My Path to a Seat at the Table
As I reflect on my career journey, I know that I am where I am because I stand on the shoulders of others that have come before me. I am grateful for the mentors, sponsors and my personal board of directors, each of whom have been there to hold space at the table, while listening and providing guidance so I might have a seat alongside them. Initially, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to lead in health care. I had worked in the ambulatory space for many years before pursuing my master’s in health administration. I was fortunate to complete an administrative internship at the VA Greater Los Angeles hospital and also an administrative residency at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, which allowed me to work with multiple interdisciplinary teams and also experience my first unannounced Joint Commission survey. I enjoyed the work and the impact I could create, and I fell in love with hospital operations.
In addition to my work experiences, I volunteered and served on various committees/boards of the local chapters of the American College of Healthcare Executives, the Healthcare Financial Management Association and the National Association of Health Services Executives. I met and built relationships with many seasoned executives through those experiences. Two executives who didn’t look like me took me aside and shared that I had chosen a career where the majority of people in the field don’t look like me. They said that I would be invited into multiple meetings and boardrooms where I would be the only person in the room who looked like me and that they wanted me to be ready. I treasure those words of wisdom, having not known at that time that those words would later become my story and career journey. As I ascended in executive leadership at multiple companies, I have been the first — and only — African American executive in many meetings, boardrooms and executive teams. I share my story with leaders and mentees about the importance of building relationships with people that look like you and those that don’t look like you so that they don’t place limitations on their career aspirations. Current statistics reflect that roughly 13% of health care CEOs are female, and the number is far less for Black women CEOs.
As I said, I am where I am because I stand on the shoulders of others that have come before me so that I might have a seat at the table; I intend to pay it forward for those who follow me. I plan to use the seat to create and expand access to quality care and patient-centered services that were previously unavailable for communities.
Susan Burroughs is the CEO at MUSC Health Columbia Medical Center Northeast.