This question has been posed by our friends at Rock Health, who are currently running the XXinHealth campaign focusing on women leaders in Healthcare. In support of the XX week, and in conjunction with BlogHer ’12, FoundHealth CEO Rita Sharma addresses the question. Hear more women health leaders speak in this inspirational video: XX in Health: Women Leading Healthcare.

As co-founder and CEO of FoundHealth.com, I embrace my ability to effect change in the lives of the people that we serve. I am inspired by my fellow women that have stepped into strong leadership positions and are leading the change. At the end of the day, however, what it means to be a woman in healthcare centers on my role as a caregiver, as a daughter, mother and wife. So my journey goes from being a lost, frustrated, and unempowered caregiver to eventually becoming encouraged and “found”. What follows is my story as a caregiver to my mother…

In 2006, my mother had kidney failure after 20 plus years of living with type II diabetes. Kidney failure inevitably leads to dialysis. A couple of months into her dialysis treatments, my mother had an unusual response. Each time she went in for her dialysis treatments, she would faint and then be rushed to the local emergency room in Glendora, California so that she could be resuscitated. I would receive a call in San Francisco letting me know that my mom was in the hospital. At the time, I was at LifeScan, a diabetes company that is part of Johnson and Johnson. As a Director at a Fortune 50 company, it was not easy to get time off but I usually found a way. In the emergency room, I would find my mom a little more weakened after each trip. Her care team did not have a cause or a diagnosis for the fainting spells.

To get to the answer, I researched the Web, PubMed and any other resource available to me to try to solve the mystery. I looked for others that could be in my mom’s situation or were caring for such a person. Then I would return to the doctors with questions such as, “could it be her blood pressure medication” or “is there not enough sodium, potassium or other substances in her diet” or “does she have an undiagnosed condition that we should be testing for?” Often I was met with the following response: ”I don’t think that’s the problem but we will look into it”. I was extremely frustrated by their reactions. I felt that they needed to find the answer or support my journey in finding the answer as an empowered caregiver. Neither was the case.

Ultimately, after 14 such fainting incidences, my mother ended up in a coma and passed away in 2007. It was the saddest day of my life. Sad because I loved her and lost her, sad because I couldn’t help her. But pain has a way of making us do something grand with our lives. So in 2010, I would co-found FoundHealth so people could understand all their options, connect with others that were traveling the same journey, and have a place that they could call their “health home”. Everyday, I am emboldened by the FoundHealth mission to help people navigate their health in a way that does the least harm and relies on the power of a community to get you to the answers.

As a women with a long career in healthcare, I have always been moved by the voice of the customer. At LifeScan, we heard from patients that were truly lost in their journey to manage their diabetes with many conflicting messages filling their heads. At FoundHealth, we hear about melanoma patients that have an awakening when they get to our melanoma treatments page and there are 24 treatments listed. They tell us there is a deep sense of hope when they can understand their options in medicine, diet, herbs, body, mind and spirit. That was our hope too.

I do believe that woman, as caregivers, have a natural gift in translating the voice of the customer into products and services that can help people and their caregivers. Not to say that they are more qualified than men. Its just that with women representing only 4% of the leadership in health companies, I am concerned that we don’t currently hold enough of a representative voice in shaping the future of healthcare – this needs to change. I look forward to bolstering our voice. I look forward to being this change, leading this change, and mentoring the future of this change in healthcare. I look forward to watching women rise into leadership positions of compelling healthcare organizations globally.

 

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