Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: Cindy Salas Murphy of ‘WithHealth’ on The 5 Leadership Lessons She Learned From Her Experience
End your days with favorite moments: In our field, not every day will yield the results you expect. However, every day we have a moment that brings us joy or peace. Celebrate that moment by recalling it before you go to bed and share it with someone you love.
Asa part of my series about “Lessons from Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy Salas Murphy, CEO & Founder of WithHealth.
Cindy Salas Murphy is the Founder and CEO of WithHealth, a San Diego-based digital precision care, telehealth company that is committed to delivering on the promise of precision care by dramatically changing the healthcare experience to improve employee health and employer outcomes. WithHealth uses genomics, digital twin technology, augmented intelligence, care coordination, and telehealth to make healthcare personalized, affordable, proactive, and accessible. Cindy has more than 20 years of experience leading transformation in healthcare for hospitals, medical groups and as an entrepreneur with a successful exit. Her outcomes include growth of a start-up to more than $1B under management, improved patient safety, quality, service and growth, while also reducing cost and optimizing productivity levels. Her passions include precision health, improving access to care, destigmatizing mental health, and eliminating health disparities. She holds a Master in Public Health from San Diego State University and a Bachelor in Science from Mount St. Mary’s University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iam the daughter of two immigrants who met and fell in love in Los Angeles, CA. On their honeymoon, driving from Los Angeles to Costa Rica, they were in a horrific car accident. Both of my parents were significantly injured and my mom, at the age of 24, became disabled. Miraculously enough, she was able to have five children, two of which survived — my older sister and me. My parents’ dedication to us was endless, and still is to this day. My mom taught us to enjoy life, to be creative, and to play nice. My dad was active with us, took us running and biking, and taught us to love the ocean. He loved to play with us outdoors, which was something my mom could not do.
When my dad was about 38 he was injured in another accident, and as a young child, I felt like I was losing my playmate. When he was hospitalized, my only question for the neurosurgeon was whether my dad would be able to play with us outside. Dr. Richland (I still remember his name) told me that he wasn’t sure. He told me he would do his best, but he couldn’t give me any guarantees. As you can imagine, this was incredibly difficult to hear. I told Dr. Richland that I wanted to make medicine better. I knew then and there that I wanted healthcare to be better — not only for the patients, but also for their families. I was eight years old, with a defined purpose in life. My determination and drive to make healthcare better have only grown throughout the years, and it fuels me everyday. I awaken with a fire in my belly, knowing that each day I have the opportunity to make a difference in this world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
In March 2020, the most unprecedented event in my life occurred. Our country shut down. The world shut down. People were getting sick. At WithHealth, we were launching our digital precision care delivery model to employers, but the employers went home. They were unsure of their future, both personally and professionally.
WithHealth already employed physicians, nurses, and genetic pathologists. Plus, we had a platform. So, we rolled up our sleeves and carried out our mission to make healthcare affordable and accessible. While our original focus was on precision care, we turned instead to immediate COVID risk mitigation and testing for employers. It was the fastest pivot I have ever taken in my professional life. In a matter of weeks, we were serving as the telemedicine provider for San Diego County’s COVID alternative discharge centers and shortly thereafter providing workplace safety for employers across the U.S. To date, we have serviced more than 150 clients across many industries, from first responders, to financial services, to professional sports teams. Our biggest industry is entertainment and production. We have the privilege of servicing some of the largest production studios in the world, and are working shoulder to shoulder with them to keep their workplaces safe and free from COVID outbreaks.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
First, I believe a mistake only happens when you do something unintended and you don’t learn from it. Instead, I like to think in terms of unintended moments that lead to growth. One of the funniest moments of contrast that I have experienced was in a meeting with a potential investor. I asked him why he was interested in meeting with us. He said that he was intrigued by our model. I, in turn, asked what intrigued him. As he attempted to respond, I quickly realized he actually had no idea what we did, nor did he realize that we were not actively raising money at that time. Nonetheless, I took the opportunity to practice my elevator pitch and share more about WithHealth. Turns out, he only invests in real estate. We weren’t the right fit for him before I even entered the room. I spent over an hour explaining our model and, upon reflection, I learned a lesson. While the experience had been amusing and great fun, in the end, I was not a good steward of his — or of my own — time. Nowadays, I am very intentional in creating alignment at the beginning of my meetings so that I can be the best steward of everyone’s time.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are a digital precision care, telehealth company. We are the only solution that brings primary care, specialty care, behavioral health, and urgent care all together in a digital first model that is powered by genomics. Our delivery model enables care for employees and reduces costs for both employees and employers. We cost less than a cup of coffee per day and offer unlimited chat with clinicians, unlimited urgent care visits, five visits per year with their WithHealth primary care physician, and access to our specialists for only $45 to $85 per visit. What this means is that we can focus not only on treating illness, but also on creating a plan of care that is preventive and proactive. Our clinicians use the patient’s clinical information, including their pharmacogenomics and genomic profile report, to help patients take the right medication and prevent new or continued illnesses. A beautiful example of this came early. One of our first patients suffered from adult acne and irritability. They were interested in learning more about how to improve their mood and their skin condition. Their pharmacogenomics test showed that they were on anti-depressants which weren’t working well for them, and their skin condition was related to their gut health. In a few short weeks, this patient felt significantly better and the skin condition was improving. That was fuel! It was immediate evidence that our model worked. Here we stand, a year later, iterating on that experience and creating more opportunities to make healthcare better.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our focus on delivering our digital first precision care offering to employers is primordial, but we also know that employers are trying to figure out how to respond to the new vaccine management mandate that is currently under review by the White House. An exciting development in our workplace safety offering is our vaccine management program. The program includes both testing and confidential management of vaccine status for employees.
We know this is a great help for employers. It takes the burden of the validation and management process away from HR teams and enables the confidential communication of readiness for work, whether it is with an up-to-date vaccine card or a negative COVID test.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
As the mother of two young school-aged children, I can tell you that we MUST do more. When I meet with experts in genomics, medicine and technology, I am keenly aware that the vast majority of them are men. I believe as leaders we must do our part in mentoring and elevating those that have an interest in STEM. I feel very blessed to have amazing mentors in my life, many of whom were women in STEM. They serve as a guidepost for how my career has progressed.
We can do more to engage young girls in discussions that focus on limitless thinking rather than qualifying them as not being good at math or science. We need to be more playful with math and science as a way of creating curiosity. We should do away with standardized testing since the research has shown that speed is not an indicator of aptitude and the scoring of these timed tests demotivates many.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
A major challenge for women in STEM is finding female mentors. As STEM leaders, we need to do a better job of pairing ourselves with other women in STEM and build a stronger community. We need to do a better job of succession planning and invest in women that not only demonstrate ability, but also willingness and desire to learn and grow.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
Myth: Women in STEM are boring.
Answer: False. I have a creative edge that generates excitement in my work.
Myth: Women in STEM are not well rounded, they only like science, tech and math.
Answer: False. I speak three languages and enjoy spending time learning about new cultures and their history.
Myth: Women in STEM must enter the market at a young age.
Answer: False. Our VP of Technology at WithHealth started as a social worker and transitioned into tech. When you find your calling, follow it. Age is not an indicator of your ability to enter the market.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Things always work out for me: Even when things seem dire, when the dust settles, I always see the beauty where that specific moment of contrast brought growth and opportunity in my life. What I have learned as a scientist is that a positive outlook on life, living in happiness and gratitude, being in service and experiencing love all enhance telomerase enzyme activity and promote a long and healthy life.
- Your thoughts create your reality, so be careful of what you think: Quantum physics has taught us that everything in the universe is made up of energy and generates a certain energy signature. The energy we emit can and does alter your environment
- Your best teachers are your customers: We must consider the perspective of our clients/customers when building solutions. They trust that we will couple our knowledge and passion with execution for their benefit. That unspoken contract places the responsibility on us to assess, design, and implement solutions that are important to them. Using the scientific method, we have the tools available to properly hypothesize and assess the best possible product or service for our clients/customers.
- End your days with favorite moments: In our field, not every day will yield the results you expect. However, every day we have a moment that brings us joy or peace. Celebrate that moment by recalling it before you go to bed and share it with someone you love.
- Nunc Coepi — leave the past behind and begin again: We can’t live in the past and expect to enjoy the future. Not only is living in the moment integral to creating new technology or incorporating new scientific findings, we must leave the past behind in order to release biases that may prevent us from discovering new paths or ways of doing things.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Culture trumps skill everyday! Promote those that drive a culture that is aligned to your values. Skills can be taught.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Don’t take on too many direct reports and always make time for your own personal development. Hire a coach or build a “kitchen cabinet” (aka personal advisors) to serve as guideposts for you.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My parents!! They taught me that there is no limit to what I can accomplish and to always love what I do every day of my life. This is how I live my life and what I am also teaching my children. Additionally, I am blessed to be married to an incredible man that also subscribes to this belief.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I often have this conversation with my children. In our own backyard in San Diego, we have communities that are food deserts. Among our clients, in some of the tribal nations, the average life expectancy is 59 years old. Whether in San Diego or across the country, we have small moments to make big differences. We must seize those moments every chance we get in both our personal and professional lives.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. ?
It would be to destigmatize behavioral health. It would be to transition mental illness from a whisper word to a normal topic of conversation, like diabetes or heart disease. Let’s get people diagnosed earlier and provide them with treatment that is precisely designed for them. There are too many suicides that are preventable.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Some people come in our life as blessings. Some come in your life as lessons.” — Mother Theresa
Every person is a gift and we must treat them as such. There are times when in the moment, I have failed to see the gift that the person was in my life. By recognizing that the gift, whether it was in the shape of a blessing or a lesson, it served a purpose in my life.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them ?
Donna Langley, Chairman of Universal. The pivot she led for Universal during the pandemic is commendable. I feel connected to her as we too had to pivot and we did it with great success, of course at a much smaller scale.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.