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Women Transforming Health Care: Dr. Susan Fleischman

'There are well documented disparities in the number of women in leadership positions as well as salary disparities. We all need to play a role in trying to fix that,' Fleischman says

Dr. Susan Fleischman brings more than 30 years of clinical and executive experience to this role, most recently as principal at Health Management Associates. She has held leadership positions at Kaiser Permanente, Anthem/Blue Cross of California and Venice Family Clinic in Los Angeles. She received her Doctor of Medicine from the University of California, Los Angeles and she is Board Certified in Internal Medicine.


Why health care?

As a child of Holocaust survivors, I have a deep service credo to try to make the world a better place, especially for those that are disenfranchised. Growing up I was a bit of science nerd, but I didn’t really know how I could use science to help people improve their lives. As a volunteer at the student health center in college, a campus gardener came in who was unconscious, he looked dead to my 18-year-old self. The doctor examined him, gave him a bag of fluid and he sat up and started talking. Now I know he had diabetes and low blood sugar, and the doctor knew him and what to do. In that moment, I knew what chemistry and science could do and I decided that I wanted to be in health care.


Who are women that inspire you?


The early pioneers of women in medicine. I think that they were so brave to enter a male-dominated field, and many had remarkable accomplishments in a time where there were very few female physicians. They laid the foundation for women such as me, to help make the world a better place.

I am also inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg. she has spent much of her career for fighting for women's rights and gender equality. And she has great stamina. I really admire her.


How can we/do you support the next generation of women leaders?

I think there are many women in health care who have hit a ceiling. While not true at Blue Shield of California, there are also well documented disparities in the number of women in leadership positions as well as salary disparities. We all need to play a role in trying to fix that.  I believe one way to do that is by mentoring and promoting women. I have had a somewhat non-traditional path, spending 20 years in the safety net, and I have met many female students and young physicians who want to know what to do next for their career paths. if they express interest in growing professionally, I will offer to mentor them and provide advice. I am proud that I have a cadre of women from my past positions who still reach out to discuss career choices. I think women executive leaders need to work together to help others break through the ceiling.


What challenges do we still need to overcome to achieve equality?

There are so many challenges, and opportunities. There is still inequality for women regarding access and exposure to senior leaders. There is still some “boy’s club” mentality in some cases, and that is still around. There will be challenges. While not by design, many times women are not included in networking events and activities and don’t have the same opportunities to engage with leaders resulting in leaders not knowing who they are, what they are capable of or what accomplishments a female leader has had throughout her career. I think if men and women are given the same opportunities, we are taking a step in the right direction in achieving equality.


How has the Covid-19 outbreak changed/challenged the way you lead?

I joined Blue Shield as interim chief medical officer for Blue Shield Promise about two weeks before the shelter in place order was issued so majority of my experience has been working remote. I have led national teams in the past so I am used to leading a remote-based team but that doesn’t come without challenges. I think one of the hardest things is to make - and maintain - personal connections while everyone is working in a remote environment. In place of putting a small group together to brainstorm ideas we now have team video conference calls. It’s not quite the same as people in a room with a blank white board. I am working on how to create the synergy remotely. And checking in on each other is more important than ever as we navigate through the pandemic.