Michelle McEwen, 2022 Outstanding Women in Business recipient
Michelle is the President & CEO of Speare Memorial Hospital
McEwen has worked at Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth for 29 years, leading the organization for the last 21 years. During her tenure at Speare, she earned the top healthcare management credential of Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives from the nation’s leading professional society for healthcare leaders. Fellow status represents the highest standard of professional development and only 5,400 healthcare leaders held this distinction at the time.
She was part of the American Heart Association Council for Small or Rural Hospitals and the AHA Regional Policy Board, where she focused on future policy issues that affected central New Hampshire. Her extraordinary leadership during the pandemic has been pivotal in mobilizing hospital employees, community members and businesses in order to keep those they serve safe.
As a healthcare leader for over two decades, what challenges did you encounter as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
Healthcare is a female-dominated industry when you think about the entire workforce, and, unfortunately, the leadership of these organizations does not mimic the workforce that they are leading. I am happy to say that the number of women in leadership roles in healthcare has improved, and NH has done quite well.
I think the challenges that I faced were very similar to other women in any male-dominated industry, which includes not being heard, not being taken seriously and not being valued as an equal member of leadership.
What sparked your interest in working in healthcare?
I began my career in the world of finance, as a CPA for a large worldwide firm, where I was provided an opportunity to join their healthcare consulting division. I found that I enjoyed consulting work, because each engagement was a different problem to solve with playbook to follow. I found healthcare challenging. It is an industry that is highly regulated, where hospitals are required to treat anyone that walks into their emergency room, whether the patient can afford to pay for their services or not. Many other industries have much more control over their revenues than healthcare, so ensuring a healthcare organization is financially successful is challenging but also stimulating.
What advice do you have for young women just starting their careers?
I would advise them to have the confidence that they can be great at whatever their endeavors may be, but also to realize that they need to work hard to get there. They can prove to others that they have the skills and knowledge necessary to advance by taking on projects that challenge them and allow them to learn and grow. They should never stop learning and take each day as a learning opportunity.
It is also important that they remain humble and reflect on their performance: How did I handle that situation or that issue? Could I have done it differently to get a better outcome? As part of reflection, they should be honest about their strengths and weaknesses and how that affects their performance. Lastly, I would encourage them to stay true to their values.
What prompted you to become involved with the American Hospital Association Council for Small or Rural Hospitals and the AHA Regional Policy Board, focusing on future policy issues in NH?
It has been several years since I served, but it was a wonderful experience and one that I hope I get the chance to do again. It was a great opportunity to influence the future and to look at things from a “big picture” perspective. I was interested in participating in the process due to the unique learning opportunity it presented to me, but also the opportunity to network with other hospital CEOs outside of NH and participate in stimulating conversations about our future environment and how we could steer it in a way that was meaningful for our organizations and the communities we serve.
How has the pandemic affected your day-to-day life in the hospital? What challenges/obstacles did you have to lead your team through?
The pandemic affects us every day. The most significant challenge of the past few months is how to do more with less, to an extent that we’ve not faced before. We have experienced a significant loss of healthcare workers, in an industry that was already facing a workforce shortage.
We have also seen dramatic increases in patients in need of our services, whether due to the complications of Covid or significant health issues that arose due to delays in accessing care. Since late fall, our larger hospitals with specialty resources have been unable to accept transfers of severely ill patients from small community hospitals. We had to stop all elective surgeries, so that we could convert our surgical recovery rooms into a telemetry unit in order to admit and monitor more patients than our licensed capacity.
We have an amazing team that stepped up by filling roles different than their day-to-day responsibilities and working long hours to ensure all our patients got great care.