Breakthrough Champion: Connie Hebert, from the ER to AI

How a career nurse became Dell's chief nursing officer

By Sara Downey, thought leadership, Dell Technologies

Connie Hebert is a unique type of nurse. She’s tended to patients at their bedside, and now in her role as chief nursing officer (CNO) at Dell Technologies, she’s improving access to technology that betters their care.

Her deep experience is helping IT developers understand the challenges that healthcare workers face day in and day out, so they can design solutions that make the inefficient efficient, free-up clinicians’ time and remove friction—enabling the healthcare system to continue to save lives and improve outcomes.

In hindsight, an atypical career path was in the cards for Connie from childhood. As a young girl growing up in Louisiana, she loved fixing things, helping people and tackling seemingly intractable challenges. Her mom called her the “idea man.” Her deep sense of empathy drew her to the nursing field, starting in the emergency room. And Connie’s innate desire to problem-solve led her to the technology industry years later, earning her Master’s in Business Administration along the way.

We caught up with Connie—recently back from a medical mission to Ghana—to learn about her career path, the challenges facing healthcare and how she manages a full plate.

Photo by Samuel Avorkpo for Mission:318

You started your career as a hospital nurse. How did you transition to working in business and technology?

I started in nursing 22 years ago, before electronic health records were mainstream. As advancing technology rapidly transformed healthcare, I became interested in who decided on specific solutions and why they chose them. I really wanted to improve the technology being deployed in healthcare, which meant getting into the vendor side. It felt like a natural path for me. I ended up going to business school because I realized that understanding the full lifecycle of the healthcare business was a gap I needed to address.

My decision prompted some negativity from my peers, who thought I was abandoning nursing. But I just saw it as an additional challenge, a way for me to address the problems that clinicians face on a larger scale. And I didn’t give up nursing—I’ve continued to pick up clinical shifts throughout the years to keep my nursing skills up to date and empathize with current challenges in the market.

I do what I love. Improving care delivery means my job isn’t ‘work,’ it’s a pleasure.

– Connie Hebert, chief nursing officer, Dell Technologies

What are some of the biggest problems you see facing healthcare today?

The ongoing shortage of healthcare workers. This issue came to the fore during the pandemic. The industry is now wrestling with: how can we augment this shrinking workforce?

Photo by Samuel Avorkpo for Mission:318

I can see quite clearly that the answer lies in technology. Technology helps reduce some of clinicians’ repetitive work, free up time for patient care and treat patients wherever they are. I’m especially interested in how we can use artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics to achieve those goals. And I think the industry is increasingly ready for these advancements.

Of course, the technology needs to be user-friendly as clinicians don’t have the bandwidth for added clicks. This is why emerging solutions that run seamlessly in the background—such as AI to automate manual tasks—are being well received by clinical providers.

In fact, according to recent Dell research, “Breakthrough,” 72% of respondents in the healthcare industry say they would look forward to mitigating human error with technology. Just 23% of people polled in healthcare would be concerned that machines will make bad decisions in the absence of human judgment. Admittedly, these respondents aren’t specifically nurses. However, they understand the pressures on the industry, the workforce and the patients they serve. And they’re looking to technology to improve healthcare delivery.

How did the conversations around technology in healthcare change during the pandemic?

I moved into liaising between technology and healthcare nearly ten years ago, which brought me to my Dell Technologies CNO role over two years ago just before the start of the pandemic. It quickly became apparent that I didn’t have to spend cycles convincing anybody of the value technology serves in healthcare.

Instead, there was this immediate shift in adoption to make care at the edge possible. Looking ahead, I see the physical structures for delivering healthcare (i.e., hospitals and clinics) getting smaller as we no longer need four walls to provide care. Government reimbursement models and how organizations bill for that care will also change.

We’re also increasingly seeing the growth of data being used to improve diagnostics and create better, more precise therapies to improve outcomes overall. Of course, as the adoption of digital solutions accelerates, there will be challenges to overcome—such as data security, management and access—especially in rural areas where there’s less connectivity.

You recently returned from a medical mission. What was the purpose of that trip, and what did you learn?

One of the customers I support in my role at Dell is Mercy Virtual. They virtually support remote telehealth to Ghana, from St. Louis, around the clock—allowing the only physician to access specialty consultations when needed.

Photo by Samuel Avorkpo for Mission:318

Additionally, several Mercy clinicians (along with other organizations) voluntarily make an annual visit to support surgical procedures and other care needs in this rural Ghanaian community.

When collaborating with Mercy Virtual on how Dell can support with technology, I heard the small voice inside me ‘calling’ and volunteered to don my nurse hat and join the team on site.

Of course, we have pockets of need in the U.S., but it doesn’t compare to the need we saw in Yendi. Our team of 15 volunteers performed 80 surgeries in five days, working 22 hours a day, with no clean running water and often without electricity.

I made a strong connection with one patient named Osmond. He had a severe wound and hadn’t been out of bed for weeks. There, the families must provide medical supplies and even food to patients at the clinic. Osmond needed sustenance to help him heal. I gave him all the food I had packed, and he was able to get out of bed before I left. We keep in touch, and I promised I would go back and visit him again next year.

The experience reminded me of why I got into technology—to reach those who need help most on a grand scale. And that I’ll always be a nurse. It’s a lifetime skill and vocation.

Healthcare burnout has been a big topic over the past year. How do you stay motivated to keep driving for change?

Simple—I do what I love. Improving care delivery means my job isn’t ‘work,’ it’s a pleasure. It drives me out of bed each day and excites me. Prioritization is also paramount, to ward off burnout. And working for an employer that carves out time for the sort of volunteering that feeds your soul.

In fact, the experience has ignited another fire inside me. I am now pouring my heart into raising $300,000 to build a proper Emergency Department in Yendi. Currently, it’s a struggle to treat malaria during peak season: having only one physician for 250,000 people, scarce oxygen tanks and a total backlog for surgical procedures. The voluntary hours, Dell’s commitment to price match fundraising efforts, the fact that my team also donated laptops to the cause (complete with video capability), are all fuel to me. I couldn’t feel more impassioned and focused on the task ahead, both here and in Yendi.

If you feel moved to contribute to Connie’s fundraiser, click here.

Breakthrough Champions is a series on Perspectives profiling ordinary Dell employees doing amazing things to advance digital transformation. The series is inspired by Dell’s “Breakthrough” platform and the belief that progress happens at the intersection of people and technology.