That’s a wrap on our latest Moments Move Us season! Tune in and reflect on key learnings.
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New Podcast Episode: Reflecting on Lessons in Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Curiosity from Healthcare Leaders with Rebecca Coren
What you’ll learn:
Dr. Airica Steed’s personal experiences played a pivotal role in her career path, ultimately leading to her position today as Chief Executive Officer and President for the MetroHealth System. In this episode, she shares how losing loved ones and experiencing a broken healthcare system fueled her determination to address health inequities and reverse historical injustices.
Dr. Steed is the first woman, the first Black person, and the first nurse to serve as MetroHealth’s CEO. And she is dedicated to paving the way for future leaders by increasing representation in healthcare and amplifying all voices within the community.
“[MetroHealth System] has been in existence for almost 200 years, and it’s taken almost 200 years for a female, for a person of color, for a nurse to be positioned in such a powerful role. But it also, for me, is a wakeup call that I need to take on the responsibility of ensuring that I’m not the last. I may be the first, but I have a responsibility weighted on my shoulders. And that responsibility is pushing me to really lean down and lift other people up and widen the front door much wider for those who are to follow. And to ensure that the path is less windy and certainly less rocky and certainly has less obstacles, or no obstacles at all, to raise up to this particular level. So, what I feel is the impact that is being made, the message that it sends, and most certainly the inspiration that it gives others, is that if you can see it, you can be it. For me, I am proud to be able to serve in a position where I can make that much of a difference.”
“In short, I come through multiple generations of nursing in my family. So it goes back to my great grandmother, who was self-made. This was well before nursing schools actually existed, but she made herself into something from nothing. She was a nurse midwife delivering babies in a small town (Tuscaloosa, Alabama). From there, I can tell you that a seed was planted, it was watered, it was nurtured, it blossomed. It really influenced all the women in my family. So I had the great pleasure before I can even properly walk and talk, I knew I was surrounded by powerhouses. I knew I was surrounded by trailblazers. I was surrounded by such influential people that didn’t just walk on paths, they created the path that people walked on. And they created such a legacy in my family where it inspired family members and they inspired me, most certainly. My late grandmother, my late mother were also nurses. And instead of having traditional conversations around the dinner table, I learned everything that there needs to know about healthcare and about practicing care delivery at its best, and putting people at the center of everything that you do, and leading with compassion and humility, and putting yourself in other people’s shoes. I can most definitely say that as a five-year-old, I was absolutely an expert in the subject matter, an expert in healthcare. I can speak the language of healthcare as a five year old.
I also come from a long line on my father’s side of self-made entrepreneurs, and I’m extremely fortunate to have been put in a position where I can marry both of those worlds, put those together, and I carved out a special place in this world just for me. And I can tell you, as long as I can walk and talk, I’ve always carried around that perpetual briefcase because I knew I was going to be in a position of influence and make a difference. I just didn’t know what world it was going to be. But I knew at five years old that I was going to be someone. And I so happened to come from a family that inspired me, motivated me, nurtured me, supported every single dream that I’ve had, and really helped to shape a path where I can trailblaze, I can open doors for other people, and I can pay it forward, which is what I’ve done from my very beginning.”
“I chose to follow my family’s footsteps and attain my degree in nursing and go into nursing. But very shortly after I attained my undergraduate degree in nursing, I lost my mother—46 years old when she passed away. I was 23 years old after going through a series of unfortunate experiences where she was misdiagnosed twice for what turned out to be a very rare form of leukemia.
But I had a front row seat view on what a broken healthcare system actually looks like. I had a front row seat view of what delayed care looks like. I had a front row seat view on what it looks like when family members and the patient are not properly engaged in the care delivery process. I had a front row seat view on what it looks like to navigate a maze of a lack of coordinated healthcare. I had a front row seat to the result of an experimental treatment that sold my mother’s life, not elongated it or added joy to it. That did something to me at a very early age, when I was just trying to discover who I was as a human being and as an individual. I certainly had to grow up fast. And my pain influenced my trajectory, where I went into a hyper-overdrive with the pursuit to fix what I felt was fundamentally broken and certainly not positioned for a young aspiring leader in this healthcare space.
I had to relive that nightmare over and over again through a variety of other family members who also experienced what I would consider to be health inequity. Both my grandmothers, my maternal and paternal grandmothers, died too young from breast cancer. One of my grandmothers actually was also misdiagnosed and also mistreated and also delayed in their care. By the time the cancer was discovered, it ravaged her body. I had to witness and actually navigate through that journey, where I was asking so many questions about, ‘How can this happen to me again and again?’ Just a little bit over a year ago, I lost my younger sister, also to breast cancer. So both of my grandmothers died of breast cancer. My younger sister died of breast cancer. But she tried to pursue healthcare at its best and was denied a basic screening that I know would have saved her life. And fast forward, she lost her life at 39 years old.
And I myself, I’m a survivor. And I’ve been brought back—I firmly believe this, that I’ve been brought back from knocking on death’s door to be able to fix the brokenness of this horrific healthcare system and to ensure that no one else has to suffer the pain that I’ve had to suffer. And no one else has to be tragically influenced by what this healthcare system can do for you. So that certainly has shaped me and has influenced me. I’ve turned that pain into passion, and I’ve turned that passion into purpose. And that’s exactly why I do what I do.”
“I felt invisible. I felt muted. I felt like I had no voice. I felt like I had no seat at the table. And when I did have a seat at the table, I felt like I was walked over. I felt like my voice was not properly heard. I felt like I could not find myself in the hollow core of a cocoon that I was [in] . . . So, everything that I’m doing, I’m playing that tape back, and then I’m trying to have a do-over in my own life for the communities that I serve.
I actually started in my role a month early, and hit the ground sprinting in roller skates. I enlisted healthy conversations with the community, and I had these healthy conversations not only with the external community around us, but also with the internal community. The intention was simply this: I wanted to build a sense of trust. I wanted to ensure that the community heard loud and clear that they need something and that someone had their back and someone was advocating for them, someone who was a part of the community, for the community, with the community. And I didn’t want to just do things to the community without their voice included . . .
I’ve made those conversations permanent through a series of community advisory councils. I’m creating these community advisory councils where I have an endless number of seats at the table for the community to really be a part of an extension of our organization, really make a difference in a profound way. So these community advisory councils are for the community to be heard, for us to listen, for us to learn, for us to build that sense of trust, to open up a two-way conversation, for us to enlist them and to recruit them to be a part of those solutions that we’re absolutely developing.
Also, as part of the community advisory councils, I’ve set a platform for recruitment directly from the communities, directly from the zip codes that often are unheard, because I want to invest directly into the community. So I’m promoting, lifting up both the health and the wealth. So if I’m investing in people directly in the community that speaks the language of the community, guess what? That’s half the battle right there. I just broke down that wall of distrust. I just opened up a liaison to be able to connect the dots, and I’ve created a platform for us to problem-solve real time and address some of these various solutions. That’s half the battle, and that is something that has not been done at the scale that I’m doing. So when this is all said and done, I’m going to have hundreds of community health workers planted in the neighborhoods, from the neighborhood, that can translate the language of the neighborhood directly in those communities.
“Another thing that I’m so proud of: We are the first and currently the only high school in a hospital across the United States. There’s so much value that will bring—we’re starting earlier. Our goal is to start further upstream. And I think we need to go beyond high school. We’ll start to plant these seeds in kindergarten. Because, again, going back to my early comments, I knew I was going to make a difference at five years old. Imagine if you can influence a five year old.
I’m so amazed at this high school in a hospital because many of these students, by the way, they’re the head of their family. They come from nine different functions. They get the opportunity where 100% of them get to graduate with a pathway forward. We’re giving them a head start on life. We’re giving them a head start, being able to go back and take care of their families in other countries or wherever they are. We’re giving them an opportunity to make a profound influence well before they even graduate from high school.
We get an opportunity to help to produce and mold and shape the future physicians of the world, the future nurses of the world. And many of them, by the way, they graduate with their state certified Nurses Assistant Program. They graduate being community health workers, because guess what? They speak that language. They can connect those dots, they can translate all of the opportunities that I’m talking about. And most definitely, these students get to volunteer. They get to be exposed, they get to be mentored, they get to be sponsored, they get to be lifted from leaders like myself who simply just want to lift the community. So it goes above and beyond, from speaking to innovation and really being able to build a workforce pipeline that is innovative. It most definitely speaks the language on really addressing a lot of these healthcare inequities that I’m actually talking about. But this is just one of those various anchors. And my personal goal is to take this beyond one and infect all of the communities with the same type of pathway and the same spirit of encouragement that we’re actually doing.”
“When I’m born and raised in Chicago, I was working for an organization very comparable to my current organization at MetroHealth that really aspired to be the best and to beat the national model on health equity, where I was the first appointed President of their flagship, I was the first appointed System Chief Operating Officer, I was the first person of color, first woman. All of these accomplishments.
But not only did I inherit an opportunity where I certainly believed in the mission, I believed in what we were doing on eradicating healthcare disparities and reversing all of the various wrongs. I also was put in a position where I was given a significant challenge: the organization was at risk of surviving. Its very existence was being challenged because it was financially distraught, and it was going through a period where it never felt this level of financial constraint before. And as a leader, I was being put in a position not only to continue the mission to serve the community, not only to push the organization forward to drive health equity, I was also put in a position to save the mission in its very existence. I knew at that very moment I was put on this earth for a reason. So, my purpose was validated then. And I felt through the accomplishment of being able to turn that organization around—and that was a $300 million turnaround in less than a two-year period of time that was nationally recognized—I knew that I was in the right job, and I knew I was on the right path, and I knew that this mission that I was on ever since I was 23 years old. It meant something to me, and I was on to something.”
“I can’t tell you why I’m here today talking and breathing. I can’t tell you why my life was spared. But I can tell you that what I’m doing with it is, I absolutely refuse for someone to live the pain and the trauma that I live through. And if I can add my voice to unmuting other voices, if I can add my voice to adding more seats at the table, if I can add my voice to ensuring that we laser focus not just within the four walls of healthcare systems, but laser focus on the 80% impact that exists outside of the walls, and that we lift up not just the health of our communities, but we focus on the disinvestment in our communities that is contributing to several of these inequities and disparities in all of that.
I am absolutely a woman on a mission to reverse the history and the centuries of inequities that we’ve had. And I’m a woman on a mission to ensure that no one else has to go through what I’ve had to go through. And a woman on a mission to ensure that I use my testimony and my lived experience to build a sense of trust in the communities that we serve and to wrap my arms around all of the various communities that have been unheard, to make sure that they hear me out loud and clear, that they have an advocate pushing for them.”
“What motivates and drives me, what keeps me up at night, and what gets me up in the morning is: I don’t want any other individual to have a life lost.”
“Representation absolutely matters.”
“I can’t think about health equity without thinking about ways for us to really innovate differently.”
“I consider us to be more than just a health business. We’re more than just a hospital. And we tapped in and we created opportunities to incubate ideas and incubate new business concepts to solve problems. We use our breadth and depth of research in profound ways, where we’re not just trying to address healthcare-related challenges, but we’re looking at, how do we impact the social determinants of health that oftentimes has a greater impact and influence on our patients than us, and how do we use technology to solve for that?”
“Many people take the road most traveled. My family inspired me to create my own path.”
Explore transformative stories from healthcare executives as they share impactful moments of human connection from their professional journeys.