Women in STEM Education: Developing Future Healthcare Leaders

By March 31, 2017Articles

Susan Byrd, MHRD
Senior Vice President, People
March 31, 2017

We hear a lot these days about STEM education—an interdisciplinary, applied approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The rise of women in STEM careers is notable, too. So, as Women’s History Month draws to a close, we decided to look to the future being built right now by some of the women at SpecialtyCare who pursued careers in science and are responsible for our clinical education and training programs today. Each has had a unique journey that includes education, choices, gumption, and surprises. They actively honed their interests and cultivated their talents to reach their current roles, and they continue to apply their strengths toward additional growth for themselves and others—men and women alike.

Linda Mongero, Director of Education and Clinical Performance, is a perfusionist who has always enjoyed exploring the natural sciences. The field of cardiovascular perfusion opened the doors for her to discover her strengths as the director of clinical perfusion at a major medical center, clinical instructor at several perfusion schools, officer of professional organizations, and author of numerous research articles.

Training at SpecialtyCare University

Training at SpecialtyCare University

“Science has historically been dominated by men with few exceptions and many believe this to be because of discrimination, job opportunity, and credit denied for the work done by women in the past. Luckily, I have never had to endure any of these roadblocks. I followed my heart and did what I was interested in and the rest followed. Don’t worry about someone else’s journey, just pursue your dreams. Make sure early on that your dreams are in line with your abilities. Choose a career that will suit your interests but also your lifestyle. You can easily blend a family and work life if you set goals and stick to them. Women are the best multitaskers on the planet. The ability to juggle job, family, and self-wellness is more than apparent.”

Julie Trott, Director of Surgical Neurophysiologist I Education, prepares entry-level surgical neurophysiologists to perform intraoperative neuromonitoring (IONM) in the operating room. The representation of women in the program has risen from an average of 49% over the past four years to 64% in the past two years.

“Training adults who are brand new to their career field of interest is a dynamic role.  I teach, I lead, I counsel, and I coach, probably equivalently.  I think some keys to being successful include being patient and conscientious in communication and decision-making, as well as setting clear expectations and upholding clear standards. Success is a journey. You must make that journey as a whole, self-aware person: professional, parent, friend, student, explorer. All are part of your identity. Own it.

Surgical neurophysiologists behind the scenes

Neurophysiologists behind the scenes

Our intraoperative neuromonitoring training is a competency-based program with objective assessments and performance metrics.  Our selection criteria and performance measures are made crystal clear and are obviously blind to gender.  As a leader, I hope to facilitate well-rounded learning of all of the men and women in our program so that they may realize fair opportunity.  As a woman, I hope I serve as an inspiration.”

Cheryl Wiggins, Vice President of IONM Education and Clinical Performance, grew up with parents and brothers who all chose scientific careers, so the pathway to science was a natural choice for her. She started toward physical therapy but adjusted course to earn a doctorate in audiology. She then discovered that she could use her expertise to excel in intraoperative neuromonitoring, and she’s been hooked ever since.  One of her favorite aspects of IONM is training others to be successful in the field.

“If you’re interested in a healthcare career, take a wide variety of science-related coursework, even if at first glance it doesn’t seem pertinent.  Expose yourself to the broadest range of sciences that you have access to, and explore the abundance of free courses available via edX or Coursera.  These free online courses may show you worlds of possibilities and career paths that you did not know existed.

To be successful, a background including science is always helpful, but being a team player and learning from constructive criticism are also essential attributes. This applies to both men and women. Healthcare will be changing for everyone, not just women, and the best thing that we can do is to stay informed.”

Members of our minimally invasive surgical support leadership team

Members of our minimally invasive surgical support leadership team

Sonia Zuzek, Director of Clinical Education, began her career as lead science coordinator at a school with mostly at-risk students.  She loved the work but eventually refocused on a healthcare career. She began as an autotransfusionist and in time managed services at multiple hospitals simultaneously until she merged her education and clinical careers.

“Women are integrating into healthcare careers in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field.  What this means is that we are seeing women as surgeons, perfusionists, engineers, architects, and business leaders in healthcare companies.  The culture is changing; girls are being taught that they can build, they can fix, they can design, and they can run a business.  The truth is we have always been able to do this, but we weren’t focusing on it.  I anticipate that we will see innovations in medicine heavily influenced by the influx of women in this field.  It’s estimated that women make 80% of the healthcare decisions within their families, and now they can bring that research and effort to the industry.”

None of the women who contributed to this article achieved their success alone. All credit other women who encouraged them, and now they are passionate about building up others, too. With that in mind, it’s a good time for all of us to take a few minutes to remember and thank the women who’ve helped us along the way, and then consider how we, in turn, can inspire others who are on the path to careers that might have seemed out of reach not so long ago.

Susan Byrd

About Susan Byrd

Susan Byrd, MHRD, SpecialtyCare’s Senior Vice President of People, is responsible for HR strategies and initiatives, the credentialing program, and SpecialtyCare University. She has extensive experience designing staffing models, assessing human capital capacity, and developing strategies for growth, change, and company culture. Most recently, Susan served as the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Change Healthcare for 11 years. She holds certification as a Senior Human Resources Professional and co-authored "HR Leadership Strategies: Leading HR Executives on Aligning with Organizational Goals, Developing Employee Talent, and Addressing Changing Workforce Dynamics.” Susan has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Arkansas State University and earned a master’s degree in Human Resources Development from Clemson University.