I’m often asked, “Why did you choose a career in health care?”
My “why” has always been to help people and to make a difference. A career in health care was always my goal. My first exposure to public health was as an undergraduate student working on an end-stage renal failure research project. I learned early on about the significant health disparities that African Americans face and I was curious about why and how to have an impact. The professor I worked for suggested I apply for a summer internship program targeted to increase diversity in health care administration. The next summer I was selected as an intern in the summer enrichment program (SEP) at the University of Michigan. That summer confirmed I would be a healthcare administrator. I was fortunate to have an amazing preceptor who became my mentor. I was also exposed to the National Association of Health Services Executives, which has benefited me greatly, providing role models and mentors who have helped guide me throughout my career.
My post-graduate fellowship at Mercy Health Services (now Trinity Health) provided the opportunity to work on system-level projects and gain a great overview of an urban health system. I have held numerous positions including vice president of operations for St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital, president and CEO of Bronson Battle Creek Hospital. I have been at Henry Ford Health for ten years and have served as president and CEO of Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital, where I led the system’s north market and currently serve as senior vice president and CEO of Market Operations.
Throughout my career I have also been able to focus on areas of interest such as health equity and mentoring. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic I had the privilege of serving on a governor-appointed statewide task force addressing racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes.
Another passion of mine is mentoring the next generation of leaders. I have several mentees who I have had the pleasure of supporting their career development. I truly enjoy sharing my insights with the next generation. I am also deeply engaged in making an impact in my community through board service and participating in civic and social organizations.
My advice to emerging leaders is: be your authentic self; be fearless in your pursuit of closing the gaps in healthcare. I would also remind them that they have unique skills to contribute to organizations and communities and to have the courage to use them.
Denise Brooks-Williams is the Senior Vice President and CEO, Market Operations at Henry Ford Health.