A Passion for Health Care

  • By:  Susan Williamson

When she was five years old, Amber Egyud, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer for Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, fell off a wall and cut her head. “After that trip to the ER, I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said.

Today Amber is one of a number of women health care leaders who work at the executive level in area hospitals, ensuring that patients receive high quality, technologically advanced care. They are making a difference behind the scenes, striving to improve the health and well being of our communities. Let’s meet three of these proactive executives.

Amber Egyud, DNP, RN, a Pittsburgh native, moved to the area in September 2017. “My family and I love vacationing in the Outer Banks,” she said, “so I was excited when I learned of a job opportunity in Chesapeake.” Chesapeake Regional Healthcare is an independent health care system which includes a 310-bed hospital.

Amber began her career with a nursing diploma from Ohio Valley Hospital School of Nursing in 1994. She first worked in a physician’s office, then in critical and emergency care for nine years. Amber went on to earn BSN and MSN degrees from Carlow University in Pittsburgh before completing a DNP (Doctorate of Nursing Practice) from Waynesburg University in Waynesburg, PA.

While Amber was working on her doctorate, she met the founder of the Project to End Human Trafficking and realized there was a need for health care providers to better recognize and treat human trafficking victims.

“I learned that many human trafficking victims are American teenagers,” she said. “A girl meets a guy trolling at the mall, and they start dating. She may end up enslaved and addicted to drugs.” In order to meet this need, she developed screening tools and healthcare specific training sessions for providers.

Making a difference is important to Amber. “Nurses have a calling to serve others,” she said. “Every day I want the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Amber feels the challenges in health care will increasingly involve managing population health. “The quality of care outside of the hospital is becoming more important,” she said. “We are redefining patient models.”

As more services and care transition to outside of the hospital, patients who are hospitalized are more acute, requiring nursing education that keeps up with new technology and evidence-based practice.

All healthcare fields will continue to offer great opportunity for both men and women, Amber predicts. “Nursing is one of the most diverse careers,” she said. “You can work from the bedside to the boardroom.” She sees nurses as the best advocates for patients because they spend the most time with them.

Spending time with family is Amber’s favorite leisure activity. She and her husband, Tim, have four children ranging in age from 18 to 28 and three grandchildren. “My very favorite is being with my family and reading on the beach or by a pool,” said Amber, who lives in Moyock, NC.

As President of Sentara Leigh Hospital, a 250-bed acute care facility in Norfolk, Joanne M. Inman loves engaging with patients, physicians, and staff members. “I get tremendous joy and energy by getting to know them as people,” she said.

When she was a girl, the Prince George County native wanted to be a doctor, but a love of history led her to major in foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. A need to understand and empathize with others prompted her to add a bioethics minor.

“While I loved the strategic aspects of international politics, I couldn’t escape the desire to contribute to the well being of people and local communities in a personal, meaningful way,” Joanne said, “Something in my gut told me I was meant to work in healthcare.” The turning point in Joanne’s career trajectory was an internship at the UVA HIV/AIDS Clinic. She was struck by the compassion and commitment of the care providers. Her mentor, who was both a physician and administrator, suggested she consider health administration.

The opportunity to inspire others on a large scale and innovate for better patient outcomes appealed to her. She completed a master’s degree in health administration in 2004 and began working for Sentara Leigh in 2005 as Director of Patient Care Services. In 2012 she became Vice-President of Operations at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital before returning to Leigh as president in 2016.

“I also love to strategize and collaborate with physicians and leaders to improve our delivery system,” Joanne said. “There is something very gratifying to me about helping others realize their goals and make the patient experience better in the process.”

Joanne believes partnerships are key to good health care—not only traditional patient-provider partnerships, but also unconventional partnerships with new commercial entities such as Walmart, Amazon, and pharmacies now entering the healthcare field.

Sentara’s Optima Health, an insurance provider, is one example being studied in other states. When the insurance provider is a part of the healthcare network, better outcomes and savings benefit everyone involved, notes Joanne. “Better outcomes for patients must drive all decision making,” she added.

Joanne sees healthcare as a rich environment for women. ”Women are moving into leadership roles, partly because so many women work in the field,” she said. “At Sentara, diversity of the board translates into diversity of leadership throughout the system.” The May edition of Forbes Magazine recognized Sentara as one of the nation’s best large employers.

When I talked with Joanne, she was spending her day in back-to-back meetings. She told me that her husband, Ryan, also works for Sentara, in the corporate sector. “I thought our paths would never cross at work,” she said, “but on his second day I had to give a presentation to a group and there he was.” She laughed at the memory. “It was awkward, but he didn’t say anything, and it all went well.”

Joanne and Ryan live in Virginia Beach with their two daughters, Carter and Georgia. She describes Carter, age six, as a soccer fanatic while three-year-old Georgia is “ready to take on the world.” The family enjoys music, outdoor activities, and traveling. “It’s important to be part of the community, active in church, and in the activities that make the Hampton Roads area such a good place to live,” Joanne said.

Nursing runs in her family, says Nancy Littlefield, DNP, RN. A picture of her mother’s nursing school graduation from Bryn Mawr hangs in her office at Riverside Health System, where she’s one of two Executive Vice-Presidents.

“I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said. As a child, she tended to imaginary wounds on her dolls with Band-Aids. Her brothers would sneak in her room and shave the hair off her dolls, telling her the dolls were going through chemotherapy. “My brothers were terrible,” she recalled, laughing. “In fact, they still are.”

Nancy began her career as an ICU nurse after receiving a nursing diploma from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. She went on to earn her BSN from George Mason, her MHA from VCU and DPN from ODU. She has worked in hospice as well as hospitals in nursing and leadership roles, giving her a broad understanding of health care. She came to Riverside as CNO and Senior Vice-President in 2013 before being promoted to Executive Vice-President/CNO in 2017.

Nancy has responsibility for the oversight and coordination of nursing and clinical practice across the Riverside Health System, as well as leadership and oversight of Human Resources and Lifelong Health. When I visited her office, her desk was covered with pots of succulent plants intended as gifts for the nurse executives who work under her. They, along with all of the Riverside nurses, would receive handwritten notes of appreciation for National Nurses Week.

Relationships are very important to Nancy. She started Ladies Leadership Night Out for Riverside employees, which attracts two hundred women per meeting. She describes the events as wine and cheese and networking. The speaker or speakers may or may not be health care professionals. Nancy’s goal is for those attending to “look at those around us and help develop them.” Some of the Riverside male doctors have asked to attend so as to better understand the women with whom they work.

One of the challenges Nancy sees in nursing is that many of today’s training programs offer more classroom work and lab simulations but less clinical time whereas schools associated with hospitals require many hours of clinical work in addition to classroom study. Riverside has its own College of Health Careers offering RN, LPN, Surgical Technology, Radiology Technology, Physical Therapist Assistant, Nurse Aide, and Medical Assistant training. The college had its first graduate in 1918.

“There is a nationwide shortage of medical personnel at all levels,” Nancy said. “As a result personnel are expected to perform at the top of their training level.” A shortage of nursing faculty and the high cost and years of commitment needed for training in medical specialties are contributing to the problem, she said and noted that some hospital recruiters are looking into ways to help with loan forgiveness.

Riverside offers a continuum of care including acute care, rehabilitation, home health care, hospice, long-term care, and skilled nursing care in Newport News, Eastern Shore, Tappahannock, Gloucester, and Williamsburg. This allows for good communication from one provider to another within the network.

In recent years, Nancy has experienced this from two perspectives, as an administrator as well as a daughter of aging and ill parents. Her mother, 91, is an Alzheimer’s patient in a memory care unit.

“As a daughter, I am seeing our network from the patient’s viewpoint,” she said. “As CNO I can see problems that need to be fixed. Health care literacy is very complex.”

The Williamsburg resident enjoys gardening, reading, knitting, and refinishing furniture. Her daughter and two sons live in Virginia, and she has eleven grandchildren and another on the way. So far none of her children have followed her into nursing, but perhaps one of her grandchildren will.

The women in this story share a passion for healthcare, for the patient, and for our communities. Their innovative spirit, desire to foster relationships, and caring compassion enable them to lead by example and meet every challenge as a new opportunity. As healthcare trends continue to change, these leading ladies are finding ways for their organizations to better serve patients’ needs.

Susan Williamson is a freelance writer and resides in Williamsburg with her husband and labradoodle. 

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