Women in Health IT Q&A with Patrice Wolfe, president of HDMS

Her best advice always: ‘Stay intellectually curious.’

Patrice R. Wolfe is president of Health Data & Management Solutions – HDMS. She has more than 20 years experience in the healthcare IT field, where she has focused on improving organizations’ fiscal health and providing strategic direction for product portfolios.

Before joining HDMS, Wolfe held the position of Senior Vice President and General Manager of Enterprise Intelligence at Health IT giant McKesson, where she oversaw several high-growth businesses within the technology division.

Q: In recent HIMSS and Healthcare IT News surveys, we’ve learned that women are eager to work with mentors. Did you have a mentor at the start of your career? If so, how did it help? What is the most valuable thing you learned?

A: I’ve had several mentors, both men and women, who helped expose me to more senior leadership and to new situations and roles both inside and outside the organization. You read about women being less aggressive, not putting themselves out there, so having mentors who helped introduce me into more senior conversations and engage in more politically oriented meetings was hugely helpful.

Q: Have you been a mentor over your 20-year career? What prompted you to be? How did it work?

A: Mentoring is something I take seriously — it’s paying it forward. I tend to mentor women because it allows me to speak in shorthand and there are certainly common challenges we face still today, like balancing children and career, getting comfortable with marketing ourselves and being proactive about asking for recognition, not waiting for it to happen. I feel that I have a responsibility to help others find their own path forward, and if my experience can be of any value, I want it to be.

Q: Were you ever treated differently in the workplace, missed a promotion, passed over or anything like that because you are a woman? If so, how did you handle it?

A: In general, I’ve enjoyed an enormous amount of opportunity in my career. There was an occasion where, in terms of compensation, I was penalized for being on maternity leave. I was told that I didn’t contribute as much, so therefore didn’t deserve as big a bonus — which is frankly illegal. People don’t understand how the laws are meant to be interpreted and acted upon. But conversely, I feel I have been exposed to many opportunities, especially at senior levels, where there just aren’t as many women in operating roles There’s enormous desire among enlightened companies to have more women in those roles, so you could say it cuts both ways.

Q: What have you been the proudest of over your career?

A: When I  think back, my fondest memories are always about people — either about teams I’ve been part of or the times I’ve been able to make somebody’s job easier, clearer or more fun. Those are the things that matter the most for me. I’m a big problem-solver. I like nothing more than to work with people who are discouraged and/or frustrated get to the crux of the problem and come up with solutions.

Q: What might you do over?

A: When I was young, I started out programming. The smartest thing I ever did was not market that skill because I would’ve headed down a very different career path if I focused on being a developer. I’m way too extroverted and too much of a business person. I’m happy to have deliberately downplayed those technical skills at the time and, as a result, I headed down a path that I’ve enjoyed enormously.

Q: Where/how do you think you’ve been most powerful?

A: Being a role model in the tech field. Sadly, women are still severely underrepresented in technology roles — as chief technology officers and chief security officers — so being visible is really important for other people trying to find a way forward in their careers.

Q: What advice would you give women in IT?

A: Stay intellectually curious. There’s so much going on in our industry and it’s easy to find yourself pigeon-holed in a certain segment or technology. Keep your career fresh by taking opportunities that might be outside your comfort zone. Give yourself the chance to learn new things, meet new kinds of people and keep an open mind. Those are important elements to career success no matter who you are.

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