Retirement: What Does it Mean?

Philip Betbeze, 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.

Philip Betbeze

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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