Industry Academy Eminence Profile: Marion J. Ball

Marion Ball focuses on healthcare informatics, consulting, teaching, and consumer empowerment as a part of IBM Research.

Her career in healthcare IT has spanned more than 40 years, and includes roles as a programmer, university administrator, consultant, author, and professor, along with countless organizational leadership roles and industry awards.

Marion, in your own words, what does it mean to be eminent?

This is a wonderful question. When I knew that we would be talking about “eminence”, I decided to look it up and see how it was commonly defined. I saw terms such as prominent, important, noteworthy, distinguished, respected and many more. The one definition that resonates the most with me personally is respected. Having respect has given me the opportunity to work for and with different disciplines, apply my learning, and use my knowledge to hopefully enrich and change the lives of my colleagues.

Eminence inspires others. It allows one to enrich other people’s lives through the work one does. Writing, lecturing and applying the knowledge gained to make a difference in the real world.

How do you believe eminence has helped your own career?

First, I have been blessed by having eminent role models starting early in my life, my parents, my Olympic gold medalist mother, my father, who was one of the founders of the American College of Sports Medicine, as well as my academic husband Dr. John Ball. Their pursuit of excellence inspired me to emulate them, and other experts, over the course of my own career. As I’ve strived to learn more, I could apply what I’ve learned to improve healthcare through the field of Healthcare Informatics. Coming back to “making a difference” – this is important to me and being respected has helped me to do this.

How do you think eminence can help a person succeed in their role? And what do you recommend others do to increase their personal eminence?

Let’s talk about mentoring. The willingness to have good mentors, and accept mentoring in a way that’s not threatening, is valuable. What I mean by that is not to take orders, but to see how others do things. Ask for advice. Then work toward eminence.

I think volunteering and participating in professional organizations within your own field is very important. For me, one example is the American Medical Informatics Association. Get involved with working groups and align with people that have the same interests as you have. Be a team player. Learn to connect the dots; you’ll never be good at everything, so combine your strengths with the strengths of others.

I also recommend shadowing others. For example, to better understand healthcare, you should walk in the doctors’ and nurses’ shoes. Spend days with them and go with them on their floors. It makes you grow. You’ll get respect for them and their roles, and will be able to align with what they’re capable of. You’ll be able to understand their workflow, their thought flow, and it will help you with your expertise to provide and develop systems to meet their needs.

I’ll stress again team effort. Do joint projects, write books with co-authors, work with others to develop new systems and implement projects. Ask lots of questions. People like to give advice. Say, “I don’t know” and ask for guidance. People welcome the opportunity to assist, advise and teach you.

You’ve achieved many honors throughout your career. Recently, you were awarded HIMSS 2017 Most Influential Women in HIT (link resides outside of ibm.com) and were chosen as an inaugural member of the International Academy of Health Sciences and Informatics (link resides outside of ibm.com). Why do you think this type of recognition is important?

First, I’ve been surprised how much recognition has come from the HIMSS award. But the most important thing is that it provides a platform to have more influence and motivate others. If I’m looked up to, it’s easier to open others’ minds and help them succeed. People listen to you because you have hopefully earned their respect. It gives me a platform to do as much good as I can.

Your reputation is established by your actions, books, lectures, and by leading professional organizations. I’ve spent 40 years in my health IT career, and that experience as a senior person in my field, along with being branded as an influential woman, has given me the ability to advise others because they know I might provide good advice.

Let’s talk a bit more about volunteering. I’ve always been interested in volunteering, starting back in my Girl Scout days. I value helping others. Volunteering for professional organizations, such as the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) is a great way to get involved. I wasn’t born in the U.S., and I’m fluent in German, so I’m interested in international organizations and participate in them. I became involved in the IMIA at age 30 and volunteered to be chair of one of the working group called Hospital Information Systems. I organized a major conference and eventually became president of IMIA. It’s been gratifying to get to know people from all around the world – Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa... everywhere. In fact, the association’s 50th anniversary is coming up, and they’re honoring all its former presidents at their biannual international meeting (MEDINFO) in China. I know so many of them and many have become life long friends; strong relationships are important to me.

I love my field. You need to be passionate about your work, so you’ll have the opportunity to share your passion. I’ve had positions in administration, consulting, teaching, other academic work, and implementing things. I’ve been the VP of a university, a full professor, and a CIO. I want to keep going for another 10 years!

What else would you like to share that we haven’t talked about yet?

I always strive to see how we can shine a light on those who don’t get the attention they should. In healthcare, most emphasis is on doctors. How about thinking about nurses who provide most of the care for patients? There are over three million nurses in the U.S., a huge opportunity. I’ve spent a large part of my career focusing on those professions, such as nursing, that provide care, and thinking about what enabling technologies we can provide to them.

Think about other roles too: medical informaticists (formerly called librarians) – they are experts in using informatics skills and information technology; I was most fortunate to serve for over 10 years on the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine and learned to appreciate this undervalued profession. In my opinion.

Think about the people that keep your medical records—you don’t hear much about them either! Think about dentists, EMT’s, pharmacists – they all need informatics skills in their professions and we can have the opportunity to enable these professions.

I’ve worked with a major publishing house, Springer Verlag, for 20 years, and along with my co-editor our series has 70+ books bringing health informatics to professionals, which promotes the impact of inter-professional informatics. Before, there were too many silos. Now, bringing together healthcare professions to work as teams makes care patient-centered and safer. We must help connect the dots, and provide enabling technology to make a difference in designing and implementing efficient and effective health care systems. We’re off to a great start… But there is still a lot to do!

Any final thoughts?

We have a wonderful platform at IBM to make a difference. Health care is high on the company’s radar screen and it makes me more excited than ever to be part of a team working to transform healthcare for the 21st century.

You can listen to Marion talk about her work in a HIMSS podcast (link resides outside of ibm.com).