Lisa Davis, MAcc
Chief Financial Officer
Ascension Saint Thomas
When it was time to think about a career, Lisa Davis knew she wanted to be an accountant but hadn't really considered the intersection of her chosen field and healthcare.
The East Tennessee native earned her undergraduate business degree and Master of Accountancy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Moving to Nashville after graduation, Davis began her career as an auditor with public accounting firm Ernst & Young. "This experience gave me the opportunity to work in multiple industries, and I was particularly drawn to healthcare," she said. "The complexities of financial operations within the hospital setting, such as reimbursement, was fascinating to me and unlike any other industry I was exposed to, so I knew that I eventually wanted to spend my career in healthcare finance."
That transition came after five years with EY when she accepted a position with Saint Thomas Hospital (now Saint Thomas West) in 1998. In addition to being intrigued by the economic model behind healthcare, Davis noted, "I was also drawn to being in a nonprofit organization, and Saint Thomas was interesting because of the mission and being faith-based."
Davis started work with the hospital as an accounting manager before leaving briefly to work with a startup company in Dallas. Returning to Nashville and Saint Thomas, she worked in a special projects capacity as acquisitions grew the single medical facility into an integrated five-hospital system. By 2011, Davis had been named vice president of finance for Saint Thomas West and served as corporate controller for Saint Thomas Health. In 2013, she was named associate chief financial officer for the growing health system and stepped into the CFO spot for Ascension Saint Thomas in 2015.
Davis said she has been fortunate to have several great mentors. Former Saint Thomas CFO Alan Strauss, however, was someone who made a tremendous and lasting impact on her career. "One of the things I learned from him is how to lead as a CFO beyond the lens of just the finances," said Davis. "In order to impact the financial performance of an organization, you must also understand the strategy, have an open mind, see the bigger picture, and be willing to collaborate with others."
As CFO, Davis said, she is proud of the collegial spirit of her team, and ... like Strauss ... is always happy to recognize and support internal talent. "I love that in my role, I'm able to empower others to understand where their opportunities exist and provide support to improve financial performance. This is key." She continued, "I'm especially proud of our organization's commitment to service of the poor as demonstrated by providing over $140 million of annual charity care and community benefit, which was substantially greater than what we had planned for in our expected budget."
Davis noted that by delivering efficient, effective care, funds are freed up to help those who are uninsured or underinsured access the appropriate level of care in the appropriate setting. While she said she is focused on the financial performance in the reality of today, it's equally important to position the health system to be successful in the future, particularly as the larger delivery system moves away from fee-for-service to a fee-for-value model. One of her biggest challenges, she continued, is managing the system's needs while still striving to serve the community's needs, as well.
"A lot of people think of CFOs as 'CF-No,'" she laughed. "I always want to be collaborative in my thinking to help balance finances with our mission." Davis added it's important to know when to take risks. "We have to be incredible stewards of our resources, but we have to think differently about how healthcare is changing," she explained.
Just as she supports the Saint Thomas mission to serve the community at work, she also puts her faith into action by volunteering her time and talents. She previously served a six-year board term for Alive Hospice and is on the financial board for the Catholic Diocese of Nashville.
Davis loves spending time with friends and family and traveling every chance she gets ... including a trip to Belgium and Switzerland this summer.
Time off helps her recharge for the big tasks ahead that she and her close-knit team face as care delivery evolves. "Over the next decade, I would like to be a part of transforming healthcare into an affordable, sustainable model. There is much work to be done, and we are excited to be a part of some of these efforts to move healthcare in this direction," Davis concluded.