‘Step boldly into the light’: Female Maimonides leaders share their secrets to success

(Top L to R) Judy Bachman, Gennie Sanchez, Dr. Ingrid Wlaker-Descartes
(Top L to R) Judy Bachman, Gennie Sanchez, Dr. Ingrid Wlaker-Descartes
Photos courtesy of Maimonides Health Centre

Seek out the right mentors, be open minded and to take some risks — these are just some of the wise words of advice from female healthcare leaders who have risen to new heights at Maimonides Medical Center, the largest hospital in Brooklyn.

As part of Women’s History we asked three healthcare leaders to share their secrets to success.

Ingrid Walker-Descartes

Dr. Ingrid Walker-Descartes, Vice-Chair of Pediatrics at Maimonides, who named Crain’s Notable Black Leaders, said that aligning her passion with everything she does has helped her go the extra mile without it feeling like work to her.

“If I have to go above and beyond it doesn’t feel like work to me, because this is something I’m passionate about. And once you’re true to self and you align your activities with what you’re passionate about, you will definitely make a mark and succeed,” said Walker-Descartes.

“And I can tell you I’m a workaholic, but because so much of my work is focused on what I’m passionate about. I don’t feel that I’m overworked.”

In her day to day role, Walker-Descartes regularly advocates for children in a clinical setting as well as in the courtroom and that passion for helping children came about growing up in a family without many resources and taking care of her younger sister.

“With the birth of my younger sister, and my parents having multiple jobs we were pretty much what they would call latchkey kids. So in that vein, taking care of my baby sister became my job and that really spurred my interest in just child development, as well as just the health of children.

Originally from the Caribbean, Walker-Descartes said that when her family moved to the US she spent most of her free time reading as her neighborhood was not the safest. During this time her love of science flourished and her excellent grades opened the door to scholarships.

Despite her academic achievements, Walker-Descartes said that as a Black woman she was regularly underestimated by her peers and teachers “with no other reason, but the fact that I’m Black.”

“When I went on to college and decided I wanted to go into medicine, my pre-med advisor advised me to set my sights on things more feasible, like what people like me go into, like nursing. That was her exact quote,” she said.

“I had to constantly learn how to compartmentalize their doubts, and not internalize them in a way that would stop me from pursuing what I wanted to pursue,” she added, advising others facing similar challenges to use underestimations to fuel your purists.

And while Walker-Descartes has put in the hard work to reach a position of leadership, she acknowledges that the many mentors she’s had over the years have been invaluable. Her advice to those seeking mentorship is that it can come in many shapes, races, ethnicities and genders so “be open to it.”

“I think when you’re very young, you’re looking and always have that assumption that someone who looks like you might be the best advisor for you. And coming through the space of medicine, of leadership, I’ve learned so many things from people that look nothing like me,” she said.

“I definitely would encourage folks to step out of your comfort zone. And when those opportunities to lead present itself, step boldly into the light.”

Judy Bachman

Likewise, Maimonides newly appointed Chief Operation Officer Judy Bachman has had countless mentors in her four decades in healthcare, the most important being those who pushed during her early on when she started out in nursing.

“I was fortunate along the way to have a lot of people that identified something in me that was attractive and helped me grow in some cases by throwing me into these roles that I wasn’t sure I was ready for but you take on the challenge and you try to learn from the smart people that are around you,” Bachman said. “ I really have been very fortunate from that perspective. And I’ve tried to try and return that favor now every chance I get.”

Day to day, Bachman’s role entails keeping the hospital and outpatient care running while looking for opportunities to improve operations but as a leader she says a big part of her job is to develop and lift up the people on her team.

“It’s something that you’re constantly looking at because you’re only as good as the team around you and the weakest link in that team,” she said, noting that a good leader’s legacy is what they leave behind and a big part of that is preparing the organization to be able to do what needs to get done without you being there.

Gennie Sanchez

Recently named one of Crain’s notable Asian Leaders, Gennie Sanchez serves as Maimonides Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and operates in what she describes as a “male dominated industry” that’s all about negotiating.

Her advice to women looking to get into a leadership role is to figure out how to be present in the room by stepping back and reflecting. She does this literally and figuratively by practicing speeches in front of the mirror.

“You have to overcome being timid across the table. A lot of our meetings are recorded so I really listen back and listen to how I’m portrayed – am I direct in what I’m saying as I answer questions? Do I feel like I’m confident as I’m talking?

However, like any good leader, Sanchez credits her team and the relationships she has forged with physicians through the years.

“I think for me in order for me to be where I’m at, it’s really the clinical folks. Having them know that they allowed me to have a seat at their table was really important because I can’t make a decision without them andI think anybody in my role in order to be successful you just have to be collaborative with our clinical folks.

To be a great leader, she says it’s all about “continuous learning.”

“Trying to make sure that you don’t forget where you came from, but also that again, taking the time to get to know the people that are working under you. I’m not who I am without the people that are on my team, and when they’re successful. That’s the only reason why I can be successful.”

President and CEO of Maimonides Health Ken Gibbs said Maimonides is proud to support women in leadership roles, and is grateful for the contributions of many remarkable women who have shaped and advanced our institution.

“Moreover, women are very often decision-makers when it comes to their families’ healthcare, and having leaders who bring that perspective and insight is invaluable as we continue to evolve as a system that is responsive to the needs of our community,” said Gibbs.