Susan Browning: Making Strides For Women In Medicine

BY JACLYN JEFFREY-WILENSKY

As a teenager, Susan Browning wanted to be a doctor. Now, as executive director of Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, she works with more than a thousand of them, plus hundreds of other staff at the award-winning 312-bed hospital.

When she’s not overseeing operations for the hospital or managing its $275 million budget, Browning strategizes how best to meet the changing needs of the Queens community. There’s never a dull moment, Browning said, and she likes it that way.

“It can be tricky, but it also can be really very interesting,” she said. “That’s what keeps the job really quite exciting on a day-to-day basis—that it’s never two days [of] the same.”

Ultimately, for Browning, the career decision between hospital administration and practicing medicine herself was about reach.

“It is more of a focus on how we take care of an entire population,” she said in a recent phone conversation. “Really being able to take care of and look at systems and processes that affect populations of people.”

And Queens is an especially fascinating place to work in public health, Browning said.

“Queens is the most diverse county in the entire United States, which makes it very interesting,” she said. “But it also has its challenges because there are different ways of communicating with different people. There are different factors that impact the health of the community.”

Browning believes passionately in the importance of culturally responsive treatment—taking into account, for instance, how a prescribed meal plan might clash with a patient’s typical diet or the role a patient’s family plays in his/her medical care.

“There really is no cookie cutter,” she said. “You can’t just do it one way. You have to really look at the specific needs of that patient.”

In addition to considering the needs of patients, Browning said, she must also anticipate Queens’ future medical needs. This is no easy feat, especially in a city as dense as New York.

“We’re trying to adapt our facilities continuously to meet the needs of a growing population, of a changing population,” she said, “It’s sort of like playing dominoes. You move one thing and another thing topples over.”

Women in the medical field, especially in leadership roles, are a crucial part of Browning’s vision for the future of Long Island Jewish Forest Hills.

“The majority of nurses are women; the majority of support staff are women. More than 50 percent of medical students now are women,” she said. “So, the field of medicine is changing greatly.”

That trend extends to the other side of the doctor-patient divide, Browning said.

“Women make the most of the healthcare decisions in this country,” she said. “Women will make the healthcare decisions, if they’re married, for their spouse. They will make them for their kids.”

Longer term, Browning said that she hopes for a future in which gender parity in her field is a given.

“Where I would like to see it go?” she asked about the representation of women in STEM. “Where we’re not even talking about it. That’s where I want to see it go. I’ve been asked many, many times, ‘Tell me a little bit about being a female leader,’ and I have to give pause, quite frankly.

I’m not sure why being a female should affect being a leader. We should be having an open discussion about what leadership means, not so much what it means to be a female leader versus a male leader. So, I would like it to become a nonissue.”

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