A great time to be here: Blended Connection panel shares life journeys, diverse perspectives
In the real-life event on Jan. 29, moderator Charles Henson kicked off the discussion by asking panelists who they’d like to play them in the movie of their life: Jackie Martin, MD, MBA; Maggie Johnson-Glover, RN, MSN, PhD; Ashley Denmark, DO; and Beth Rumack RN, NNP, chose a stellar lineup.
While not quite as famous as their movie counterparts, the panel members are recognized as leaders in their fields, as well as at BJC. And after the casting call, they spent the evening answering serious questions and sharing their unique journeys to leadership — especially in relating to diversity.
The BJC Learning Institute lower level auditorium was almost full for the third event in the Blended Connection Leadership Series. BJC senior vice president June McAllister Fowler, Connection group executive sponsor, welcomed those who braved the falling snow to attend.
Though their stories shared some similarities — associations with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), for instance — the panelists described very different paths to their current roles.
Dr. Martin, Barnes-Jewish Hospital vice president of perioperative services, spent the first 15 years of his life outside of the U.S. because his father had joined the U.S. Air Force, the most desegregated branch of the military at the time.
He attended Howard University, an HBCU, to experience African-American culture in a way he hadn’t growing up. He earned his medical degree at Meharry Medical College, then served his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital with a subsequent 31 years at Hopkins as an anesthesiologist and executive.
Johnson-Glover, who joined Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 2019 as associate chief nurse, grew up in the Dallas area. Though she wanted to attend an HBCU, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Women’s University. She then served 26 years in the U.S. Navy, as a nurse scientist at the Department of Defense. She finally got her HBCU experience, as a professor at Howard University.
Before coming to BJH, she served as a consultant and nurse scientist for the American Nurses Association and associate vice president of nursing at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.
Dr. Denmark, BJC family practice physician, grew up in Jennings and almost stayed there, as everyone from school counselors to neighborhood friends discouraged her dream of becoming a doctor.
Turning that negativity into motivation, she earned her undergraduate degree at Spelman College, an HBCU known for graduating women in STEM disciplines. After working research jobs in Boston, she earned her master’s degree from Tulane University and then achieved her childhood dream. She earned her medical degree from Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.
She practiced in South Carolina before moving back to St. Louis with the goal of making a difference in the community.
Rumack, St. Louis Children’s Hospital cardiac services director, is also a St. Louis native. She grew up in Soulard, daughter of a single mother who instilled in her the importance of getting a college education. After earning her nursing degree at Deaconess School of Nursing, the “meanness and hatred around issues of race” in St. Louis factored into her decision to move west. She trained and worked at the University of California San Francisco and in several Phoenix hospitals. When she moved back to St. Louis, she “found out what it meant to be female,” experiencing a male-dominated power structure she hadn’t encountered previously.
Now at SLCH, she works to break down barriers and make sure all patient families feel included, she said.
The panelists also shared their views, insights and experience on topics including mentorship, what advice they’d give their younger selves and what keeps them grounded.
Dr. Denmark said mentorship was essential in helping her achieve her dreams. So, she provides encouragement and community to other black medical students, residents and professionals through her Instagram account #projectdiversifymedicine. “I want to see more of us in the room,” she said.
Rumack tries to find ways “to influence my white employees to move the needle” on racism. Sometimes that requires pushing them or having uncomfortable conversations, she said.
Citing the business partnership her African-American father had with a white, Jewish man, Johnson-Glover noted that diverse connections can start a cycle of generosity that can influence future generations. Growth comes from making yourself uncomfortable, she said.
Guided by the parable of the servants whose master asked what they had done with the talents they’d been given, Dr. Martin said he tries to make the most of his life by giving of himself. That’s why he’s been going on a two-week medical mission every year since 1995. But being a patient himself, after a 2012 cancer diagnosis, gave him a renewed appreciation for life.
Commitment to diversity
The panelists applauded BJC’s efforts to foster diversity in the workplace and community.
Dr. Denmark said she’s found people more open than in her previous location. One of the first people to reach out to offer help in adjusting to her new practice was a white, male doctor. “That wouldn’t have happened back in South Carolina,” she said. “The culture there was to struggle until you figured it out.”
Dr. Martin said he was initially skeptical that BJC and BJH leadership was open to making truly substantive, successful changes in process and culture. But now, though he sees a need for the organization take a more proactive role in issues like paying a living wage, he knows leadership is committed to improving the community, as well as the organization.
Johnson-Glover said she was impressed when she first saw all the Connection groups.
“There are Connection groups that represent everyone at BJC,” she said. “With the commitment to diversity, it’s a great time to be here. BJC is showing that there are other ways to do business here.”
CUTLINE: The event included, from left, moderator Charles Henson, and panelists Dr. Jackie Martin, Maggie Johnson-Glover, Dr. Ashley Denmark and Beth Rumack.