Celebrating Women in Health Care: 5 Leaders Discuss their Inspiration and Careers at Emory Healthcare

Date: Mar 28, 2022

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, women account for 76% of the health care workforce. At Emory Healthcare, it’s likely that your care is in women’s hands – thousands of remarkable women make up more than 80% of our team, working to improve our patients’ lives every day.

We celebrate the contributions of women across Emory Healthcare throughout the year, and especially during Women’s History Month. We asked several to share their thoughts, inspiration, and advice.

Edna Brisco, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, CENP, CNML, OCN
Vice President of Patient Care Services & Chief Nursing Officer at Emory Hillandale Hospital

BriscoEdna Brisco, MSN, RN, says that it’s important to find your “why” and understand your purpose. “When you’re able to do this,” she says, “You will love the work that you do, and your career will flourish.” She was born to be a nurse, she says, and after 28 years, she’s as proud as she was the day she graduated from nursing school.

“Women’s History Month celebrates the strong, brave women that have paved the way by breaking down barriers and shattering glass ceilings,” Brisco says. Women from the past and present have forged paths for women to have the opportunities available today. “I think of courageous women like Harriet Tubman, Florence Nightingale, Ella Fitzgerald, Madam C. J. Walker, Katherine Johnson, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Vice President Kamala Harris.” Although this is a long list, the woman who inspires her most is her mother, Rose. “She gave her all to ensure her that her kids grew up to be good human beings,” she says.

At Emory Hillandale Hospital, Brisco uses the qualities she learned from her mother – hard work, compassion, and self-confidence – daily in what she calls her “second calling” as a nurse leader. “It is my job to support, empower and motivate our phenomenal nursing team to provide our patients with kind, compassionate, high-quality care.” As a nurse leader, Brisco also places great importance on mentoring others and helping them advance their skills and careers. Investing in her staff is an important part of achieving her vision of Emory Hillandale as a hospital of choice for its community. She says, “I believe in patient- and family-centered care and I want to earn the respect and trust of the community and work to meet their needs.” Accomplishing this goal requires a team who are the best version of themselves, Brisco says, and she’s enthusiastic about her team. She says, “I want our staff to understand how important they are and I want them to feel like their efforts make a difference.”

Sonya Britting Green, PA, Chief of Primary Care Advanced Practice Providers

“I had an interest in doing good in the world,” recalls Sonya Britting Green, PA, of how she first found a career in health care. “At 22 years old, I wasn’t really sure what that would look like, and I started volunteering at the Grady HIV Clinic.”

Today, Green has a clinical practice in Decatur, teaches in Emory University’s physician assistant program once a week as an academic society leader and advisor, and fulfills various administrative duties in her role as Chief of Primary Care Advanced Practice Providers.

“Particularly in primary care, you really get to know someone and help support and guide them through their lives,” Green says. “Having a career that is so intimate and so personal – through patients’ ups and downs – that’s the thing that feeds me.” And personal feedback from patients and Green’s team amplifies this. “When I see that someone has written ‘I felt heard, I felt listened to, I felt respected’ – those feel like the reason I’m doing what I’m doing, both from a patient care perspective and a leadership perspective.”

Because her field is predominantly women, Green says she often talks to women about their careers. “How to advance professionally, how to take care of themselves, how to be available for their families and their spouses,” she lists. “We’re constantly trying to find balance on a spinning planet, so you get it, you lose it… you get it, you lose it…” It’s hard, she says, so it’s important for women to offer themselves “a lot of grace because we’re carrying a lot, and I think it’s tough.”

“My mother has had about 25 careers, and among them she’s a nurse,” Green says. “She was an elevator constructor, a car mechanic, an electrician… and it hasn’t at all been limited by her gender.” Having her mother as an example in her life, Green felt constantly inspired. She remarks, “There never was a point in which you could ever imagine there was something you couldn’t do when you had my mother.”

Divya Gupta, MD, Medical Director for Advanced Heart Failure and Heart Transplantation

Divya GuptaOriginally, Divya Gupta, MD, thought she was going to be a mechanical engineer. But after receiving her degree, she realized something was missing. “There was no human interaction,” she says, “There has to be more than working on machines for me – so that’s when I veered towards medicine.”

Gupta has always had an interest in treating the very complex patient, and her early experience with cardiology inspired her career. “I was fascinated at the idea that I could take care of someone that was really sick, and actually save their lives and give them a meaningful life,” she says. “They could see their children grow up and their grandchildren grow up – I was actually giving someone quality and quantity of life in cardiology.”

At Emory Healthcare, Gupta is medical director for advanced heart failure and heart transplantation. “We save lives,” she says. “We provide options for survival better than anyone else in the state, and I’d even say the region.” She wants to make sure that all patients know that treatment options, like transplant, are available to them. “There’s always new technology, but if patients aren’t knowledgeable about their options, or don’t have resources available, they may believe their limits keep them from having a chance at survival.”

“Inspiration is everywhere with what we do,” says Gupta. “The way our patients fight for their lives is impressive – what they’re willing to go through to be there for their family another day.” And the care her program provides can’t be built by an individual, she says. “It takes an entire team with the same passion and dedication to make this happen for all of our patients.”

Gupta says often she meets trainees who were encouraged to pursue another specialty because they are told it’s difficult to find work/life balance in cardiology. She offers women this advice: “I don’t know that I would have gotten that complete satisfaction of career and family if I’d chosen something different. Make sure you at least pursue your passion – what you do in the end is up to you, but if you don’t ever continue with that training, it’s hard to go back, and you might always wonder ‘what if?’”

Sharon Pappas, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, Chief Nurse Executive

Pappas“My nursing role model is Florence Nightingale,” says Sharon Pappas, PhD, RN, “because she didn’t let much get in her way.”

Pappas credits an Emory nurse with the beginning of her nursing career. When her grandfather received a pacemaker, she encountered a nurse in his room. “She said, ‘I wanted to spend some time teaching you how to live with that pacemaker,’” Pappas recalls. “And all of a sudden, I wanted to be part of a profession that teaches people how to live.”

Over her more than 40 years in health care as a professional nurse, Pappas has realized that there’s “a lot to teaching patients how to live, but there’s also a lot, now particularly, to helping clinicians be fulfilled, healthy, and doing what they love.” And leaders, Pappas says, are able to cultivate the environment where patient care occurs and to develop cultures and systems that help clinicians achieve this.

One of the reasons Pappas came to Emory Healthcare is its expectation for hospitals and clinics to be credentialed as Magnet organizations, which is a designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center based on the quality of nurses’ work environment and patient outcomes. “Nurses play a significant role in an organization in terms of ensuring patients are safe and achieving desired patient outcomes,” Pappas explains. When she arrived, Emory Healthcare counted three Magnet hospitals – and being present when Emory Johns Creek was awarded the recognition for the first time is something Pappas will never forget. “It’s not just about the award – it’s about people realizing what a great thing they’ve accomplished and that it’s really about the role nurses play in ensuring good things for patients.”

Pappas finds collaboration in many of her daily activities and emphasizes its importance. “Part of leadership is getting work done with other people,” she says. “Never underestimate the power of relationships. That’s really where it all starts – relationships are at the heart of patient safety.”

Tina-Ann Thompson, MD, Program Lead, Primary Care Division; Division Director for Family Medicine

TIna ann Thompson“It’s important for women and girls who are watching to see women at the decision-making table,” says Tina-Ann Thompson, MD. Throughout her life, Thompson has always had strong female role models and mentors. “I’m inspired by those who speak out on issues that matter,” she says.

After trying several majors and volunteering at a hospital, Thompson found her calling in the pediatric inpatient unit, which provides care to critically ill or injured children. “I still love seeing adolescents today,” she says. Today, Thompson is the Program Lead for Primary Care and Division Director for Family Medicine, where she treats patients of all ages in Stone Mountain, GA. Thompson also specializes in women’s health and chronic disease management, especially the effect of stress on women’s overall health. At Emory at Rockbridge, her vision is for community-wide impact, and she strives for “a diverse group of clinicians who meet the needs of patients in our communities.”

For Thompson, community is an important part of health care and something she experiences at Emory Healthcare. “The community of clinicians is evident,” she says. “While large and complex, in a crisis, we come together for the best outcomes for our patients – always willing to go the extra mile.” Her colleagues’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic inspired her. “We asked clinicians to step out of their comfort zones. Some educated, some took shifts in other areas, some wrote protocols, others covered for their colleagues.”

“All the roles women play are important,” Thompson says when asked about Women’s History Month. “None more than the other. All women deserve respect for the decisions they make in their personal and professional lives.”

Read more from women practitioners at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

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