Rule-Breaking Nuns and the Future of Health Care: OZY's New Podcast Is Here - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Rule-Breaking Nuns and the Future of Health Care: OZY's New Podcast Is Here

Rule-Breaking Nuns and the Future of Health Care: OZY's New Podcast Is Here

By Molly Fosco

Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange in front of the old Maxwell Touring car in California from around the time of the flu epidemic of 1918.


Lessons from the past can be a valuable tool in guiding the future of health care. 

By Molly Fosco

Technology is having an increasing impact in the operating theater and beyond. Yet, as experts reveal in The Future of X: Health, patient treatment in 50 years’ time won’t be based entirely on robots or advanced A.I., but rather on raw human connection. In a new five-part podcast, in partnership with Providence St. Joseph Health, OZY paints a picture of health care in 2069, from the chronic diseases we don’t yet recognize to a world without hospitals. Listen up on OZY.comSpotifyAppleHimalaya or wherever you prefer to stream your audio.

A flu pandemic swept across the world in 1918, infecting more than 500 million people and killing 50 million. In the little town of Eureka, California, newly settled pioneers were sick with fever, chills and body aches. There were no hospitals and there was a shortage of doctors. But the Sisters of St. Joseph had come west with a mission — to provide care to anyone and everyone who needed it. Using their Maxwell Touring car, they drove around Eureka making house calls to flu patients at a time when most people were running the other direction. Not to mention the fact that nuns were forbidden from driving at the time.

With all the innovation in the health care space over the past century, this tale might seem antiquated. But many of these core values are relevant in health care today. Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH) still makes an effort to provide care in places where access is challenging and technology makes it possible. Its telemedicine network provides care in some of the most rural areas of the U.S. For example, as part of their Telestroke program, PSJH neurologists are able to see stroke victims — when every minute is critical to prevent debilitation — via video anywhere in the state of Alaska in less than three minutes.


Sisters of Providence on horseback for a “begging tour” (aka fundraiser) in British Columbia in 1896.

Source PSJH

In 2018, PSJH joined six other health care networks to form Civica RX, a nonprofit generic drug company. Their goal is to combat sky-high drug prices and increase access to medication, again operating with the same goal as the Sisters of St. Joseph more than a century ago. “They didn’t worry about whether health care was covered or not; they just did what they needed to do,” says Rod Hochman, chief executive officer of PSJH.


That PSJH was started by women is also significant. Women make up more than 70 percent of the U.S. health care workforce but just 33 percent of its leadership positions. Not a single health care company on the Fortune 500 has 50-50 gender balance on its executive team, but seven of PSJH’s 12 leadership team members are women. “Can you name another company that’s over 165 years old and is now valued at over $25 billion that was started by a group of women?” asks Hochman.

You have to hold people accountable to shape the organization.

Debra Canales, PSJH executive

Debra Canales is part of that leadership team, overseeing human resources and community ministry at PSJH. She was named a Modern Healthcare “Top 25 Minority Leader” in 2018 and helped start the #NotHere movement at PSJH, which is the organization’s response to the #MeToo movement. Canales suffered an abusive relationship for many years but it shaped what she stands for today. “#NotHere is saying we care for every caregiver,” Canales says. “We don’t tolerate harassment or abuse of any kind.”


Debra Canales

This type of supportive environment isn’t possible without the right kind of leaders in place, Canales says. You need to have leaders “who really make gender diversity a priority for senior leadership and ensure that it’s cascaded,” she says. “You have to hold people accountable to shape the organization.”

In difficult moments, Canales often thinks of the founding sisters for inspiration. “It really goes back to their steadfast commitment,” she says. It’s about continuing to think creatively and asking, ‘What are the other alternatives in this situation?’” Canales says.

From increasing access to care to empowering female leadership, lessons from the past can be a valuable tool in guiding the future of health care. A modern approach can still be deeply rooted in timeless values. 

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