I never drew out a map that ended with me being a hospital CEO, but I’m so humbled and blessed to have the opportunity to serve as the CEO of Sinai Chicago, the largest private safety net health system in Illinois. My map actually started in West Africa, where my father grew up before he moved to the United States. As the firstborn and a first generation American, I was taught to take advantage of all the opportunities available to me. I pursued a career in primary care as a path to people of all ages and stages of life and health.

Along my path, I found many incredible mentors who encouraged me and helped to unlock doors and windows to incredible opportunities such as: learning foreign languages; working at Cook County Hospital and the Juvenile Justice System; taking part in the Morehouse Faculty Development Program and Leadership Greater Chicago; and going to Harvard Business School.

Working in safety net systems, jails and detention centers allowed me to care for some of our most marginalized populations. It gave me additional perspective on the health disparities in our system and the need to fight for equity and health care for all.

Dr. Ezike talks with Dr. Jaime Moreno, Chair of Emergency Medicine, and his team in the ER at Mount Sinai Hospital

Dr. Ezike talks with Dr. Jaime Moreno, Chair of Emergency Medicine, and his team in the ER at Mount Sinai Hospital. 

I also learned quickly that many of the problems went beyond what I could do as an individual. So, when the state director of health position opened, I knew it made sense as the next stop on my journey. It was an opportunity to fully lean into. Serving as the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health during the height of the pandemic gave me a unique platform most atypical for public health leaders. Being the first Black woman to lead the IDPH in its 143-year history was both an honor and a privilege. I was proud to be the “first” and grateful for the opportunity it provided to set an example for other women, and particularly the next generation of health care leaders and professionals.

That platform at IDPH provided a path to additional, never-thought-of-before opportunities. On my road from IDPH, careful reflection and soul-searching led me to Sinai Chicago. It’s an opportunity to really take on the dramatic health disparities that plague our most vulnerable communities that were ravaged by COVID-19. Coming to Sinai as the first Black woman to lead the organization in its 103-year history, I bring the lessons I’ve learned along the way. It is truly a continuation of my life’s work dedicated to promoting health equity.

Dr. Ezike guides representatives from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois during a tour of Mount Sinai Hospital in 2023

Dr. Ezike guides representatives from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois during a tour of Mount Sinai Hospital. 

The important, impactful work is never easy, but it is always worth it. I am motivated to make a difference every day. I’m grateful for all of the places I’ve been on my map and I’m buoyed by the incredible leaders and trailblazers who helped not only create a path for me to follow, but also provided me the inspiration and support to set my own course.

 

Ngozi Ezike, M.D., is the president and chief executive officer at Sinai Chicago. Please note that the views of authors do not always reflect the views of AHA.

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