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Lessons in Leadership: Advice From Sandra Clarke, Chief Operating Officer at Blue Shield of California

Learn what inspires and motivates Sandra Clarke, recognized by Modern Healthcare as one of the Women Leaders for 2024.
Sandy Modern Healthcare Award

Blue Shield of California’s chief operating officer Sandra Clarke was recognized by Modern Healthcare as one of the Women Leaders for 2024 for her dedication to supporting gender equity and challenging the status quo to ensure all parts of the healthcare system deliver true value for everyone.

"Our mission at Blue Shield is to create a healthcare system that is worthy of our family and friends and sustainably affordable for everyone,” said Blue Shield of California president and CEO, Paul Markovich. “Sandra’s leadership has been pivotal in delivering transformational results that improve the health of our members, physicians and communities we serve.”

Whether architecting Blue Shield of California’s vision to transform operations to reduce costs and enhance member experiences, serving across five board appointments or sharing her leadership experiences with employees, Clarke leads by example. Learn more about her career path and her advice for future leaders in the Q&A below.

Your career has covered many critical industries, including health care, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, water treatment, software development and defense. What attracted you to Blue Shield of California?

From removing toxins from ground water to designing defibrillators that bring people back to life, I have always chosen roles and companies that positively contribute to peoples’ health and daily lives. Blue Shield of California does that at scale. We have a tremendous opportunity to improve access and affordability of care. I am proud to be part of an organization that is committed to building a better system and is helping to make a real difference.

Your pharma experience and understanding of the supply chain was vital in the development of Blue Shield of California’s Pharmacy Care Reimagined initiative. What’s driving your passion around this initiative?

It is hugely satisfying to me to be a disruptor and challenger of the status quo regarding the cost of prescription drugs. Having seen the drug pricing supply chain from several perspectives, I genuinely believe that this is an area crying for an overhaul. Pharmacy Care Reimagined is Blue Shield’s innovative program meant to truly transform the healthcare system for the better, specifically ensuring safe, equitable access to sustainably affordable drugs. It’s not just about fixing misaligned incentives or addressing sky-high drug prices. It’s the dedication from our experts that’s helping create a system that all of our family members and friends will benefit from. I’m very appreciative of our team’s continued hard work and creativity that’s contributing to this initiative so far, and I’m inspired to see where we can go and who will join us along the way. When we change what people pay for critical medications, we make an enormous step toward fulfilling our mission.

You had the opportunity to go to the White House recently and participate in a roundtable discussion on health care. How do you keep your composure in high-pressure situations like that?

In any high-pressure situation, it’s important to remind yourself that you deserve a seat at the table and that your questions and opinions matter. You also need to ground yourself in the purpose or intended outcome of the situation. I care deeply about our mission and helping people, and for me, when you lead with that passion, the rest falls into place. Participating in the White House Roundtable with people who likewise want to change the system so that every person can get the care they need was incredibly satisfying.

You’re a big advocate for getting more women into leadership positions. What advice do you have to encourage women to become leaders and join boards?

Throughout my career, I’ve been proud to know so many strong and capable women who've helped pave the way for others. Gender diversity is very important – not just at the top level or on a board – but at all levels. It creates diverse views, better choices, more innovation and higher financial performance. I’ve found the most successful people have been those with an insatiable appetite to continuously learn. The advice I would give:

  • Be curious.
  • Be open to trying different things.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up.
  • Volunteer if you see something that needs to be fixed.
  • Demonstrate that you understand the business.
  • Remember that you don’t have to come to the table with 100% of the qualifications. Every role should have room for you to learn as well as add value quickly.

You also believe in the importance of recharging. What do you do to recharge?

I believe it’s vital for every person to prioritize taking a break. Recharging from time to time is essential to living a life with intention and purpose. It’s important to take long breaks like a vacation, and it’s also important to find moments for pause in your everyday life.

For me, physical activity is particularly important, and I go for hikes and take long walks with my dog. I also find inspiration in baking, which allows me to try something new and delicious while also enjoying a brief break from day-to-day stress. Clearly, the overall recipe for taking care of your own mental health differs for each person. I encourage everyone to figure out what ingredients work for them to experience joy and maintain their well-being.

For Sandra Clarke's Women Leaders for 2024 profile, click here. And for the full list of Top Women Leaders in Healthcare in 2024, visit Modern Healthcare.