Interview with Danielle Swerhone
ACHE Regent for Canada (2017-2020)
by Todd Stepanuik
Todd: What has been one of the most important lessons you have learned during your career?
Danielle: Careers do not come with instructions. There are no “hard and fast rules”, no simple formulas for success. Working with human beings is unpredictable, complex and totally confusing at times.
Todd: How has or how does ACHE help you address the challenges you face?
Danielle: I have been a member of both ACHE and CCHL for over 25 years now. ACHE has enhanced my knowledge so that I have become a lifelong learner about healthcare management. With the knowledge I have gained through participating with ACHE, I have gained the confidence to face daily challenges that confront me.
I have accessed educational resources and participated in a member community for years. Knowledge gained in working with others, has helped me to be stronger and face challenges. ACHE has aided me with enhancing skills and abilities I use to navigate my way to success in the healthcare market.
Todd: What has been you most rewarding career-related experience?
Danielle: I cannot honestly say, that I only have only one. I have been involved with the shaping of our Canadian chapter right from the start with other members throughout Canada. I am proud to be apart of this experience. I have been involved with ACHE in several different roles over the last 20 years, most recently the Regent for Canada.
As Regent, I have been given the opportunity in which to represent all members across Canada, and continuing to build relationships with individuals and learn what is working well and what needs to be changed. Holding this role, is rewarding. I have to say that in my role as a clinician in ICU brought me many rewarding experiences in my career. As hard work paid off with seeing people saved and alive to spend more time with their families, this I found rewarding as a Nurse.
Todd: How have you seen the healthcare management field change during your career?
Danielle: Change…everything changes! Being a part of the Canadian Healthcare system has been a challenge due to a number of factors, including changes in the way services are delivered, fiscal constraints, the aging population, and the high cost and demands for advancing technology.
Health care services have changed, especially in the way they are delivered from reliance on hospitals and physicians to alternative care delivery occurring in clinics, primary care centers, community health centers and home care. There continues to be an emphasis on health promotion and people making their own choices when it comes to their health.
Through medical technological advancements, more procedures are being done on an outpatient basis, day surgeries have risen. Thus the need for acute care hospital admissions have declined. The role of the hospital has changed remarkably from when my career started in one.
Regional and Provincial health care authorities have been occurring and functioning for years, managed by people who oversee all levels of health care in their geographic area. There is both decentralized and centralized models of health care allowing decision making to occur throughout organizations.
It is great to see aspects of safety, eHealth/telehealth, mitigation of risk, statistical analysis, emphasized in decision making today.
Todd: Who have been your mentors?
Danielle: There is no doubt about it, that my mentors have been both family and people I have admired and fostered me through all the ups and downs in my healthcare career. My Dad is the person I give most of the credit to mentoring myself. He was a great guy to talk to when we were both active in the healthcare field. He encouraged me to join ACHE as a student, and I have continued to be with the Association for over 25 years.
As I see, my mentors in life are like my “personal board of directors”. These are people who I have met up with or called up for advice for my career. I have a range of people who I consider sitting on my personal board of directors- everyone from previous bosses, friends, and family members from different stages of life.
Todd: What lessons have you learned as an executive leader?
Danielle: I can honestly say I have learned numerous lessons and continue to learn lessons as a leader, but also in life…Don’t depend on one skill. Once you have a valuable skill people just want you to use it over and over again. …this eventually gets boring, and you do not increase your value as an employee.
There are other forms of payment besides money. I find satisfaction in pride of work achieved, recognition, mastery, enjoyment and being intellectually challenged. A person can change their reality. At one point I felt stuck in the middle, although holding a senior level position at the top of the organization. I have learnt that I am not stuck, I am waiting for someone else to initiate the change…or do it myself.
Be grateful. Demonstrating gratitude is a far more effective strategy than criticism. Be clear, truthful, humble and kind. The clearer and direct I am at expressing myself, the more likely I am to get understood and move the issue forward.
Todd: What attracted you to the healthcare management field?
Danielle: I come from a family of many nurses and other health care professionals. My aunts and mom are all very proud to be nurses, and demonstrated this to me and other family members growing up. My father was the CEO/President of the second largest hospital in Canada, and was a very positive role model for myself. He would always introduce me to nurses who were leaders in the field. Meeting and talking with these women convinced me that nursing and management could be combined into a career. So that is when I pursued my Masters in Health Services Administration.
Todd: What is the best advice you ever received?
Danielle: Oh, I would answer that question with several different pieces of advice.
Always be curious. Always ask why?; always explore and dig into unfamiliar territory. Don’t always follow a well worn path.
Be mindful of feedback. It is important to be open to criticism – even seek it out – but do not assume that because it was given from a boss, it must be right!
Know your own self worth. Keep track of your accomplishments, no one else will do that for you. This helps me to understand my own self worth, and the impact I have made on people.
Learn from mistakes. What is important is how one handles making the mistake, and treating it as a learning opportunity.
Be transparent. I am an open book; I share opening what I am working on and whatever challenges I may be facing. I find this inspires real connection with others, honesty, and allows me to control the way I am understood as a person.
Trust your gut instincts. I have been told by a mentor, that you know more than you think you do. In more times than not, I have done this, and it has worked out to my abilities, and advantage.
Todd: What advice would you give young careerists starting their career in healthcare administration?
Danielle: What other people say about you is none of your business. I do not feel I am on this earth to be palatable to every person you meet. You are fine on your own. Your life is going to be better than you’ll ever imagine, and harder than you know. All of it is worth it. Go forward , and walk tall and straight. I would also say, perfection isn’t the point. A person does not have to be perfect, you just have to be brave.
Danielle Swerhone has a Diploma in Nursing from the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre School of Nursing (RN), a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Calgary (BN), a Masters degree in Health Services Administration from the University of Alberta (MHSA) and a Diploma in Occupational Health Nursing from Macewan University (COHN). She holds duel fellowships with both the American College of Health Services Executives (FACHE) and Canadian College of Health Leaders (FCCHL).
As a clinician she has worked in several clinical settings such as ICU, ER, home care, public health, occupational health and forensic psychiatry. As a leader, she has held positions as Vice-President/ Chief Nursing Officer/Assistant Executive Director/ Director of Patient Care Services/ Associate Professor (McMaster University)/Consultant with Tricon Solutions Inc/Veterans Affairs Canada/ Program Manager Alberta Colorectal Cancer Screening Program.
As both a keynote speaker and writer, she has presented and published articles across Canada. She has been recognized both provincially and federally and awarded for her contributions made in the healthcare field. Danielle participates on numerous boards and in community activities. She is involved in the field of fabric artistry, and has won competitions for her designs at the local and international level. She volunteers with St. Vincent de Paul Society for helping the homeless in downtown Calgary, Heart & Stroke Foundation of Alberta, Habitat for Humanity, University of Alberta Alumni Association, and University of Calgary Alumni Association.
Over the years Danielle has been involved in several Professional Associations, but most notably, she is the current ACHE Regent for Canada.
She enjoys meeting people and exploring the world through her love of hiking and travel.