Alumni Profile: Bonnie Hanson, MHSA '05

What degree did you receive from GW's SPHHS? What was your concentration?

I received my Master of Health Services Administration after completing my residency in July 2005.

Please tell us about your current position. Can you describe a typical day?

The foundation of our success is at the bedside, where doctors, nurses and team members provide remarkable patient care. In my role as a hospital COO, I am constantly challenging our organization to be more efficient and improve operations every single day while delivering safe, high quality patient care. At the end of each day, I measure my success on how I have helped serve my leadership team to stay focused and on track with executing our strategic plan to improve employee engagement, patient satisfaction, physician satisfaction, patient safety and ultimately grow volume. I also measure success based on who I have been able to put in the spotlight and give credit to – for even the small things, because at the end of the day, it is those employees who touch our patients every single day who deserve to be recognized for their hard work.

I am responsible for the operational support departments of the hospital including: pharmacy, radiology, laboratory, nutritional services, housekeeping, plant operations, security, biomedical engineering, outpatient services, human resources, marketing and all construction and renovation projects. With this level of responsibility, I see myself similar to a conductor of an orchestra – I am not an expert in each department, but I spend each day cultivating their talents and developing our leadership team to reach their fullest potential.

Please tell us about your path from SPHHS to where you are today. How did you get your first job in the field?

I guarantee you, five years from now, you will look back and remember one person who made a difference for you in those first crucial career steps. Never forget them and keep them in your life. For me, that person was Stan Grube, GW alumnus ’66. As a former hospital CEO, he took full ownership in mentoring me from the beginning as a student at GW. After completing my administrative residency, he introduced me to a hospital CEO colleague who served as a mentor in HCA’s COO Executive Development Program. To prove myself, I served as a Director of Patient Relations at Riverside Community Hospital and I put my all into the job, improving patient satisfaction from the 10th to the 90th percentile in less than a year.

After a series of rigorous interviews and selection process, I was accepted into HCA’s COO executive development program, and was promoted to the Associate Administrator role at the same hospital. I was given responsibilities of a few departments at a time, such as food services and housekeeping and laboratory. I gained incremental experience for approximately four years, moving between two hospitals across the country, making each transition with a purpose. I was then recruited to join a hospital executive turnaround team to save a hospital that was on the verge of being shut down by CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services). As part of a systems improvement agreement, we uprooted deep seated cultural patterns of behavior. Through listening and holding the team accountable, within a year of working with nursing and operational departments, we took the hospital from having 460 deficiencies to zero, allowing the hospital to keep its accreditation.

All of these experiences led up to my current role as COO. I am grateful for each experience and I am thankful I did not rush into the position. Yes, mistakes were made along the way, but that is how you learn and become an even better leader.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

The best advice I ever received came from several GW alumni who gave a consistent message while speaking as an "Executive in Residence" while I was a student at GW: there is no such thing as luck. It is preparation meeting opportunity. This is how you become a master of networking. Always be prepared for an opportunity that may present itself. Have your elevator speech memorized when introducing yourself, keep your business cards on hand. You may be at the right place at the right time, but if you aren't prepared to present yourself with that right person, that short window of opportunity will pass you by. When doing informal meetings to learn more about a position, over prepare. Practice in front of a full length mirror, critique your posture, your confidence, and record yourself talking about your background. Treat that first impression opportunity like your career depended on it because you never know if that person will have a job for you later down the road.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

Don't be afraid to have high ambitions. Don't shy away from expressing openly your long term career goals. If you want to be a hospital CEO one day, speak it with full confidence, believe in yourself, work as hard as you can stand it, be humble, give credit to others, surround yourself with mentors looking out for your best interest, and you will achieve your goal. As a student at GW, attend all the alumni events. Don't shy away from talking with the alumni who want to help. Never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank you card.

Never let someone tell you that you don't have what it takes or that you are too young to be an executive. Be kind, yet assertive when needed; be approachable, yet focused with your goals; be relentless to achieve results through others while always showing respect, always look to set the bar higher by not accepting mediocre outcomes  and your age and perceived lack of experience will suddenly become irrelevant.

To expand your career growth opportunities, don’t limit yourself to geographic preferences. Be flexible and open to living in areas of the country you may not have otherwise considered. In the past seven years, I have lived in four areas including Wisconsin, California, Tennessee and Indiana.

In the workplace setting, no matter what field you are in, your first 90 days are the most crucial. Prepare yourself by immersing yourself in leadership books like "The First 90 Days", "First Break all the Rules", "Hardwiring Excellence", "The Servant Leader"... And ultimately, in all you do, build trust. My ultimate leadership philosophy is: people will doubt what you say, but they will always believe what you do. As a senior leader in an organization, you are always on stage and people are watching your every move.

Lastly, remember to give back. When you have reached your goal, give back by mentoring GW students who aspire to do what you. Teach them all the valuable lessons you have learned, share mistakes made, guide them and treat them like your mentors once treated you. To help someone else succeed is the most rewarding feeling in the world.

What was the impetus for getting your SPHHS degree?

As a student majoring in health promotion disease prevention at USC in Los Angeles, I decided to take an elective course called "Intro to Healthcare Administration." I met Arthur Shorr, GW alumnus '67, who was my professor and encouraged me to consider the field. After working one year at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA, I had a choice between Cornell and GW and I am so thankful I took Arthur's advice and attended GW. The power of the GW network is unmatched in this country.

Interview conducted July 2013