named CEO of Atlantic Health System. At the time she was chief operating officer of the large New Jersey health system and the board expected her to take the helm as part of an established three-year plan.
But Conroy shocked the board and her colleagues when she turned down the opportunity and instead took the role of chief healthcare officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“That was a crazy sidestep,” she said during a panel at Modern Healthcare’s Women Leaders in Healthcare conference held July 31-Aug. 1 in Chicago.
Conroy’s experience echoes that of other female C-suite leaders. The path to the executive suite for many was rarely conventional and several gathered at the conference emphasized the importance of taking unusual risks to get where they are today.
Now CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock in New Hampshire, Conroy said joining the AAMC positioned her well for her career going forward. She met about 80 CEOs of academic health systems and gained more expertise in finance because she was able to evaluate the earnings and operations of their organizations.
“Jumping off the cliff to do something really different, it gives you a different perspective,” said Susan DeVore, longtime CEO of Premier.
DeVore did a brief stint nearly 20 years ago at Ernst & Young, where she took charge of a poor-performing technology division. The decision was risky because up until then DeVore only had experience in healthcare, but she said it gave her more confidence.
That confidence helped her as she ascended to higher C-suite positions at Premier. When she applied for the COO job and later the CEO role at the group purchasing organization, DeVore said she faced pushback from others who questioned her ability to take on the positions.