Trailblazer. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the term trailblazer first appeared in print in 1908 to define “one that blazes a trail to guide others.” Though the term didn’t appear broadly until that date, women have been blazing trails in health care, transforming health, and distinguishing themselves in their respective health careers for quite some time. The path along the way has included challenges. Women trailblazers throughout history have endured, in fact welcomed the challenges with a passion for transformation.
Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States; she was courageous and unwavering in following her passion. Her acceptance to Geneva Medical College in New York in 1847 was “deemed by the student body as an administrative practical joke.”1 Blackwell later went on to found the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children in 1857, which stood for more than 100 years, and helped establish the U.S. Sanitary Commission in 1861 under Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
Imagine the challenges that awaited Dr. Jean Harris, a distinguished Minnesotan, who was born in the segregated South and became the first African-American graduate of the Medical College of Virginia. During her career she advised five presidents on health policy, was a celebrated corporate and public health leader, and Eden Prairie’s first woman mayor. Her remarkable life and achievements speak to the full promise of America and underscore the importance of continuing to inspire leaders and others to shape a world of harmony, peace, and dignity. Dr. Harris’ vision and leadership made her one of the TRUST’s most respected members and led to the TRUST establishing the Jean Harris Award in her honor.
Dr. Jean Harris and other women trailblazers in health care paved the way for deeper representation of women throughout all areas of the industry. The inclusivity and awareness of many views and experiences of the world and living expand the possibilities for health and a vibrant health care industry.
Trailblazers forge a path – big or small – to lead with vision and honor the call to transcend challenges on the path of bold transformation. Trailblazers courageously persevere, and welcome risk in the face of uncertainty. They continuously collaborate and surround themselves with others who make each other stronger. These are traits shared by our very own TRUST trailblazers who have earned the honor of the Jean Harris Award or the 21st Century Pinnacle Leader Award. This year’s recipients, Paula Hart and Patsy Riley, have each uniquely demonstrated what it means to be a woman trailblazer in health care. As President and CEO of Volunteers of America – Minnesota and Wisconsin, Paula Hart has sustained the VOA’s 122-year legacy as a health and human services organization with a mission to help those served gain self-reliance, dignity and hope. Patricia (Patsy) Riley, recently retired Senior Vice President and Chief Government Officer, oversaw Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s government health program business, was responsible for more than $4 billion in revenue, and was instrumental in shaping the organization’s diversity, inclusion and health equity initiatives.
TRUST members are leading health care organizations in an increasing variety of roles. Together, TRUST members are bringing additional perspectives and views to the health care industry and changing perceptions of what and how we transform health and health care. While we've made steady, significant progress for which we can celebrate, there are trails yet to be blazed. Let's continue to join together in community and empower the journeys of our future trailblazers.
Sources: 1 Biography.com
Connie White Delaney currently serves as TRUST President, and Professor and Dean at the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota. Delaney holds degrees in nursing and mathematics, adult health nursing, educational administration, and informatics. Delaney’s work is expanding connections, collaborations, integrative informatics, and social structures which advance co-discovery of solutions that transform health and education systems.