Leadership Health Care News

March 25, 2024

Member Monday Spotlight: Michaela Poizner, LHC Board Chair, Shareholder & Chair, Health Law Practice, Baker Donelson

Member Monday Spotlight: Michaela Poizner, LHC Board Chair, Shareholder & Chair, Health Law Practice, Baker Donelson

Michaela, chair of the Health Law Group and founder of the Behavioral Health Initiative, assists clients in navigating healthcare asset transactions, addressing privacy concerns, analyzing fraud and abuse issues, and developing policies. She represents various provider organizations, including psychiatric hospitals, mental health treatment programs, and skilled nursing facilities. A graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, Michaela is recognized for her expertise in healthcare law by The Best Lawyers in America® and Mid-South Super Lawyers. She serves on the board of Leadership Health Care and previously clerked for the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Office of General Counsel.

When women in leadership can often be less represented how can women develop strong leadership skills?
Learn from the men, too! While I am so grateful for the female leaders that have poured into me over the years, I would not be the person I am today if I didn’t also seek counsel from strong male leaders. If you don’t see women ahead of you in leadership, identify the men in your organization or industry who see the importance of championing promising leaders, whether male or female, and learn from them. What you need to become a leader is someone to invest in you. And while it would be wonderful if that someone were a woman, that is not a requirement.

What advice would you give to other women who aspire to become leaders?
Take ownership of your career. Don’t wait for opportunities to fall out of the sky. Instead, seek out mentorship and sponsorship, advocate for yourself, and raise your hand to lead, all while doing excellent work. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) say “yes” to every opportunity, but for those opportunities that align with your values and priorities, show up hungry and bring your “A” game. The world can’t help but notice.

Tell us about a professional success story that you’re proud of.
Several years ago, I realized that my legal practice had evolved organically to center on serving behavioral health providers. I knew there were several other attorneys in my law firm with similar practices. But, despite our shared experience in this health care sub-industry, we were siloed, each serving our clients from our own area of expertise. So I raised my hand and, with the support of leadership, gathered our attorneys with behavioral health clients from across the firm (in practices ranging from corporate transactions to employment to litigation to health care regulation) and founded our firmwide Behavioral Health Initiative. The Initiative, which I’m proud to report continues to thrive today, brings attorneys from across the firm around one table to share knowledge and experiences uniquely applicable to our behavioral health clients. We work together to make Baker Donelson a one-stop-shop for this sector of the health care industry, ensuring our clients that not only can we meet their legal needs, but we can do so with a team of practitioners that knows the nuances of the behavioral health world in and out. I’m proud that I took the initiative, as an associate attorney at the time, to establish this impactful group, and I’m grateful to work in an organization that gave me the opportunity to lead where I saw a need.

What inspired you to choose your current career path?
I backed into law after starting my career in journalism, but I was drawn to health care (and specifically behavioral health care) by the ability work arm-in-arm with providers who have a direct and meaningful impact on individuals and families at critical moments in their lives. We live in a hurting world, and the work that my health care clients do makes it hurt a little bit less. I wake up every day humbled and enthusiastic to be a part of that work.

What has surprised you most about working in the healthcare industry?
How expansive it is. Right out of law school, new lawyer Michaela thought she was diving into a legal niche. How wrong I was! Health care, and particularly the regulation of health care, is broader and deeper than I ever imagined. A few years ago, I set out to produce a white paper on the history of regulation of medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. The first law on the topic was written just over forty years ago, and the topic itself is quite narrow. How hard could it be, really, to distill the information into an outline? Several months and dozens of research rabbit trails later, I had to significantly scale back the project. Turns out this tiny corner of what I thought was a niche area of legal practice is, in and of itself, vast. Healthcare is a big, wide world!

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before entering the industry, what would it be?
Get a health care MBA. Regardless of what sphere of health care you occupy, including the dreaded legal sphere, there is no substitute for knowing the business. I’ve learned much of what I need to know through osmosis over the years, but taking that extra year in school to get an MBA would have been much more efficient!

How have you built confidence and/or resiliency over the course of your career?
It’s taken me many years and a collage of executive coaches, therapists, and patient friends to internalize the message that so many of us miss early in life: you are enough, just the way you are. Affirmations, meditations, running, and wine: I’ve employed a lot of coping strategies in my adult life, but what I now know is that we all have internal narratives, born out of self-protection, that tell us who we are and how we relate to our world. But those narratives are often untrue. And when they no longer serve us, it’s time to acknowledge them, and let them go. When I’m feeling overmatched, I take a deep breath and state my new narrative: “A lot is being asked of you, and you’re doing a [self-censored] great job.” If your narrative is holding you back, recognize it, and work to change it.

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