Marie Sandra Severe ’15 is a force to be reckoned with.
After graduating with a doctorate in Public Health from FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, Severe continued a post-graduation career that ultimately landed her the role as one of the latest executives at Jackson Health System, a nonprofit academic medical system that works to ensure all residents of Miami-Dade County receive care.
Today, Dr. Severe is the Senior Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of Jackson North Medical Center in North Miami Beach, Florida.
Learn more about her journey in the Q&A below.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I am a first-generation American of Haitian descent and the oldest of five. I grew up in Liberty City and Allapattah, neighborhoods in Miami, Florida. My mom came to the United States from Haiti. A year after she arrived, she had me. She also raised her siblings. My mom was kind of like the shepherd of our family. Her mom – my grandmother— worked throughout the Caribbean to provide for her children while they were in Haiti and eventually, the United States.
What attracted you to the field of public health?
The biggest part of it is that public health focuses on the macro. What policies and processes can you affect? What programs can you develop that will benefit a large group or groups?
You know, I remember being in class and learning about social marketing as a component of maternal and child health. It was so fascinating to learn, at that time, that there was a form of marketing aimed at improving health behaviors and not just selling products.
Mainly, there is just this vast array of ways in which you could expand your knowledge and profession in public health.
That’s what made me fall in love.
How did you land your first job post-graduation?
I started looking for a job after I graduated from my master’s program (in public health) at Tulane University in 2003. The challenge was that I did not have experience. I searched long and hard and found myself applying to and accepting the only job I thought I could find at the time – an insurance adjuster. I said to myself, “I need the money.” A big part of it was doing what I needed to do to help my family. My mom always worked hard so we were fine, but I wanted to find a way to really augment the household income and support my mom and siblings. Well, I gave it another shot and went to a healthcare job fair. I came across a hospital booth where the recruiters just happened to be looking for someone with an MPH to oversee a large grant for their hospital. The grant provided services for half of Miami-Dade County. That is how I truly got my start in healthcare and haven’t since looked back.
How did you start your career at Jackson Health System?
I started working for Jackson Health System in 2014 as the administrator for Jackson Community Mental Health Center (JCMHC) and was eventually promoted to associate vice president of operations for Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital (JBHH). It was my first venture into behavioral health services for adults, and after nearly three years, I transitioned from behavioral health to the acute care setting when I became the associate vice president of operations at Jackson Memorial Hospital (JMH), the system’s flagship hospital. Prior to my current role, I served as the chief operating officer at the same hospital. I gained such a wide range of experiences from the moment I joined Jackson.
Give us a behind-the-scenes look at the work you are doing now as CEO of Jackson North Medical Center.
My immediate work encompasses understanding the needs of the community and the needs of my team and staff, improving access to care at our hospital, and ensuring everyone knows that Jackson North is here to provide the best in care. A large part of that work involves developing a strategy that aligns our system’s mission, vision, and value.
What do you think helped get you to where you are today?
I think one of the keys to my success throughout my career is humility and an eagerness to learn. I did not have to know everything, but I had to remain open to receiving feedback and being willing to think critically to address problems. I was humble enough to admit that I was not always the technical expert, but I was “teachable” and knew I had the gift of absorption and translation. I allowed the people who did the work day-in and day-out to teach me so that I could ultimately support them in an administrative capacity. I also had magnificent support from family and friends. They acted as advisors, counselors, cheerleaders, comedians, and sounding boards. They helped me to not take myself too seriously, but to remember that I was always a serious contender.
What role does networking play in helping someone progress in their career?
I would absolutely encourage people to network because you never know who you will meet. I personally am not the best networker, but I know the power of networking is undeniable. Even if you are uncomfortable in doing so, challenge yourself to meeting a few people at each networking event you attend. You will be surprised at the connections you can make and the support you can garner just from a conversation or two.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give students entering the workforce?
Nowadays, you are competing against many people with advanced degrees and experience. While both are important, work ethic matters, too. Do the work. Be open to different opportunities. There are so many paths to get to your destination, but you have to be willing to take the journey. Lastly, be authentic. Again, remain open. Learn as much as you can. Listen. However, never compromise who you are in the process.