My mother was a registered nurse and my grandfather a physician, so for as long as I can recall, I’ve been interested in health care.
I remember the moment when it became my passion.
We had a close family friend, a World War II veteran, who was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was coming to the end of his life, and I remember him telling me his life journey. I remember thinking it would be so great if one day if I could cure cancer.
When I graduated from the medical university, I started doing cancer and human genetics research in a number of labs, including the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of Maryland in Baltimore. I quickly found that, while it was an interesting discipline, my real forte was dealing with people.
I seemed to continually migrate from really highly technical areas into people areas like sales, marketing and business development.
I worked for a number of companies over the years, including one that brought DNA fingerprinting here to the United States. We worked with law enforcement agencies across the country to leverage the use of DNA to solve crime.
I discovered I did well at leading from the bottom up. My father instilled that in me.
He was a very successful chief executive of a big company. Growing up, when he would take me to work, I would see how he spent an enormous amount of time understanding what everyone in the company did, from the janitor to the guys driving the trucks to the senior executives in the company.
When I was a senior in high school, my father was running the largest food wholesaler in Anchorage, Alaska, at the time.
He gave me a job as a janitor in the warehouse so that I could learn what people do in the organization starting at the lowest level.
Then 15 years ago my father became ill. By then he had moved to South Carolina, and we moved there to be closer to him. I went to work for the Medical University of South Carolina.
It was a turning point.
My father’s physician would tell him what he needed to know about his illness, but my father couldn’t remember everything the physician said.
If a guy who was highly educated and ran a several-billion-dollar company could not manage to take care of his health, I knew there was something wrong with the system.
So I focused on what is known as patient engagement. At the Medical University of South Carolina, with e-healthcare and the use of the Internet, I knew we could empower patients to make good decisions.
We helped expand certain engagement programs that got more people to read about their options and seek the appropriate treatment.
From there, I took a job with Krames StayWell, the largest patient engagement company in the United States with a footprint in 85 percent of hospitals. Now, I had the advantage of being in not only one institution but now thousands of hospitals providing information around health risk assessment and behavioral change programs.
I might not be a physician, but what’s so laudable about this kind of work is there are very few jobs in the world where you can touch so many peoples’ lives and have the opportunity to make an impact on them.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Executive vice president and chief operating officer of the GetWellNetwork, a Bethesda company that provides technology solutions for health care providers.
Career highlights: Executive vice president and chief technology officer, Krames StayWell; senior vice president technology and professional services, StayWell Custom Communications; director of Web resource services, Medical University of South Carolina; vice president of business development, Bio-Reference Laboratories.
Education: BS, Medical University of South Carolina.
Personal: Lives in Chevy Chase with spouse, Mimi. They have four children.