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Retirement: What Does it Mean?

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, August 5, 2011

I had a nice conversation with Sister Mary Jean Ryan last week. If you don't know why that was a privilege, you don't know who Sister Jean Ryan is. If that's the case, and you're in healthcare leadership, you just haven't been paying attention the past 30 or so years. The Franciscan Sister of Mary has actually spent 25 years (but who's counting?) as the first ever president and CEO of SSM Healthcare, the 15-hospital, four-state health system based in St. Louis.

A couple of days after we spoke, the 73-year-old retired, and just like that, one of the last sister CEOs was gone from running the day-to-day operations at one of the nation's most lauded health systems.

It really wasn't a surprise. Her retirement had been previously announced, and her successor has been groomed for years. In fact, Sister Mary Jean insists that she's not actually retiring—just transitioning.

"I don't consider what I'm doing to be retiring," she said.

She's relinquishing the president and CEO title but is remaining chair of SSM's corporate board. She also has three international trips—to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sweden—coming up in quick succession as part of her effort to spread the gospel about quality in healthcare.

"If this is retirement, I'm going to go back to working," she jokes.

As I talked to her, she was busy whipping her home office into shape, grumbling softly about computers, modems, and other trappings of the home office lifestyle.

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1 comments on "Retirement: What Does it Mean?"


Robert Trinka (8/7/2011 at 7:40 PM)
Congratulations to Sister Mary Jean Ryan on a long and caring career in healthcare. I'm sure many patients benefited from the care they received. Fact is, Baldridge is a hard earned prize, but what ails healthcare is its fundamental inability to provide a product/service with continuous improvement including keeping the cost at least within the normal rate of inflation. Everyone else has managed to do this or better with the possible exception of the Public School system and our public and private colleges and universities. I salute the hard work and dedication of health care leaders nationwide, but their legacy will unfortunately include tens of trillions in underfunded liabilities for government healthcare programs and a product/service that many can not afford. A good story would be how healthcare costs have risen over the past 50 years as compared to the overall economy and other industries, like agriculture/food production, housing, travel and communications.