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Wanda Dillard

Portrait of Wanda DillardDirector of Community Development
Wexner Medical Center

Q. Describe your career path to Director of Community Development at Ohio State (as in, the actual progression of positions through organizations).

A. I was trained in respiratory therapy in the military on active duty for five years and continued with the Ohio National Guard until retirement. After I served my time, I completed a two-year college program in respiratory therapy and continued working on my Bachelors. When my mother became ill, I moved back to Columbus and began work at Riverside as an evening shift manager while simultaneously earning a Bachelor's of Life Science Degree from Otterbein College. I worked as an Assistant Director in Pulmonary Medicine and decided to get a Master's in Health Administration. Upon completing that degree, I worked at an administrative fellowship for two years at Riverside Methodist Hospital. After completing the program, I was made Director of Community Minority Health. In 1995, The Ohio State University contacted me to set up a Community Development Program similar to the one I had created at Riverside. At that point, I finally retired as a Major from the Ohio National Guard. I've been at OSU ever since.

Q. How would you describe your leadership style?

A. Because of my military background, people often assume that I'm a disciplinarian. I don't think that's the case; I consider myself to be a trainer. While I do take pride in working with employees and giving them direction, I also give them autonomy. My staff like working with me because they learn how to make decisions on their own, and I think this is a positive reflection on me.

Q. What were the best career investments you've made along the way?

A. My background in education and the military taught me a lot, but I think the best investment I ever made was in people. I've had several staff members that have worked under me and moved on to do great things. Once again, if you train people and provide them with leadership skills to succeed, they are a great reflection on you as a person. The best part is that I am still friends with many of my former employees. I enjoy getting lunch and catching up with them on their families and accomplishments.

Q. Any mentors or champions who supported your professional development?

A. I have a mentor named Nancy M. Schlichting. She is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Henry Ford Health System. She was always someone to look up to—she was a CEO of a hospital when she was only 27 years old. I remember looking at her and thinking, "I want to be just like that." She took me under her wing and taught me leadership skills when I was an Administrative Fellow. We still keep in touch, and she created the Director of Community Health job for me. She knew that I would be successful in that position. She knew what I could accomplish even when I was not sure myself that I could be a community person.

Q. How would you describe your career goals today? How have they changed over time?

A. My career goals have changed. I initially wanted to be a CEO of a hospital; now, I want to focus on breaking down barriers that ethnic and cultural communities face. I am co-Chair of the Diversity Council subcommittee, which is Cultural Competency Committee. I have faith that doors will open for me, however, it is important to assist the younger generation to open larger doors.

Q. What kind of challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?

A. I am black, and I am a female. I've noticed that people often say very subtle things to cut me down in this regard. This country is becoming more and more diverse, and if the workforce is not prepared for that, we will lose a lot of creativity. This notion has led me to become very passionate about cultural competency and equal rights. I sit on the Diversity Council for the hospital and have worked to assist in the creation of diversity networks for the LGBT, Latino, Young Professionals, and African-American communities in Columbus. I also assisted in creating the computer-based learning module on diversity to educate staff on implicit bias and created the diversity part of the Wexner Medical Center's orientation program.

Q. When you think about serving in a leadership role as a female, do any unique experiences come to mind?

A. I definitely witness some interesting dynamics in this position. Sometimes people just don't get it and make implicit bias statements; I've had multiple experiences with people who say unintentionally hurtful things. However, there are also experiences and relationships with people who are genuinely supportive. For instance, I have an excellent relationship with the current leadership, and we work very well together on community issues, partnerships, concerns, programs, and our educational partners.

Q. What advice would you give to other women looking to reach similar goals?

A. My advice would be simple. I would tell them to be persistent, be professional, find a mentor, establish good relationships with your peers, and make sure your mission is clear.

Q. What's next for you? Something you're looking forward to.

A. The first thing that comes to mind is that I'm looking forward to my son graduating with his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in International Political Science. In terms of my job as the Director of Community Development, I'm looking forward to updating the Community-Based-Learning Module for Diversity and working with the Diversity Council's Cultural Competency subcommittee. The committee is in the process of creating and having approved a transgender patient policy, which is really exciting. In addition, I am very excited to continue the work of the OSU Implicit Bias Coalition and working with Women's Place. We still have work to do, but The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has come a long way in terms of becoming completely accepting to all forms of diversity.