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A common theme runs through Amy Garner’s career: taking on roles that deal with subjects she knew nothing about. Several times, she’s been called to do jobs she didn’t feel qualified for and never had any previous experiences with.
For example, when she first transitioned from banking to the healthcare industry, revenue cycles and healthcare finance were foreign concepts to her. Later, she got involved with West Tennessee Healthcare’s compliance program, at a time when the compliance officer role was still being defined in the industry at large amid new federal HIPAA guidelines. Garner had never even written a press release when she was asked to be the temporary, and eventually full-time, vice president of marketing and chief communications officer.
Today, she is a leading pillar in her industry who holds the unusual title of chief compliance and communications officer. That title, as well as her overall career success, speak to her ability to learn from whatever life puts in front of her. It’s a skill she hopes to instill in future healthcare leaders.
“I love telling young people the story of how I felt like I was never qualified to do anything in this organization,” she says, chuckling. “I tell people that you can have all the technical ability in the world but it all boils down to your attitude and how you handle situations where you don’t really know the answers to questions. If you’re willing to learn and have a good attitude about it, then I really think you can be successful in any job in healthcare.”
That philosophy has helped her countless times throughout her career—but it was put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic. A week after the state had confirmed its first COVID case, she got a call from her boss on a Wednesday night.
“He wanted me and the regional director of our health department to set up a press conference the next day,” says Garner, who had only been in her communications role for a short time at that point and had no previous experience in the field. “I never held a press conference in my whole life. I tried to make every excuse in the book, but he wouldn’t hear it.”
Finally, she got to work. She spent the night securing a location, inviting local media, and working with the regional health director on messaging. Despite her initial fears, the press conference was a success.
Garner went on to continue that work, serving as a vital resource for the community on all things COVID. She says it was a challenge, involving some twenty-hour days and long stints of fielding COVID questions. But all along, she knew how important the work was. It helped to build partnerships, spark important conversations, and share lifesaving information.
“I was trying to take the pressure off the operations team by working with the media and answering questions for the community so they could do the important work of taking care of patients,” she says. “That period gave me confidence to know that I have the ability to serve in both of my roles effectively despite not having a formal background in them.”
She’s derived the same kind of confidence from her decades as a compliance officer. In that role, she and her team built a robust compliance program while educating the organization on what compliance was and how to stay compliant in various areas. All of this has also led her to become a certified healthcare compliance executive; she is often asked to share her knowledge with other healthcare compliance programs nationwide.
Garner is proud of the way those initiatives helped to shift employee perception of her office. Today, she says, she hopes it’s seen as more of a resource than a finger-wagging authority, due to her team’s work on policies and procedures and their ability to build relationships.
“We’ve gone through that evolution where people feel a little more comfortable coming to us with questions and issues before things become problematic,” Garner says.
As she transitions away from her crisis communications role and focuses more on marketing and compliance, Garner and her team are rolling out a new social media app for employees to help with internal communications.
“So many of our employees don’t sit at a computer all day,” she says. “They’re walking up and down the hall, transporting patients, taking care of patients, and don’t have time to sit down to read their emails to get important information. The app will allow them to get notifications on their phone and have access to a newsfeed that’s relevant to our organization.”
As a leader, Garner allows her team to have space to work while also showing up as a mentor and advocate for their growth. At this point she’s not sure what her next career challenge will be, but she’ll approach it the same way as the others: with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
Amy Garner is a unique leader, an executive who is able to excel at two
complex responsibilities at the same time. If Amy were in the NFL, she would
be all-pro on offense and defense. As Chief Compliance Officer and Chief
Communications Officer for West Tennessee Healthcare, Amy understands
that communication is all about integrity and building trust, just like
compliance. We at The Johnson Group admire and appreciate how Amy’s
diverse skills not only protect the health system, they also make it easier for
WTH to connect with consumers and serve them well.