Children's Hospital Boston
Operating Officer Sandra Fenwick runs the hospital on a day-to-day
basis and is responsible for guiding the hospital into the future.
Along with CEO James Mandell, MD, she has led the institution’s
financial and strategic comeback over the past five years. She and
her husband of 29 years have two children, one in high school and
the other a freshman in college. Here she talks with News editor
Is this where you expected to
be when you started your career?
Yes and no. From childhood I wanted to be a physician, and I was
a pre-med student at Simmons College. After that I did bench and
clinical research for about four years. There, I realized that I
loved healthcare, but found that my skills and strengths were in
managing, planning, and leading people and projects. So I turned
to administration, and knew that ultimately I would love to see
myself running something as big and prestigious and wonderful as
Children’s has more women
who balance demanding careers with motherhood than any other workplace
I can think of. How have you achieved that balance?
It’s been a challenge. It partly depends on having a wonderful
partner who shares the family responsibilities. Another part of
it is teaching your children to respect and appreciate having a
working mother, so that they see it as a positive.
need to create more opportunities at Children’s for staff
and employees to strike a balance between work and family.”
As the kids grew up, it was important that they felt that their
games, speeches, plays, and other activities were as important as
my career, so my husband and I made every effort to be there, to
watch their progress and share in their wins. In the younger years,
those events were often early in the morning, and I would try to
go to them before starting my workday. It takes a lot of planning,
organizing and multi-tasking on a parent’s part. Over time,
it has become easier for me to carve out some protected family time,
even during the week. I think it’s harder for younger people
to feel comfortable with running out to a school meeting and then
coming back to work. You are constantly figuring out how to do that
without neglecting something at work.
We need to create more opportunities at Children’s for parents
to strike that kind of balance. Supporting it can be very difficult,
particularly in departments with small staffs. It’s one of
those things managers have to balance very delicately.
How has the healthcare workplace
changed for women over the course of your career?
Healthcare has changed considerably. In 1977, I became the first
woman at the table in the boardroom of a Boston teaching hospital.
But after that, women started to break through, and it just exploded.
There was a group of women who were not only interested in advancing
themselves, but also in helping other women advance.
Were you a part of that group?
Yes. We were the founding members of the A-Group of Women in Healthcare
Management. We worked to figure out who the decision makers were,
what qualifications they looked at, and why boards hadn’t
considered women candidates in the past. We interviewed male CEOs,
search firms and board members at hospitals. Eventually we decided
there were three women who were ready and who wanted to be CEOs.
I wasn’t ready because I had very young children at the time,
but I worked to help position the others. All three are or have
been CEOs in Boston area hospitals.
Is providing this type of support something that you’re
still interested in?
I love teaching and mentoring, so I sit on a lot of boards where
I can help women and girls with interpersonal, communication and
leadership skills. I’m very interested in helping others—both
women and men— advance in their careers, so I’m also
involved in mentoring Simmons students and graduates.
could trade a week in your position at Children’s for a week
at another organization, where would you go?
One of the people I most admire is Linda Whitlock, the president
and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club. She is doing an extraordinary
amount of work for kids in Boston who don’t have a lot of
family support, spiritual support or access to health care. I love
what she does for these kids, so I’d go there. Making a difference
in the lives of children is the thing that gives me the greatest
gratification. If we’re going to make a difference in society,
we’ve got to start with kids.