Told to ‘dream big,’ Hospice leader did
Christy Whitney calls herself a reluctant leader.
She never imagined she would rise to president and chief executive officer of Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado when she became a hospice volunteer in 1979 in Durango. It didn’t even cross her mind when she took a promotion to part-time work at the hospital where Durango’s hospice program was based, or when she moved up to a managerial position at the hospital.
“The promotions that came to me, I wasn’t looking for. I wasn’t really clawing my way to the top,” she said.
It was only when Whitney’s boss in Durango took her to a convention in California following Whitney’s promotion to vice president of the hospital that she began to see a clear path to leadership. Her boss, a woman, asked Whitney what her career plans were.
“I was kind of embarrassed to admit I didn’t have any,” she said.
Her boss encouraged her to dream big, and Whitney became the CEO of a hospice program in Virginia in 1990. She returned to Colorado in 1993 after Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado recruited her to lead the organization. She oversees 280 employees and about 1,200 volunteers in the Grand Valley.
Health care has a history with women. Sister Mary Balbina Farrell, for example, certainly wasn’t the only nun involved in the medical field in the 19th century when she pushed to open St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.
Even today, women account for more than three-quarters of all health care workers and 69 percent of medical and health care services managers. But it wasn’t always so female-friendly at the top.
“Initially, it was not uncommon for me to be the only woman in the room in health care administration meetings,” Whitney said.
Whitney said she believes women’s communication skills bring something valuable to management.
“Women are more process-oriented and impassioned,” she said.
As for her advice to young women hoping to get where she is today, Whitney suggests doing what she has done, picking jobs based on personal interest and working hard.
“Don’t be focused on getting to the top. Just focus on doing what you’re doing well,” she said.