Meet an Informaticist: From RN to Vendor Executive

By Merrie Wallace, Chief Revenue Officer, PerfectServe

What got you interested in a career in healthcare and, in particular, health information and technology?

I'm a nurse by background. Healthcare first piqued my interest in college because I thought it was a noble profession where you can make significant impacts on people’s lives. Beyond that, healthcare was also an area where women in leadership roles were prevalent. I knew leadership was another area that you can make a significant impact, and that was a major decision factor. Women being in the workforce was still somewhat of an emerging phenomenon at the time, but when I looked at the makeup of hospitals, where nurses were—and still are—the largest portion of the employee base, I could see a leadership role in my future. Healthcare was an opportunity to do work that I was excited about, but also a path to a position where I could have an even greater impact.

In my time as a nurse, I saw that there was a huge opportunity to transform healthcare using technology—to raise quality and improve outcomes with better data and information. To put a finer point on it, I’ve seen patients have sentinel events and die because the right information wasn’t available. Fixing the information and supply chain breakdowns thus became a major topic of interest, to the point that it became the focus of my thesis and graduate school work.

What have been your top three motivating factors from the start of your career to now? Have they changed? If so, how?

My motivating factors have actually been pretty consistent. At the core, leadership motivates me, and I think it can take many forms. Leadership can be directed to help others better their lives, and I love when I’m able to put someone in a role that really allows them to shine. More broadly, healthcare motivates me because it impacts everyone – we’re all consumers of healthcare. It’s one of society’s most fundamental needs, and I’m passionate about it because we have a lot of room for improvement. Finally, I’m motivated by my family, and in particular my daughter, who is progressing through college and thinking about what kind of impact she wants to make on the world. It’s such a treat to watch her grow.

How do you stay motivated? How do you motivate others?

People don’t spend enough time thinking about their core motivator, and it’s something I ask in every job interview. It helps me make sure that everybody on my team is doing work that aligns with their internal drive, and when those two factors come together, it’s magic. To put it more succinctly, being an effective leader of a driven team in an impactful industry like healthcare is what keeps me motivated.

How do I motivate others? That gets into my leadership philosophy. I love working with people, and I believe great people can overcome almost any obstacle. As a leader, it’s important to learn that you never ask your team to do something you’re not willing to do yourself, and you always have to lead with passion. People will stand up and follow a leader who’s passionate about the job and the company, and if your team knows you’re willing to get down in the trenches with them, the motivation will follow naturally.

What stepping stones have led to where you are, and what advice do you have for others looking to follow a similar path?

Being a nurse was a major stepping stone for me. Healthcare is complex – it’s one of the most complex businesses around. Having that perspective – from the delivery and the provider side, and also from the consumer side – is an interesting trifecta, and it equipped me with the experience I needed to be successful at companies like PerfectServe and McKesson. I have an aging parent as well, so when you navigate the healthcare experience as a patient and family member, you recognize how much work we have to do.

My advice for others is to have mentors who can guide you and encourage you to reflect on your core motivators. I’ve been fortunate to have both formal and informal mentors, and I still reach out to some of them today for career advice. I also had a father who was an executive, and he set the tone for me from the start. I watched how he led people so thoughtfully and made such a difference in their lives, and it showed me that impacting people, companies, strategy and outcomes in a positive way is critically important.

What is the one piece of practical advice you wish you’d been given when you started your career?

I’ve got two pieces of advice. First, I was given some coaching early on that I try to keep top of mind: Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Perspective is valuable, and it helps when change occurs so that people understand the thought process and have a chance to buy in. Second, I also learned that there are only a few hills worth dying on. Compromise is important, but when you’re faced with one of those hills, have the mental fortitude to stick to your values. It’s frightening, yes, but it’s one of the most important leadership lessons I’ve learned in my career.

What is your favorite app?

I use a lot of apps – some I’m good with, and some I’m not. I’m a secret real estate shopper in my free time, so you’ll see me on Zillow’s app a lot. It’s fun to see what’s out there even if I’m not buying. I also love an app that provides efficiencies, and as a frequent traveler, Delta’s app is a go-to for me.

What is your dream job?

I’ve got a two-part answer. Ultimately, I want to run a company – I want to be a CEO. Beyond that, though, I sincerely feel like all of my jobs have been dream jobs. At PerfectServe, I feel like I’m in a dream job because of the capabilities we’re driving to caregivers and the quality improvements and efficiencies we’re bringing to the market.

How has HIMSS helped you write your own health information and technology story?

HIMSS has been played a fundamental role in the transformation of the healthcare industry. When I first started practicing, we had very little in the way of technology. Now we’ve got an entire forum of innovators who want to transform the industry with technology and drive new legislation that improves quality and drives down costs – that’s all a function of HIMSS. Across the country, our care delivery network is still far too fragmented, and HIMSS has been pushing us as healthcare executives to transform. That’s a major credit to the organization and its members.