Second in a series about women advancing health care at Cardinal Health
By Sarah Wills, Executive Vice President, Chief Corporate Affairs Office
As a mom of twin sons who are nine, I’m frequently surprised at the prevalence of gender stereotypes in kids’ television programming. For example: The Children’s Media Foundation reports that children’s TV continues to typically show boys who are smart and powerful and girls who cook, clean and care for others.
Like many parents, my media consumption is dominated by the movies and shows my sons watch. It’s shocking to me the extent to which children’s programs tend to show more boys than girls. For example, in the animated series “Paw Patrol,” Skye is the lone protagonist, a fierce, determined helicopter pilot – and a wonderful role model for girls AND boys. She’s also small, dressed in pink and far outnumbered by the larger male protagonists. Similarly, “Ninjago,” a computer-animated TV series from The Lego Group, features Nya, who is strong and confident – and the only girl in her group. And though the animated Star Wars franchise has added a few female characters to join Rey, a formidable female warrior, all of the females, an LA Times analysis shows, have far less dialogue than the male characters.
These traditional boy and girl representations matter. Common Sense Media tells us that gender stereotypes on TV and movies teach boys and girls what the world expects of them – and that can impact what classes in which they do well, their career choices and even their feelings of self-worth.
Stereotypes can limit girls’ options and achievements, but they’re also harmful to boys. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found a connection between frequent exposure to stories in which fictional boys are strong and fight with risky behaviors in real boys – behaviors like smoking, drinking and using drugs at an early age.
So my sons and I talk about what they watch and about the strong, confident female characters they see. And whenever they watch a program with more than a single strong female, they eagerly let me know…”Mom, there’s more than one girl in this show!”
All of this makes me particularly grateful for the women with whom I’m fortunate to work at Cardinal Health. In many cases, they have carved their own path to become the formidable professionals they are, working every day to improve health care for our customers and their patients.
As Women’s History Month continues, I’m eager to share a few of their stories with you. I’m inspired by the resilience and determination that each of these women brings to work every day. And I’m proud to hold them up to my sons as real-life examples of the kinds of smart, creative women with whom they will one day work.
On Capitol Hill, advocating for better health care
Jerrica Mathis, Director, Federal Government Relations, Washington, D.C.
As head of federal government relations, Jerrica Mathis spends her days talking to lawmakers and their staff members about health care providers, patients and health equity – among a variety of other issues. “Every day, I get to help influence the design of health policy that will have a positive impact on both health care providers and patients,” she said. “This is really meaningful work.”
Mathis got her start working with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD), an organization that helps mobilize national efforts to reduce chronic diseases and their risk factors. “At the end of my tenure there, I was leading the health equity program,” she said. “That experience gave me a great passion for doing everything I can to improve equal access to quality health care for everyone in this country.”
She then earned a health policy fellowship through the Congressional Black Caucus that took her first to a Congresswoman’s office, and then to the House Committee for Education and Labor. “I started working on Capitol Hill six months before the Affordable Care Act was passed, and stayed on a year after its implementation,” Mathis said. “My fellowship was an incredibly valuable, even life-changing, education in health care policy.” After her fellowship, she continued to advocate for better health care in D.C. for several years as a consultant and joined the Government Relations team at Cardinal Health nearly two years ago.
Mathis and her colleagues monitor all legislative issues related to health care – sometimes as many as 50 to 60 issues a day. Currently, she’s working on legislation that would ensure that pharmacists get reimbursed for the health care services they provide to their patients. “Particularly in rural areas, where physicians may be harder to reach, pharmacists provide critical preventative and primary health care services,” she said. “They’re critical in helping expand equitable access, and we want to be sure they’re adequately reimbursed so that they can continue to fulfill that role at the top of their licenses.”
Mathis’ days are filled with meetings, talking with congressional staff members, lawmakers and advocates. Every day is different, she said. “A really good day is when all the meetings on my agenda happen as scheduled and I get to advocate on behalf of Cardinal Health. And a VERY good day is when I get the news that a policy we’ve been working on has been passed.”
Helping providers manage nutritional therapy safely
Sandy Schoepfel, MS RD RN CNSC LDN, Clinical Education Specialist
Early in her career, Sandy Schoepfel, a registered dietitian, headed up a nutrition support team at Boston Medical Center, overseeing the care of critically ill patients who required feeding through tubes or intravenous (IV) lines. “I loved the work and the patients,” she said. “However, I wasn’t a registered nurse, and due to state regulations, I couldn’t place feeding tubes in patients. Proper tube placement in the gastrointestinal tract is such an important part of care, and something I really wanted to be able to do.” So Schoepfel went back to school and became a registered nurse. “Finally, I was able to wear both hats: As an RN, I could place bedside feeding tubes for my patients, and as a dietitian, I could recommend nutritional care plans to ensure patients got adequate nutrition.”
She worked closely with the physicians who prescribed feeding tube placements for enteral nutrition, and with the pharmacists who compounded, mixed and dispensed patients’ parenteral (IV) nutrition formulas. She also served as an influential advocate for patients as they transitioned from the hospital to their homes. “Nutrition can be very complex for people who have feeding tubes for enteral nutrition or special IV lines for parenteral nutrition,” she explained. “These patients cannot easily go home and manage their nutritional needs on their own. On occasion, I would visit patients in their homes to ensure their nutritional needs were being met and to troubleshoot potential complications.”
She also ran the feeding tube placement “tube team” at the hospital and spent time teaching others about proper tube placement and enteral feeding.
Today, Schoepfel is part of the Cardinal Health team, where she uses her deep expertise and teaching experience to develop educational programs related to nutritional feeding products, as well as other medical devices that clinicians use.
“I oversee a wide range of continuing education (CE) courses for clinicians,” she said. “We provide CEs on nutritional delivery, diabetes management, infection prevention, deep vein thrombosis prevention, etc. – subjects that are critical to patient care in the hospital and throughout the care continuum – as well as topics that help protect clinicians, like using personal protective equipment appropriately and preventing clinician burnout.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when hospital staff were stretched so thin, Schoepfel helped create new learning programs called “Small Bites,” designed to quickly deliver solutions to a clinical problem or a challenge hospital nurses face regularly. “We created Small Bites for health care providers with limited time through the crush of pandemic care. These quickly became very popular, because they really are small bites, answering nurses’ questions in an easily digestible way – everything from how to place bedside feeding tubes, to how to double glove for greater safety, to how to treat a patient with challenging wounds.”
About her work at Cardinal Health, she said, “I’m no longer in direct physical contact with patients every day, as I was earlier in my career; I’m more behind the scenes now. However, I’m working with health care clinicians every day, assisting with their clinical and educational needs. I work with the marketers, sales, and research and development teams here, developing new educational materials for the people who ARE touching patients every day.”
Making complex medical information accessible
Yolaine Smith, Director, Scientific Writing and Strategic Research, Dallas, Texas
Though deeply interested in medicine since high school, it took Yolaine Smith a few years to find her career path. She began her college career intending to become a physician. “I was good in math and science, and it seemed an easy choice,” she said. However, once in college, she had the opportunity to shadow physicians, and that changed her mind. “The doctors were terrific, and I admired them, but I knew I wanted something else for myself.”
After graduating, she taught high school science, then earned a Ph.D. and taught at the university level – where she learned that wasn’t quite the right fit, either. She found her way to a postdoctoral position at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. “I was there to do research, which I loved,” she said. “I also had the additional responsibility of helping organize workshops about alternate career paths for people like me – postdocs who didn’t want to go into academia.” One of the workshops she planned, hosted by the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), changed her career trajectory. “Frankly, I didn’t know until then that medical writing was a thing,” Smith said. “I was intrigued and immediately knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
She ultimately found her dream job several years ago, she said, within the Specialty Solutions business at Cardinal Health where she manages a team of medical writers and graphic designers. “We do a bit of everything: write about disease states and clinical trials, put together abstracts and posters on research findings, and publish reports and newsletters for researchers and health care providers.”
She’s particularly proud of the recent 2022 Biosimilars Report: The U.S. Journey and Path Ahead, a Cardinal Health publication that brings together the latest industry data on biosimilar use. “That report started as a simple idea,” she said. “We had a lot of research data that we were able to pull together into a relevant report that’s getting positive attention in the biosimilars community. It was a challenging, amazing process – and reaffirms for me what it means to be a medical writer.”
The work suits her well, she said. “We take the most complex research findings and translate them into reports or documents or posters that are easily accessible for the intended audience, whether that’s physicians and scientists or patients or the general public. I get to do everything I love: write about health care, educate people, and help those on my team to grow. Every day, I’m a little amazed that I found my way to this work.”
As Executive Vice President, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Cardinal Health, Sarah Wills leads all aspects of communications, enterprise marketing and brand, and government relations with a focus on building Cardinal Health’s reputation and brand externally and enhancing employee engagement globally. Prior to Cardinal Health, Wills was senior vice president of corporate affairs and development at Tempus, where she oversaw government affairs and policy, strategic communications, and employee engagement. Before Tempus, Wills was with General Electric, serving in key global leadership roles, including GE Healthcare’s chief communications officer, where she led external affairs and media relations, employee engagement, and executive communications at GE’s $19B healthcare franchise. While at GE, Wills was also executive director, global strategy, for GE Corporate, as well as executive counsel in the chairman’s office, serving as the operational leader for Jeff Immelt in his capacity as chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness. Wills is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and Illinois Wesleyan University.