Just 15 percent of the nation’s health system CEO positions are held by women, a troubling reality in an environment where women make up 85 percent of registered nurses and nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides. America’s Essential Hospitals and its members constantly seek ways to reduce gender disparities within executive positions in health care and uplift women’s voices.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we asked four essential hospital leaders named among Modern Healthcare’s Top Women Leaders in Healthcare this year to share the opportunities that helped them overcome gender barriers throughout their careers and how they think essential hospitals can further elevate future women leaders.


Wendy Horton, PharmD, MBA
CEO, UVA Health

Wendy Horton, PharmD, MBA CEO, UVA Health.

Wendy Horton, PharmD, MBA. Photo courtesy of UVA Health.

An important aspect of career growth is to be ready for future opportunities and to have a clear vision and career plan. I was encouraged by those who saw my potential as a future leader [and] gave me the chance to lead and deliver results [with the support of] formal leadership programs. I worked to build a brand of leadership in my organizations that helped me be visible and remembered. I developed a circle of advisors to share ideas and challenges or seek feedback.

Health care is constantly changing. Lifelong learning gives leaders an edge. Anyone who wants to become a better leader must make continuous learning a priority.

To mitigate this gender gap, essential hospitals should focus on:

  • Providing access to leadership development opportunities for high-potential female leaders.
  • Nominating women leaders to industry fellowship programs like [those offered by] America’s Essential Hospitals.
  • Creating formal and informal mentorship programs.
  • Providing high-potential women leaders access to executive or career coaching.
  • Inclusive, intentional succession planning with gender diversity to create a pipeline of women leaders.

For my fellow female leaders in the industry: Let’s increase our sponsorships and mentorship to empower professional women to grow, excel, and gain the visibility needed to move into the most senior-level leadership positions.


Airica Steed, EdD, MBA, RN
President and CEO, The MetroHealth System

Airica Steed, EdD, MBA, RN. Photo courtesy of The MetroHealth System.

Airica Steed, EdD, MBA, RN. Photo courtesy of The MetroHealth System.

I was fortunate in my first nursing role to be at the right place at the right time. As an emergency department/critical care nurse I was “voluntold” [to take] a new position in clinical informatics just as that field began. From there, my career exploded.

Just as important was a mentor I had early on: a brilliant, kind, tough teacher who promoted me to health system vice president when I was just 27. She gave me the support I needed to break through the proverbial glass ceiling.

The criticism and doubt that I faced after that shaped me in an unexpected way. It drove me to prove my critics wrong, to earn degree after degree and certification after certification until I had the credentials that gave others faith in me and my ability.

The moral of my story is to embrace adversity. Let it be the force that gets you where you want to go. Make it your superpower.

How can essential hospitals elevate more women? By offering more mentoring programs, being allies, and ensuring that policies, missions, and values support them. And by remembering that everyone has climbed on someone else’s shoulders and it’s our turn to carry the next generation. That is the very best legacy we can leave.


Janice Nevin, MD, MPH
President and CEO, ChristianaCare

Janice Nevin, MD, MPH, President and CEO, ChristianaCare.

Janice Nevin, MD, MPH. Photo courtesy of ChristianaCare.

Long before I ever knew the direction my life and career would take, I was part of the first group of girls to attend St. Andrew’s School, in Delaware, that had been boys-only for the prior half-century. That experience taught me early in life about the dynamics of being a woman in a male-dominated environment, including the need to step outside of my comfort zone and walk toward challenges. Those lessons have helped me to succeed and grow as a health care leader.

Hospitals can support female leaders by making gender equity a priority. We must be intentional about providing opportunities for women to grow in various roles. My advice is trust yourself, be courageous, be authentic, and be bold in your actions and thinking. Know that getting a seat at the table is important. Then use your voice to make a difference. We need to hear from you!

I am proud of the work that we have done at ChristianaCare to foster equity, inclusion, and diversity at all levels of the organization. Our senior leadership team today is 50 percent female. However, we recognize that there is much work to do to ensure our organization is truly reflective of the diverse communities we serve.


Johnese Spisso, MPA, RN
President, UCLA Health
CEO, UCLA Hospital System

Johnese Spisso, MPA, RNPresident, UCLA Health CEO, UCLA Hospital System.

Johnese Spisso, MPA, RN. Photo courtesy of UCLA Health.

Women have long been underrepresented in many fields, which is why at UCLA Health we are proud to say 67 percent of the workforce are women.

Women make up nearly half (48 percent) of UCLA Health senior leadership positions, and many other women are at the helm of UCLA Health departments, divisions, and programs.

In 2022, UCLA Health was named one of Forbes’ Best Employers for Women.

Personally, I believe it is both a tremendous privilege and a responsibility to mentor rising leaders in health care and create an organizational environment that breeds success for women leaders.

I always advise mentees to seek out organizations that have formal support systems and mentorship programs in place for women in leadership and throughout the organization.



Essential Women’s Leadership Academy

To support women executives, America’s Essential Hospitals offers the Essential Women’s Leadership Academy, a 10-month leadership development program designed to build a community of confident and empowered women who lead essential hospitals in meeting the challenges of populations facing barriers to care. For more information about the program, contact Manager of Education Vashon Coehins, MA, at vcoehins@essentialhospitals.org.