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Transitioning

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, September 13, 2011
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Editor’s note: This piece is adapted from Philip Betbeze’s Aug. 5 online
column, “Retirement: What Does It Mean?” To see the column, visit www.healthleadersmedia.com, click on the Leadership tab, then the Leadership Corner link.

I had a nice conversation with Sister Mary Jean Ryan recently. If you don’t know why that was a privilege, you don’t know who Sister Jean Ryan is. The Franciscan Sister of Mary has spent 25 years 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 titles but is remaining chair of SSM’s corporate board. She also has three international trips—to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sweden—coming 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.

Sister Mary Jean’s most lasting legacy outside SSM will be her pioneering work in the area of healthcare quality.

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