Back to articles

International Women’s Day: Profiles in leadership


International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day is also a call to action through events, both large and small, focusing on equality across the globe.

Observed since the early 1900s, the global holiday is now recognized each year on March 8 and is not affiliated with any one group, but brings together governments, women's organizations, corporations and charities. The theme for this year is #PressforProgress, a nod to the growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support surrounding gender parity and sexism.

As part of the recognition and celebration of International Women’s Day, Adventist Health is featuring four inspiring female leaders throughout our organization. These incredible women will share their insight on living the Adventist Health mission, their role models and what they believe we can all do to inspire future female leaders.

Gwen Matthews, president, Adventist Health Ukiah Valley

Gwen Matthews

Since the joining Adventist Health in 1993, Gwen Matthews served 18 years as chief nursing officer at Adventist Health Castle Medical Center and Adventist Health Glendale prior to becoming the leader for Adventist Health Ukiah Valley.

Q: Gwen, how do you make change? 

A: I lead change by engaging people around a compelling vision of where we are and where we need to be, as well as what it will take to get there. Each individual has a unique experience with change and is invited to be part of the change process as different perspectives bring key insights into how best to design, deploy and make needed modifications.

Q: How do you live the Adventist Health mission? 

A: I live out the mission in my service to others and by seizing every opportunity to inspire health, wholeness and hope regardless of the circumstances.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve overcome? 

A: Seven years ago, when I arrived at my new post, the outlook for our survival was anything but promising. Our leadership team looked reality squarely in the face and determined that this was a life raft for our community, and thus we bent all our energies towards accelerating our movement into the new models for financing and delivering healthcare. We knew the solution would not come to us from the outside; we needed to design it ourselves.

Q: Who are some women you admire within (and outside of) Adventist Health? 

A: Alice Smith headed up the nursing department at Andrews University and inspired me to change my major to nursing. She exemplified the significance of the role nursing can play not only at the individual patient level, but on the healthcare system and even at the national level as she served on the national defense advisory council.

Q: What is your advice to young women seeking leadership roles? 

A: Seize opportunities that come your way to make a difference in the lives of those you and your organization serve. Engage others in making needed change. Never underestimate the strength of being a faith-centered leader—God is a wonderful counselor and guide in every situation that comes your way. He is faithful.

Jennifer Swenson, president, Adventist Health Simi Valley

Jennifer Swenson

Jennifer Swenson is president of Adventist Health Simi Valley. Jennifer started with Adventist Health in 1990 in the human resources department and continued until 2010 when she relocated to Kettering Health Network in Ohio. Jennifer returned to the Adventist Health family in August 2015 to serve as president Adventist Health Simi Valley.

Q: How do you view your role within Adventist Health? How do you make change?

A: I feel that my role is to amplify the mission of Adventist Health in our communities. We are a system made up of very talented employees, physicians and volunteers and who reflect God’s love with the compassion, kindness and quality healthcare we provide in our organizations. Change can be a difficult process and we are going through a lot of change at the moment. Understanding why we are making changes and how this will impact our employees and physicians is essential.

Q: How do you live the Adventist Health mission?

A: I live the Adventist Health mission by serving our care teams and community through servant leadership. I believe in supporting our teams with whatever is necessary for them to do their jobs. In turn, they provide high quality, excellent consumer experience and expand our mission through their engagement.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve overcome?

A: Having a brother with cerebral palsy can be challenging. We are 18 months apart and instead of viewing this as a challenge, I view my brother as an asset to our family. In my eyes, there was nothing he couldn’t accomplish. Therefore, with everything we did as kids I would jury-rig a way for my brother to participate despite the fact he could not walk. My brother has been the greatest asset of my life and taught me how to take nothing for granted and to be positive no matter the circumstance.

Q: Who are the women you admire within (and outside of) Adventist Health?

A: Many strong female CEOs have paved the way for me at Adventist Health, including JoAline Olson, Beth Zachary and Terri Day. During my accounting years, Terri was my mentor and always encouraged me to take the next challenge no matter where that road might lead. I wasn’t expecting that road to go to Ohio, but that was a great experience to work with Terri at Kettering Health Network.

Q: What is your advice to young women seeking leadership roles?

A: Be confident in who you are as a person and maximize the natural gifts God has given to you. We all have natural gifts that can be used to strengthen our organization. Also, you can have everything without sacrificing family. It is a lot of work, but the rewards of having a family to support your leadership journey is extremely important.

Michelle Fuentes, president, Adventist Health Sonora

Michelle Fuentes

Michelle Fuentes is president of Adventist Health Sonora. Michelle was promoted to the role this month after previously serving as Adventist Health Sonora’s vice president of operations since 2014.

Q: Michelle, how do you view your role at Adventist Health? How do you influence change?

A: I view my role as a person who helps the leadership team achieve operational goals and helps connect the employees to the mission of our organization. Change is hard for most people. I find that the best way to move through change is by having effective, accurate and timely communication. When communication lacks, leaders can leave too many “gaps” in the details. Staff then fill in the gaps with negative thoughts which leads to anxiety and fear. My leadership style is to communicate honestly and fully, giving as much information as I can to help people answer important questions and move through change effectively.

Q: How do you live the Adventist Health mission?

A: I try to connect with each team member on a personal level and always communicate with sincerity and kindness.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve overcome?

A: Early in my leadership career, I worked for an executive who didn’t live the values of the organization and was very self-absorbed. It was a challenge working for him while trying to develop myself as a leader and gain the confidence I needed to lead. Ultimately, I grew insecure. Insecurity can still sometimes sneak in to my thoughts today, but I’m more confident in myself and my leadership abilities and can push it out of my head and get back to taking care of the people in my organization. Plus, it was a good lesson on the type of leader I do not want to be like.

Q: Who are the women you admire within (and outside of) Adventist Health?

A: I admire all women who are dedicated to family and to work. It is often difficult to find the right balance, especially in executive roles. As I think about this question one woman comes to mind: my mom. She was a leader when I was a young woman yet still made my after school basketball games and other activities a priority. She made me feel special when I know she had plenty on her plate at work. I hope to demonstrate the same dedication to my children as they grow up.

Q: What is your advice to young women seeking leadership roles?

A: Find something you are both good at and passionate about. This is the ultimate combination to be noticed in your organization. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Just do what you think is right. If it’s wrong, someone will tell you and then don’t do it again!

Kathy Raethel, president, Adventist Health Castle

Kathy Raethel

Kathy Raethel is president of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award-winning Adventist Health Castle. Kathy joined Adventist Health in 1986 where she provided administrative direction and clinical oversight of patient care, and oversaw numerous departments, including the nursing unit, emergency department, quality resources and risk management. She has served as president of Adventist Health Castle since 2011 and led the team to its national win of the Baldrige award.

Q: What is your role within Adventist Health?

A: I am a steward for the mission of Adventist Health and here to be a good steward of our resources to enable us to continue to expand mission within our communities.

Q: How do you view your role within Adventist Health?

A: I work to create an environment where innovation and excellence thrive.

Q: How do you live the Adventist Health mission?

A: I live the Adventist Health mission by example and by creating an atmosphere where the mission can flourish.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve overcome?

A: Being accepted as an equal in years when gender equality was uncommon. Adventist Health has been a leader in creating opportunities for female leaders to succeed and lead the organization to excellence.

Q: Who are some women you admire within (and outside of) Adventist Health?

A: There are many women I admire within Adventist Health including Adventist Health’s chief performance officer, JoAline Olson, and the president of the Pacific Northwest Region of Adventist Health, Joyce Newmyer. Each is an extraordinary woman in her own right. Beyond the Adventist Health walls, Barbara Hotko, RN, with Studer Group who I greater respect and of course, my mother!

Q: What is your advice to young women seeking leadership roles?

A: My advice is to work hard, develop necessary knowledge and experience, be authentic, be courageous, lead from within as well as from behind and don’t look for personal accolades.

Andrea S. Kofl, president, Central Valley Network

Andrea Kofl

Andrea S. Kofl is president of Adventist Health’s Central Valley Network. She has been with Adventist Health since 2013.

Q: Andrea, how do you make change? 

A: My role is like an orchestra leader. I surround myself with excellent musicians (individuals who are expert in their roles) and create an environment that brings out the best in them. We all work together toward common goals. In the Central Valley Network, those goals are supported by our mission of living God’s love by inspiring health, wholeness and hope to those we serve.

Q: How do you live the Adventist Health mission? 

A: I live the mission by never losing sight of the opportunity I have been given to make a difference in the communities we serve. Those communities include our employees. In Central Valley Network we are 3,000 people strong and it is those 3,000 that I serve so they can serve and care for our communities.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve overcome? 

A: We are all living lives filled with imperfections. All of these imperfections should be viewed as opportunities to learn and grow stronger. Nothing in our lives should be viewed as a roadblock.

Q: Who are some women you admire within (and outside of) Adventist Health? 

A: Beth Zachary (former president of Southern California Region in Adventist Health), because of her strong commitment to mission and her ability to touch each human being with dignity and grace.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in the United States. I read a book about her when I was in grammar school, and it set my journey toward healthcare.

Q: What is your advice to young women seeking leadership roles? 

A: Find a career you are passionate about. Study hard; become the best in your field of interest. Along with that, you will become a leader of influence in your field. Others will look to you for guidance and knowledge. Then that influence can be leveraged into future leadership roles. But along the way you must develop different skills that are necessary for leadership. Never stop learning.

Adventist Health thanks these five women and honors all of the other strong women across our system who live our mission each and every day, while leading our organization in its ever-improving service to our communities.