2017 Most Influential Women in Health IT: Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor

2017 Most Influential Women in Health IT: Find a Mentor - Be a Mentor

Submitted by Willa Fields, DNSc, RN

Former chair, HIMSS Board of Directors;

Judge, 2016 HIMSS Women in Health IT Awards;

Professor, School of Nursing, San Diego State University



When I performed a Google search on: ‘challenges women face in the workplace’, in less than a second, I had over 24 million hits. Many of the challenges I read about are those we’ve been discussing for decades:


  • pay inequality,
  • sexual harassment,
  • flexible work hours,
  • under-representation in executive roles,
  • lack of role models and mentors, and
  • contributions dismissed or ignored in the workplace. and McKinsey & Company’s most recent Women in the Workplace 2016 study confirms that women are under-represented at every level in the corporate pipeline, and although women negotiate for promotions and pay raises as frequently as their male counterparts, women face more pushback.


The Value of Mentoring

The higher the position, the wider the pay gap between men and women. These challenges are even greater for women of color. Women in health IT face these same challenges. Mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship that can combat these challenges. It behooves those of us with experience in health IT to share our expertise and offer guidance to those in the “pipeline”. The future of healthcare depends on it.


I’m often asked for career advice. I always suggest to those entering health IT, or any field, find a mentor, or at least identify positive role models. Talk to those you admire – find out how they ended up where they are in their career. Most people have a circuitous route to their careers. Even those with a career plan, rarely end up where they thought they were going.


Your Career Path

I know I had no long-term career plan when I graduated nursing school a very long time ago, and my career certainly took many twists and turns. I started out as a staff nurse in one of the first intensive care units in Philadelphia. Somehow, many years later, I ended up as a vice president in health IT, professor of nursing at a university, and then, chair of the HIMSS Board of Directors.


How did I do it? I often say I was misguided and misdirected numerous times, but I still “made it.” Here are some of the things I learned along the way:

  • Find a mentor – someone you trust and who will be honest with you about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Look, listen, and read.. I often say in graduate school I learned to think, read, and write. I learned a lot through observing, and critiquing, others. Be a learner!
  • Be open to new opportunities, even if they are outside of your comfort zone. I once went to my boss after I had been in the position a few months, and said, “You hired the wrong person for this position. I’m sinking.” She paused, then asked me if I wanted to succeed (obviously I was sinking…). I said yes. We then worked on a clear, challenging, developmental plan. She didn’t hire the wrong person; I just had a lot to learn and needed to seek help!
  • Be involved in professional organizations. HIMSS is a wonderful place to learn, develop leadership skills, and meet others in health IT.
  • Once you are in position of influence/success, be a mentor to others. Share what you have learned along the way.


Women are making progress in the workplace, but at a lot slower pace than I ever expected. We can accelerate our progress by being aware of these challenges, and helping others overcome them and succeed. 


Know someone like Willa?

Nominate them for the HIMSS Most Influential Women in Health IT Awards.