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Understanding the Journey and Challenges of Being a Healthcare CIO with Ryan Smith
Episode 5023rd May 2022 • This Week Health: Academy • This Week in Health IT
00:00:00 00:08:06

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Today on Insights. We go back to a conversation Host Bill Russell had with Ryan Smith, CIO at Intermountain. The topic of discussion was Understanding the Journey and Challenges of Being a Healthcare CIO. What does the path to becoming a CIO look like and what does it take to be a raging success?


Hello and welcome to another episode of Insights. My name is Bill Russell. I'm a former CIO for a 16 hospital system 📍 and creator of This Weekin Health IT. A channel dedicated to keeping health IT staff current and engaged. Our hope is that these episodes serve as a resource for the advancement of your career and the continued success of your team. Now onto the 📍 show.

Today on insights, we go back to a conversation host Bill Russell had with Ryan Smith, CIO for Intermountain. The topic of discussion was understanding the journey and challenges of being a healthcare CIO. What does the path to becoming a CEO look like? And what does it take to be a raging success?

I want to focus a little bit on your road to the CIO and and your time at Intermountain because you, as you said earlier, you came into this at a time when the pandemic was just starting to just starting to peak. So, talk a little bit about your journey. What did the road to the CIO look like for you?

mber it, I don't know if it's:

It was in the first year or so of when I started at Intermountain that we had an all hands IT meeting where Larry grandier the CIO at the time. I remember being in this, this all hands IT meeting and, back then we probably had 150 total it employees. I mean, we literally fit on one floor of a corporate office space in downtown Salt Lake. And he laid out a strategic plan in that meeting. And I recall thinking at the time how awesome it would be to get to be a leader like that, who, who defines the whole technology strategy for the organization.

and I'll just tell you that was kind of my first glimpse thinking about the CIO role in healthcare. Not that I ever thought that I'd be honored to be at that level. Okay. Clearly I'm just saying it turned a light bulb on like, well, how cool is that, that you've got this guy that's over all the technology and here is sharing this vision dot, dot dot. Well, in hindsight, I guess I didn't realize at the time that there's actually a lot of people across an IT organization with outside consultants, et cetera, that make a lot of contributions, to what ultimately becomes the IT strategy. In other words, it's a team sport and you quickly learn as a leader that no one has the, the fortitude and experience and brain power to create all of that. Right. He, he was just the talking head that, the guy to convey the message basically. So, so that's a lesson, that I certainly learned, but I've had a lot of diverse management and leadership opportunities, mostly in it in the subsequent 15 years after that, spanning it just at Intermountain overseeing clinical applications.

For a time I moved from that over to infrastructure and operations, being the Chief Software Architect at for about a year and a half to helping build out the cyber program. Actually left IT for about a two and a half, three year period to run what we call the business back in the time that that really had all of the consumer facing, web assets, that's the public facing website, the patient portal, the internal employee intranet physician portal.

And it was sort of, it was really a fun couple of years because it had everything from strategy to execution. And we partnered with it, to build a lot of those solutions, but it was really, really fun. Doing that for the few years, then I came back into the it organization. And you know what, I guess I want to share with your listeners, is I still distinctly remember?

I think it was:

And he strongly recommended that I pursued getting an MBA. And second, he thought it might actually be helpful as well to maybe go be a CIO at another healthcare organization to get that experience, to be a better candidate, to be a CIO at Intermountain versus just coming up through the ranks.

And, and so, I did both. In that next year and a half, I earned my MBA. It was a busy time of life. To be honest with you. Work was really busy with all the responsibilities. I was training for and running marathons during that same time. I had some ecclesiastical church leadership responsibilities as well, but God done got the MBA thing done and had an opportunity to, to go to Banner Health as, as CIO and, and kind of cultivate that skill set over the five years. And then Mark, finally he retired last year and he's been a good friend and a great mentor and kind of came back full circle to be in the role I'm in now.


know, Ryan I'm finding that the CIO is don't know how to retire every time I turn around. I see. name, he's presenting and he's talking he's on a webinar, so maybe he is retired. Maybe this, this is what retirement looks like. All right. Are you going to be able to retire when it comes to?

I sure hope so, bill.

I think it'd be in a struggle with that a lot less than, than some CIO, I don't consider myself a workaholic. I relish weekends and, time spent with family and, and unplugging from work when it allows, but you know, the CIO role is it's a busy role as you well know. And, and I don't think I'm going to struggle with that.

Yeah. I'm,

You point out one of the, one of the things that I tell people all the time, when I get asked the question, invariably, I'll be speaking to younger people and they'll say, you know what, what's the path to a healthcare CIO.

And I'm like, yeah. The only thing I can tell you is there isn't one. I mean, some people went to med school. Some people didn't, some people have a technology background, some people don't, some people, it's just that the stories. So greatly that I, you really can't pinpoint it other than to say at some point that lesson that you talked about at some point, people learn that it's a leadership role and not a technology role, and it's a leadership role, not a healthcare role.

And what leadership is about is empowering teams, helping teams to be more successful, getting. The team really to work together and getting more out of that team. And that's, that's the commonality that I, that, that I hear you eat. If they come in as a physician, if they come in as a technologist, they've developed that skill of, of serving others and helping others to be more as a group than they could be individually.

And I, think that's the commonality

well said, bill, it's I think if you're a technologist, like I was coming up through the ranks, one thing that I've learned firsthand, I'm seeing why other technology leaders have struggled getting to that CIO role. It is really two things. Sometimes they were so siloed in, in whatever organizations it department they were in that they only like new infrastructure and operations, or they only dealt with, the clinical applications or they're only in cyber, et cetera.

And, and not that some of those individuals hadn't made that jump to, to be a CIO. I think the more diversity you can get across the various technology disciplines is really helpful if you're a technologist. But bottom line and you hit the nail on the head. It's, it's really a lot about building teams.

It's a lot about relationship building. It's a lot about executive presence. Those are the skill sets that if, if you can. Really force yourself to, to get more experience in each of those areas. You're going to have a spotlight shown on you and, and, and you're going to be brought along because we have such a dearth.

Wow, thanks for tuning in another great episode. If you have feedback for us regarding this content and materials, or if you would like to help us to amplify great thinking to propel healthcare forward, which is our 📍 mission, please send us a note at Thanks for listening. That's all for now. 📍