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Leadership Edge with Ruth Williams-Brinkley, President of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and

Ruth Williams-Brinkley, President, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals of the Northwest

The intersection between community and health is perhaps one of the biggest opportunities and challenges we face in health care. We know that health care services account for less than 20 % of what determines a person’s health status. Most health happens outside the doctor’s office —in the communities where people live, work, and play. As health care providers, we need to look beyond the walls of our facilities and broaden the definition of what it means to provide care. At Kaiser Permanente, we’re making tangible contributions to build up the communities we serve by investing in areas like food insecurity, housing, gun safety, and mental health and wellness services. We’re also reaching out to our community health partners to strengthen safety nets to support our patients when they are out of our clinics. Leading the transformation of health and health care in the United States requires us to think and act in new ways, reimagining what is possible.

Q&A with Ruth Williams-Brinkley

What brought you to this career path? I always say that I didn’t choose health care… it chose me. When I went to college, I wasn’t quite sure of what I wanted to be. My grandmother encouraged me to explore a career as a nurse— something I initially rebelled against. But in the end, my grandmother knew best. After graduating, I started my health care career as a post-anesthesia nurse in Chicago. Today, as a health care CEO, I keep my training and experience as a nurse top of mind as I make decisions that affect the health and lives of our members and our employees. But what really recommitted me to health care was the loss of a family member, who was misdiagnosed and eventually passed away in a hospital. I spent countless hours in that hospital and saw the best of our health care system. But most of all, I saw people dedicated to caring for my family member — and me.

During that intense time, things came full circle for me. Ultimately, it was a nurse who was the angel that I needed. She was compassionate, honest, and truthful without taking away hope.

What do you believe in? I always remember that we take life as it comes — and we have the power to influence how we feel about and work through things that don’t go as planned.

I believe that we are on a mission in life to help others. Personally, I’m focused on building others up at all levels — whether it’s mentoring the next generation of health care workers or fostering diversity and inclusion at the highest leadership levels in large organizations. I’ve worked in health care for my entire career … and it’s a stressful field. That’s why I’m also very aware of the importance of finding something that brings joy to balance out the hard work we all do.

How can readers follow you on social media? I’m privileged to work in a fascinating, ever-changing industry, and I enjoy sharing news that spotlights the innovation, compassion, and care excellence I see every day. I’m active on LinkedIn as an Influencer. You can follow me at

Originally published on Thrive Global, and a feature in the upcoming book The Art of Healthcare Innovation

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