Thrice the Experience

With degrees in journalism, law, and business, St. Joseph Health’s VP and associate general counsel, Yemi Adeyanju, applies both her varied academic background and Nigerian heritage to her work in population health

When Yemi Adeyanju was just four years old, she emigrated to the United States with her family from Nigeria. It wouldn’t be her last big move.

Adeyanju received her first college degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, followed by a JD from Syracuse University, and to complete a triple threat, an MBA from Ohio University. Within months of graduating from law school, she landed her first in-house position. All the while, she has remained actively involved in community and charity work.

Adeyanju cites a Nigerian concept of not just doing “well,” but doing “good” as one of her driving forces, pointing to her father’s experience of having limited resources for school as a child. His community provided him the resources so that he and other children were able to get an education, reach their full potential, and later give back as adults.

This concept is ingrained in Adeyanju, which makes her an ideal fit for her current company, the Irvine, California-based St. Joseph Health, and its commitment to population health. “Population health emphasizes prevention and being patient centered so that issues are addressed well before a trip to the hospital or ER is needed,” she says.

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“Through journalism, I became a strong writer and public speaker. My law degree gave me a level of expertise and taught me how to build productive and trusting client relationships. And the MBA makes me a better strategic partner.”

St. Joseph Health accomplishes this, in part, through easy-to-access wellness centers and on-site clinics with business partners. Patients can address routine clinical issues and concerns like dietary questions, glucose, or cholesterol. Partnerships with like-minded organizations—such as Nurse Next Door—to provide in-home care and support services for people in need of additional assistance are also part of its population-health strategy.

“The more ways we can find to increase access to information and care and make it convenient, whether through clinic locations or effective technology, the better the results are for both patients and for care providers,” Adeyanju says.

When it came time for college, Adeyanju followed her father’s advice about having a fallback position in case she changed her mind about her lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer. After earning her BA from Kansas and subsequent JD from Syracuse University College of Law, she moved to Philadelphia, took the Pennsylvania bar, and within months was recruited to be staff attorney at Mercy Health (formerly known as Catholic Health Partners) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hired ahead of two other candidates with greater legal experience, she was eventually promoted to associate general counsel.

“Not everyone is a good fit for every job, but Michael Bezney, Mercy Health’s senior vice president and general counsel, and I hit it off right away,” Adeyanju says when asked what this experience was like. “He believed he could teach me healthcare law, so I jumped in and started learning by the seat of my pants.”

Part of her strategy was to be flexible and attentive. On many occasions, she sat quietly in meetings in order to “absorb the knowledge.”

“Besides learning to be more concise when giving advice to business clients, I quickly realized not only that lawyers don’t know everything—after all, I was living proof—but that admitting it and owning up to mistakes ultimately makes you a stronger and more effective attorney,” Adeyanju says.

A few years into her tenure at Mercy Health, Adeyanju enrolled in the MBA program at Ohio University, where her father had joined the staff. She felt it would be an opportunity to become more knowledgeable in finance, strategic management, M&A, and other areas in which she was already working.

Completing the program in 2009, Adeyanju now finds that all of her specialized training contributes to being a well-rounded attorney. “To be effective in-house, you have to be a strong communicator and understand the business. Through journalism, I became a strong writer and public speaker. My law degree gave me a level of expertise and taught me how to build productive and trusting client relationships. And the MBA makes me a better strategic partner,” she explains.

Adeyanju’s Nigerian heritage is a constant influence on how she views her circumstances. For example, the reasons she considers her position at St. Joseph Health her “dream job” are tightly intertwined with the importance of fairness and community. In addition to opportunities to proactively impact important strategic issues, she emphasizes the organization’s “powerful actions that are in line with the words of its mission.” She also values executives’ transparent communication with staff at all levels through employee forums, webinars, and the organization’s internal social-media platform.

“Having the opportunity to support our regional executives, physician organization, hospital boards, and home-care network makes me excited to come to work every day,” Adeyanju says.

She cherishes the support that she’s received from her mentors along the way. Bezney, who taught her to “own” every project she works on, is one, as is SSM Health Senior VP Mike Panicola, who taught her to stay true to who she is. At St. Joseph Health, Adeyanju credits executive VP and general counsel Shannon Dwyer with guiding her toward building stronger relationships and becoming a better advisor and business partner.

Her culture is also reflected in her own community activities. St. Joseph Health encourages employee participation in community service, and she has helped the legal department not only meet their annual total, but exceed them.

Adeyanju is personally involved with the Orange County Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, co-chairing its International Trends and Services facet, which collects eyeglasses, school supplies, and dental and hygiene products to be distributed to communities in Haiti through the Haitian American Caucus.

“I’ve been very blessed to have family who emphasized the importance of community service and dedication to helping others,” Adeyanju says.

“And since Nigerian culture puts so much emphasis on taking care of yourself and those around you, I am fortunate to work in an environment like St. Joseph Health that shares the same values.” AHL