Leaders Talk Strategy, Fearlessness

Leaders Talk Strategy, Fearlessness

By Anne Zender, MA


Change, transformation, and courage were among the themes discussed during Monday’s General Session. The session kicked off the AHIMA19: Health Data and Information Conference in Chicago.

Actor Shad Kunkle from Chicago’s Second City ensemble served as master of ceremonies and shared the principles of improv with the audience: speak what comes to our minds, reserve judgement of yourself and others, and respect and support others. “The power to transform a situation, a scene, rests in our hands and imaginations,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of reimagining.”

AHIMA President Valerie Watzlaf, PhD, MPH, RHIA, FAHIMA, told the story of her aunt’s diagnosis of ovarian cancer at the age of 55. As a researcher in epidemiology, Watzlaf wanted to understand the causes of the disease, so she began to look at risk factors documented in medical records. “We found that very few [risk factors] were actually documented in the record,” she said. “Social determinants of health hold information that helps us better predict and understand health conditions. Today, AHIMA is actively advocating for the collection of social determinants of health.”

Watzlaf delved into one of AHIMA’s strategic goals: to shape the health information profession by growing the influence and competitiveness of health information skill sets. “This strategy really resonates with me as an educator,” she said. “It aligns professional development with educational programs to advance technical and interpersonal skill sets that employers are looking for: technical skills such as math, programming, and statistics, as well as skills such as empathy, self-awareness, self-confidence, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and problem solving.”

Watzlaf added that “Without health information professionals and your skills, the healthcare machine stops. Without you, data is not properly managed,” she said. “Without you, patient information is not secure. Without you, healthcare is not leveraging information in the record to make better clinical decisions for patients, who must always be put first.”

A Call to Leadership

AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE, invoked the Association’s new mission and vision statements and enumerated four things that must happen so that HIM professionals can lead “the movement to transform health and healthcare.”

Harris said AHIMA must:

  • Continue to build what she calls the “House of Health Information” by investing in members and in our infrastructure
  • Lead the industry toward greater integrity, access, and connection—three impact areas where HIM must be thought leaders and change agents
  • Partner with other industry leaders to pursue creative solutions, follow the unknown path, and connect people, systems, and ideas
  • Position ourselves as global healthcare leaders to fully realize our potential and power and keep up with our sister organizations

In October, AHIMA will serve as a partner for mHealth Israel in Tel Aviv and will host a women’s executive leadership dinner. AHIMA is also a partner for the Gulf Cooperation Council Workforce Development Conference in Dubai. In addition, AHIMA was selected as the official co-organizer for the Croatian European Union Presidency’s largest conference, Croatia eHealth Week 2020, next spring.

General Session speaker Carey Lohrenz, was the first female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot.

Harris said AHIMA members should recognize this moment as a call to leadership for each person, regardless of their formal title or years of experience. “AHIMA needs each of you to be a part of our movement of leaders ready and able to transform health and healthcare…No matter who you are, you have influence. Today, I want you to clearly hear and understand that the profession and the movement need you.”

The movement, Harris said, calls for members to bring their “authentic and unapologetic voices” as well as their rich and diverse experiences, knowledge, and talents. It is, she said, a time to be passionate.

Fearless Leadership

Speaker Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the US Navy, spoke about fearless leadership.

Lohrenz described the experience of being a fighter pilot and how it feels to fly and land a plane on an aircraft carrier. “Your job is to always be clarifying the complex. Understand what your purpose is. Our goal is refocusing and reorienting on what our purpose is. If you can clearly articulate that, your chances of success are greater,” she said. “If you lose sight, you lose the fight.”

Lohrenz shared the story of how she was told that she would not be able to be a fighter pilot because “I dared to show up female” and there was a law prohibiting women in combat. She agreed to serve as a flight instructor and focused not only on doing her best work, but on letting the outcomes go. “Do the hard work of today to make the difference for the greater good.” Eventually the law changed, and Lohrenz made it to the cockpit of the F-14 Tomcat, the world’s premier fighter jet. “If you don’t honor your voice and instinct and passions, someone else is going to be sitting in your dream job,” she said.