From the outside, we may appear like a competitive bunch.  You will often see and hear bets on sporting events, workout challenges, food challenges and so on.  FIT is a male dominant workforce whose employees thrive off of competition (females included), but behind the scenes at FIT, we are anything but competitive.
I remember when I first started working at FIT (seven years ago), sitting in Thom & Tracey’s office and talking about their philosophy and mission as business owners.  They explained how their goal was to set each and every employee up for success and challenge us all to view ourselves as our own personal business owners.
As RockHealth, a health incubator in SF (where you can currently find me when not at FIT) kicks off XXinHealth to highlight the need for more women to be paving the path and leading healthcare (see movie here), I thought it was appropriate to explain what is going on “behind the scenes” and how FIT’s approach could be the ticket to encouraging others to climb the healthcare ladder.
You know I am a trainer and many of you know about FITBuddies, the special needs programs I run for adults and children with Down Syndrome and Autism.   A couple months ago, I added to the list, and took the leap to lead a healthcare startup focused on improving the collaboration and communication of overall care.  As I drove away from Page Mill after what felt like signing my life away, I immediately called my parents, “It’s official, I am really doing this.”
My Dad’s response, “Congratulations Founder, CEO, Board of Directors!!”
My Mom’s response, “You go girl (her usual) but does this mean you will not be training and working with your buddies anymore.  It is just so great what you do with them and I know you just love helping others.”
My Dad stated what most men would probably pick up on first: the titles.  But my mom reminded me immediately of why I took the leap in the first place.
It is my journey with my buddies and every single one of my experiences, in a variety of health related fields, that has led me to this new adventure.  It started as a doctor’s assistant at the age of fifteen (I hid my age behind scrubs and a mask).  In college, I was the student who felt job experience was more important than the titles after my name and squeezed all my classes into 2 days so I could work four jobs: behavioral therapist for autism, personal aide for a woman with muscular spinal atrophy, hospital aide and trainer.  In my ‘free’ time, I shadowed physical therapists and occupational therapists.  For the past fifteen years, I have submerged myself into the care and management of long-term care in a variety of settings:  hospitals, homes, clinics, schools, gyms, etc.
As we talk about women in healthcare, or the lack thereof, I do not believe it is as much of an issue of men plowing us over
but more so that we aren’t setting women up to take the leap.  In November, I attended StartUp weekend and pitched my idea
to a room of 150 strangers.  I immediately formed a team with 3 other females (I scared a lot of the men off because they said I had a “real” idea).  While I did not move forward immediately after the weekend, this weekend was my “test” leap.
In April, I attended another weekend event, this time focused on health IT solutions and made the decision – it was time to leap.  For most people I think this would usually mean either quiting your job or working on the project behind your employers back out of fear that they would not support a side venture.
In May, I was chosen to attend RockHealth’s XXRetreat highlighting women leaders in healthcare.  The entire day was full of inspirational stories and words of encouragement.  One particular comment struck a chord.  As we began the day, we were told to look around the room full of VC’s, angel investors, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and inspiring leaders in healthcare .  We were challenged to erase the competitive landscape so often seen in the startup or typical business world and look at each other as support; because in healthcare, competition will not achieve success nor solve any of our problems.
I remember introducing Tracey to some friends shortly after starting at FIT.  I, of course, introduced her as my boss and she quickly corrected me and said, “we’re co-workers.”  From day one,  Thom and Tracey have set up a non-competitive landscape that encourages every employee to move up the ladder and grow as professionals.  They do not look at their employees as ‘potential competition’ but instead spend their time educating and investing in our future as a team and as individuals.  They understand the need for well-educated health professionals is critical.  Not only do they encourage but they support us through these ventures.
I did not quit my job nor did I have to hide a project behind my employers back.  When I approached Tracey in May, she encouraged and supported me in taking the next steps, helping me set up a schedule so I can juggle multiple positions as I move forward.  I thanked her for her support she simply said, “we believe in you.”
In healthcare, women make up a significant part of the workforce but tend to be concentrated in lower level positions.  After fifteen years as a provider, I believe experience in the healthcare field is something you can’t get in a MBA, PHD or MD program.  It is critical that women with experience on the front line are encouraged to take on leadership roles as they truly understand the healthcare landscape.  I am fairly confident if more health focused businesses set up a non-competitive landscape the way FIT has, educating and encouraging their employees to climb the ladder, we would see more women emerge from these lower level positions.
For fifteen years I have watched families struggle as they try to manage long term care.  As a provider on the outside (outside of the doctors office and hospitals), I understand what goes on on an everyday basis and I have to at least try to do something about it.  Thom and Tracey gave me the final big push; they gave me the support needed to scale back from the front line of care (not an easy decision) and the confidence to take the leap from the front line into a leadership role.
I told Tracey I feel like FIT is its own health incubator.  I am not sure whether it is the laid back atmosphere of being in gym shorts and a t-shirt but FIT is a non-competitive atmosphere where many of silicon valley’s VC’s, CEO’s and entrepreneurs frequent and have been more than willing to share information, advice and support.  I am just in the beginning stages (and have a lot of obstacle to overcome – age, gender, etc)  but I can only hope that I am able to support and encourage others the way I have been supported at FIT.
“We are leading healthcare and you should watch and see what we do”
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