Why You’re Never Going to Leave a Healthcare IT Job at 5:30

Posted on April 19, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Anybody catch the recent Mashable.com or CNN articles on the feedback Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has received because she makes it a point to leave work at 5:30 pm every day? (You can read them here and here.) In a nutshell, Sandberg has always left the office around that time – a practice she started when she first had kids, but has only felt comfortable talking about it now that she is in upper management and (presumably) somewhat immune to corporate push back. ( Don’t confuse leaving work with not working, by the way. Sandberg, like many others, checks email at all hours.)

Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore, who authored the CNN.com story, summarizes the mini-controversy that has evolved in the tech world as a result of Sandberg’s coming clean: “In a competitive industry where your work is never truly complete, has it become socially awkward to leave work at a time that used to be the standard? And are those working eight-hour days that end at 5 p.m. being quietly judged by their co-workers? Whatever happened to “work-life balance”?

Good questions, to be sure. So good, in fact, that I felt compelled to pose a similar query to a panel of current and former healthcare CIOs – all guys, by the way – at the recent Women in Technology International (WITI) / GAHIMSS event, “Women in Healthcare IT Talk.”

Piedmont Healthcare CIO Mark Pasquale was refreshingly candid in his response: “I don’t have a work-life balance.” His point being that, as a CIO overseeing a near-future EPIC ERP system go-live, his work day never really ends, especially given how connected he is via multiple mobile devices. He also pointed out that, as 85% of Piedmont’s install team is internal, Piedmont spent copious amounts of time preparing that staff for the time commitment required to travel to Epic headquarters in Madison, Wisc., for training. Pasquale kept an open door, and said many staff members came by multiple times to hash out whether committing to such an intense project was the right move for them.

From left to right: Christopher Kunney, The BAE Company; Sonny Munter, Georgia Dept. of Community Health; Mark Pasquale, Piedmont Healthcare; Praveen Chopra, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Fellow panelist Christopher Kunney, HIT Strategist at the BAE Company and former CIO of Piedmont, made the point that you have to be aware of what you’re signing up for when you enter healthcare’s executive ranks. Long days aren’t unusual; they are the norm. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta CIO Praveen Chopra concurred, adding that his wife makes him limit use of his Blackberry on vacation to just one hour a day. Sonny Munter, CIO of Georgia’s Dept. of Community Health, joked that he leaves his job everyday at 4pm – but gets going around 6 in the morning. Munter added that he makes it a point to surround himself with good staff members, which also helps in balancing his work and family obligations.

From left to right: Lisa McVey, McKesson; Gretchen Tegethoff, Athens Regional Medical Center; Patty Lavely, CIO Consulting LLC; Deborah Cancilla, Grady Health System

A second panel of healthcare executives – all female – pretty much agreed with their male counterparts. Patty Lavely, founder of CIO Consulting LLC and former CIO of three different health systems, did echo Facebook’s Sandberg just a bit in her comment on the subject: “There comes a time when you have to say, ‘This [work] will be here for me tomorrow. I need to go home and have dinner with my family tonight.”

All of the panelists mentioned the need to prioritize workplace projects and challenges in a way that is suitable to the particular balance they need in their lives. They have triaged, so to speak, their commitments, priorities, deadlines, etc. to fit their schedules.

So, can healthcare IT folks – providers or vendors, executives or otherwise – ever be off the clock, never mind leave the office between 5 and 6? Share your stories and advice in the comments below.