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At Valley Children’s Healthcare, women leaders can reach new heights


The pediatric hospital in California features a host of women in top positions. They shared their advice for other women and talked about the organization’s culture.

Five women founded Valley Children’s Healthcare more than 70 years ago, so perhaps it’s fitting that women hold so many leadership positions in the pediatric hospital in California.

Christine Almon serves as chief of staff at Valley Children’s, and Julieanna Sahouria-Rukab serves as assistant chief of staff. Rhonda Keosheyan is the treasurer.

While women hold many positions in healthcare, men hold most leadership positions in hospitals. Still, the female leaders at Valley Children’s are accustomed to seeing women in top positions.

“This is not unusual to us,” Almon says. “The hospital has had women in various leadership positions.”

The three women recently spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive® about leadership, how women in hospitals can take on management roles, and the culture of Valley Children’s.

Even with pediatrics featuring more women, Sahouria-Rukab points out that Valley Children’s has plenty of men in the organization.

“We didn't get in these roles, because we're women, and we were in a female-dominant practice. We just were right for the job,” she says.

(See part of our conversation in this video. The story continues below.)

Extending opportunities

Only 15% of all CEOs in health systems are women, while women hold about 16% of the CEO positions in health insurance groups, according to a November 2021 analysis published by Jama Network Open.

Ppediatrics has a higher concentration of women than virtually all other specialties. Women account for about two-thirds of all doctors in pediatrics, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The leaders at Valley Children’s say that the organization reaches out to women who may demonstrate potential in leadership roles.

“People ask, and we respond,” Almon says.

Keosheyan says women are given opportunities to try different roles. She also points out the advantages to women as they gain new leadership posts, they often learn more about different parts of the organization.

“As you become leaders in your own little silo, if you will, because you're in that leadership role, you start meeting the other silos,” Keosheyan says. “And so then you kind of get a broader picture of the way things are run.”

‘Put yourself out there’

The Valley Children’s leaders advise women who want to take on new roles to be bold in applying for new positions and to reach out and express the desire for new challenges and opportunities.

“Put yourself out there, and when there are opportunities, or if you know of one, or if someone asks you, say yes,” Almon says. “One thing can lead to another.”

At the same time, Sahouria-Rukab also says women should feel comfortable speaking up if they try a new role and it’s not quite what they imagined. She says there’s value in saying, “This isn't working for me, but I know so-and-so and I think they would be great at this.”“I think that's how you build a very strong and very well supported group and organization,” Sahoruia-Rukab says.

At Valley Children’s, the leaders say women know that it’s acceptable to decline a new position if the timing isn’t right. They note that doesn’t preclude pursuing other leadership posts at a later time, and that’s valuable for women to know.

“I feel like just because you say no to one opportunity doesn't mean it stops, and there's not other opportunities given to you,” Keosheyan says. “And I think that's key because everybody's at a different point in their life. Some of my colleagues are taking care of ailing parents. Some of my colleagues have really young children.”

Seek mentors

The Valley Children’s leaders highlighted the value of finding mentors to learn from in the organization.

“Reach out to those leaders,” Keosheyan says. “And you know, if you're a woman, sometimes it's more comfortable to reach out to a woman. But it doesn't matter who's in that role. You can reach out to anybody, get to know them, find out how they got there, and what they can do to inspire you.”

Valley Children’s offers a mentorship program, and leaders reach out to newer members of the medical staff, Almon says.

“You don't have to just sit in, at least not here, and wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder and say, you know, ‘I'd like to help you or mentor you,’” Almon says. “Everyone is available.”

Find the right culture

Women looking for chances to grow in healthcare should focus on being in organizations where the culture brings out the best in employees, Keosheyan says.

“Put yourself in an organization where the culture is an accepting culture, where it's based on everyone bringing their best to work,” she says.

The Valley Children’s leader all spoke of the organization’s culture as a key ingredient to promoting more women, and to its success in caring for patients.

The hospital utilizes dyads in leadership, which Sahouria-Rukab sees as a valuable element of the organization. Committees are led by physicians and nurses, offering important perspectives. It also fosters collaboration.

“I'm not better than you, you're not better than me,” Sahouria-Rukab says. “We work together, and we bring our ideas together to all our employees and all our participants.”

Valley Children’s reputation draws, and keeps, top people, the leaders. Valley Children’s was rated among the top children’s hospitals by The Leapfrog Group in 2023, and ranked among the leading children’s hospitals in several specialties by U.S. News & World Report.

As Sahouria-Rukab says, “When you recruit the best, you retain the best, right? And so that's why a lot of us have been here for so long.”

‘Our mission is key’

Those who join Valley Children’s share the organization’s vision, Almon says. And she notes that shared purpose among top clinicians drew her to the hospital 21 years ago.

“We all show up with our best,” Almon says. “We are bringing our best every single day. And when I say all, that's me, that's the person who works in the cafeteria, that's the person who works at security. That is everyone. That's the expectation.”

All three leaders reiterated that sense of mission at Valley Children’s, and they said it’s shared across all levels of the hospital.

“This mission is overwhelming,” Almon says. “You get to feel good every day just by showing up to work.”

“Our mission is key to us,” Keosheyan concurs. “It's what brings everybody to work and, and willing to give 120%, even when you had a bad day. Our mission is basically to bring excellent health care to the kids of the valley, regardless of their background, regardless of their ability to pay, and to continuously improve on that.”

“And I would say that it would be extremely rare for you to find anybody on this campus, from someone who's doing janitorial work all the way up to our CEO, who doesn't truly believe in that mission,” she adds. “And I think that makes us stand out as an organization.”

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