Dream the possible dream

How competence, confidence and courag turns a small town girl into a CEO.

By Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman

She grew up in a small Georgia farming community, the oldest of four children—three girls and one boy. Raised by her grandmother, Ruth W. Brinkley was too young to remember when her grandfather passed away.

She does, however, remember how her grandmother wanted her to become a nurse. “I had a mind of my own and wanted to be something different,” said Brinkley.

But Brinkley couldn’t ignore the fact that she lived in a town with very limited access to healthcare. She saw friends and family die tragically— too soon and without adequate care. Without realizing it, her grandmother’s influence and her childhood, did in fact, pave her career path.

She attended and graduated from DePaul University in Chicago and received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing.

Building a Healthcare Career
But that’s not where Brinkley’s story ends, rather, begins. Brinkley has amassed nearly 40 years of healthcare experience working in private and public healthcare organizations including academic and community based hospital systems.

She is the recipient of numerous awards including the National Association of Health Services Executive’ Senior Healthcare
Executive Award and was recently recognized by Becker’s Hospital Review as one of “130 Women Hospital and Health System Leaders to Know,” not to mention she was listed in Modern Healthcare magazine’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare. A fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives, Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Health Care Industry Foundation and is a member of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange Advisory Board.

From Nurse to CEO
Today, she is president and CEO of KentuckyOne Health, which was formed 2012 from the merger of the former Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s HealthCare and the former Saint Joseph Health System, and later partnered with the University of Louisville Hospital and James Graham Brown Cancer Center.

With her enthusiasm, it should come to no surprise that Brinkley defines her “theme song” as (in her words) “To Dream the (Im) Possible Dream.”

Brinkley’s dreams are not limited to her career. She also enjoys traveling. “I’ve been to Europe several times, but visits to Asia and Africa are still on my bucket list,” she said. Attending local events like plays, basketball and football games, as well as visiting her grandchildren are also ways she spends her free time.

Encouraging Girls to Follow Her Path
Brinkley, who now has two grandchildren one of whom is a girl, encourages young girls to pursue careers in math and science.

“We need to be strong role models for young girls and encourage them to ‘dream the possible dream,’ as Sheryl Sandberg writes in Lean In,” said Brinkley. “If we show them what is possible and nurture their interests, the rest will follow.

“I would encourage all young girls to follow their passions and not be afraid to fail because it is in failure that we ultimately find the courage to succeed,” Brinkley continued. “We also need to be available for mentoring and sponsoring them to help them achieve their dreams.”

Because as Brinkley can attest, sometimes it means more than just helping them achieve their dreams, but the dream of their grandmothers, too.


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