Ep 17: Carla Smith: Healthcare Champion and Technology Translator

In this episode we interviewed Carla Smith, the Executive Vice President of HIMSS, a global cause-based nonprofit organization focused on providing better health through information technology. She has nearly 25 years in policy development, 20 years of healthcare experience and a passion for translating “technospeak” for everyone.

Carla says she “fell” into healthcare technology. She was working in information technology in the manufacturing world for the State of Michigan. When Governor Engler came to office,  he shut down the work on which she was focused. So, Carla applied to an ad and took a position in communications for health IT.

Carla’s new communications focus was to help nurses and physicians understand what IT is all about, and this is now her niche. She studied English and Communications and now helps translate “techno speak” to the layperson, as well as translating policy issues.  

How does this work for policy? When there’s a piece of legislation, for example like one currently for cybersecurity, Carla visits Congress members to help them understand how cybersecurity threatens healthcare. There’s a lot of data available right now on security in information technology, but she’ll help to translate what this actually means for the health sector.

Carla’s role currently at HIMSS is Executive Vice President of North America. HIMSS is a global non-profit organization for better health through through the best use of information technology, providing thought leadership, networking, and education. She is the Executive responsible for HIMSS's focus in North America. 

What sort of impact does this make for the community? For those who consider information technology in the health sector, HIMSS helps them become better educated to make business decisions at their hospital, clinical practice, or agency. Carla says the end goal is safer care, more cost effective care, care that’s of higher quality, and increased access to care, through the best use of Information Technology.   “Technology is the tool, not the end,” she said.

Carla reflected back on her very first job, when ATM machines were first emerging. Her job was to educate consumers on why you’d want to use an ATM machine. She remembers, in the late 1980’s, hanging out with a friend who was the first to pull out her card for the ATM machine. It was mindblowing to see for the very first time!

She enjoyed teaching people how to use ATMs since it was all about helping the consumer understand how technology could be a valuable part of his or her life.

From banking, she went to the manufacturing sector. At the time, the “big three” auto companies were heavily focused quality assurance. There are many small and mid-sized manufacturers in Michigan, and they didn’t understand what information technology could do for them. Carla felt it was absolutely crucial for these small businesses to understand and get access to key technology like CAD CAM, as one example. “You can transform your entire way of thinking if the technology becomes available to you in a way that makes sense to you,” Carla said.

She subsequently moved to the healthcare field, and this is where she’s stayed. At the end of the day, we are all patients and the right care is so important to Carla. One of the ways to ensure people are receiving the right care is through opening up the pathways through policy and education to drive change. But this all boils down to having the right information to the right person at the right time.

Was it a challenge for Carla to study communications and jump into the world of IT? She thinks not. Instead, it helped her bring something unique to the field.  “I have never been sorry for the degrees I have,” she said. “I’ve met too many people who know so much, they are so smart, and they can’t get it out! They can’t express either in writing, or verbally, what they have to offer.”

Carla sees herself as a champion and a technology translator, but there are challenges she had to overcome. Being a wife, executive, and a mother, she found wonderful. But the challenge has been to juggle all her roles. As a mother and an executive, she found she’s more empathetic to others. There are ways to enable women on her team to be true to their professional needs and still fulfill their needs as mother.  She can empathize since it’s big challenge she’s had to face.

What advice does Carla offer for women in technology or women seeking leadership roles? Carla says it’s silly to have gender expectations.  We can simultaneously meet our need for a career balanced with our children, our significant others, and our personal needs! While that’s a lot to balance, her advice is to think of everything in seasons.

“Sometimes in a certain season, your job comes first. Sometimes your personal needs come first, sometimes you family,” she said. “You are going to cycle in and out of those and it’s okay.”

Other advice she offers:

  • Stand up for yourself in a non-defensive manner. You’ll be able to receive constructive criticism and communicate clearly.

  • Listen. Seek first to understand, before you try to be understood. You will learn so much about the other person. It will make you smarter and more effective.

  • Take every opportunity to better yourself like listening to these podcasts!

Through Carla, you can find out more about HIMMS. You can email Carla any time at csmith@himss.org, and connect with her on twitter at @carlamsmith

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