Fortunate drive that sparked an industry

Ever wonder how the convenient care industry blossomed into what it is today? One could say a fortune cookie.

“I love Chinese food, and my kids always get me Chinese food for dinner on Mother’s Day. My Chinese fortune cookie said, when I opened [it]: ‘You will be offered the opportunity of a lifetime, say yes,’” explained Sandy Ryan, Walgreens’ Take Care Health Systems chief nurse practitioner officer and clinical advocate.

On any other day, Ryan might have dismissed the fortune as trivial, but not that day. Earlier that very same day, she had been offered a position on the executive team at Take Care Health Systems, which would make her the first chief nurse practitioner officer in the convenient care industry.

That was in 2005, and the road since that time hasn’t always been easy. But anyone who knows Ryan knows that she thrives on overcoming adversity and doesn’t shy away from challenges. Perhaps some of it stems from her background in the U.S. Air Force.

In the military, which she joined right out of college, Ryan initially worked as a registered nurse and then was selected to return to school to earn her master’s degree. During her years in the military, she worked pediatrics to geriatrics and served as director of ambulatory outpatient services in a military medical facility coordinating patient care. In 1999, she retired from the U.S. Air Force after 16 years of service due to a downsizing of medical personnel following Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and then went to work in a private practice.

While working in private practice, a friend of Ryan’s came across a listing for a job opening at Take Care Health Systems for a national director of nursing, which is what the title was at the time, and felt Ryan would be an ideal fit for the role. Ryan called up the recruiter and eventually met with Take Care founders Hal Rosenbluth 
and Peter Miller, who wound up offering her the job.

“[Hal and Peter] were looking for someone who could represent nurse practitioners extremely well, and advocate for them as a professional role and what they bring to the table, but also someone who could work collaboratively with the physician side of the world,” Ryan said.

Ryan joined the executive team at Take Care Health Systems in July 2005 — just months before the venture opened its first in-store health clinic. In 2007, it was acquired by Walgreens. For Ryan, being a nurse practitioner serving at the executive level has afforded her the benefit of helping to guide the direction of the industry and represent not only the nurse practitioners within Take Care, but also the nurse practitioners nationwide.

Today, Take Care Health Systems manages more than 700 worksite and retail health clinics. “It has been the opportunity of a lifetime, and not really just for me, but I think for all nurse practitioners because Hal and Peter, as founders of this company, really did give the opportunity to have a platform that could really raise the bar of recognition on nurse practitioners. ... It really has been a fantastic journey for me,” Ryan said.

The journey and the important role that Ryan plays, on behalf of nurse practitioners nationwide, is far from over. In August 2011, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced the selection of 21 nurses from 138 applicants for its highly competitive national nurse fellowship program. Ryan was among those selected in 2011. The three-year fellowship program is designed to expand nurse leadership and position nurses to help lead change in the U.S. healthcare system.

Also in late 2011, the Fellowship of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia elected Ryan to its ranks, marking the first nurse practitioner to be elected. “Through [Ryan’s] leadership, she has demonstrated commitment to enhancing the role that nursing can play in the future of health care,” stated George Wohlreich, director and CEO and the Thomas W. Langfitt chair, when announcing Ryan’s election. “Through her dedication and advocacy, she’s benefitted nurses and nurse practitioners by opening doors to new opportunities, helped to reinforce the value of a collaborative healthcare team to take care of a patient and increased access for patients to receive high-quality, convenient health care.”

The college was founded in 1787 by a group of physicians and is the nation’s oldest medical society dedicated to advancing the cause of health while upholding the ideals and heritage of medicine.

Clearly, Ryan is a trailblazer and a leader to many within the industry.

However, one has to wonder, whom does Ryan consider a leader? “I really think it is people who strive to do something that is so impactful. But it is not just impactful for themselves or a small group, but for more of that social responsibility and greater good,” Ryan said. “Obviously, I think highly of Hal Rosenbluth, one of our co-founders, and Loretta Ford.”

Yes, one could quip that the convenient care industry is where it is today because of a fortune cookie, but clearly it is because of Ryan’s passion, fearless ambition, commitment to enhancing the role of nurse practitioners and her desire to reinforce the value of a collaborative healthcare team.

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