Alumni Healthcare Leaders: Lucia Soares

By Jasmine France and Jody Ulate

The nation’s complex and hotly debated healthcare system affects us all. Washington Square wanted to hear from alumni insiders who are shaping the industry—from hospitals and biotech companies to medical devices and research and development.

Here is our full conversation with Lucia Soares, ’96 Spanish, ‘02 MBA, vice president of Healthcare Technology Strategy at Johnson & Johnson. Read Q&As with all 10 alumni healthcare leaders.

Why San Jose State?

My parents had a grade-school education, and I’m the oldest of five, but was encouraged to pursue higher education. SJSU was the affordable option, and it allowed me to work while I was in school. The university is truly an amazing entryway into Silicon Valley. The network is amazing. I ended up getting so much more than I thought I was going to get.

Why did you decide on an MBA?

I originally wanted to be a professor. My parents were immigrants, so I grew up speaking different languages. I was always challenged to look at different perspectives. Eventually this translated into a love for tech and business.

What is your best memory of your time at SJSU? Favorite professor?

My favorite memory: the Humanities Honors Program. I loved it. My fondest memory is of Dr. Marianina Olcott, who opened minds to viewing history, art, literature and philosophy as one during key moments in history. In the MBA program, my favorite professor was Dr. Stuart Wells, the strategic thinking professor. I still use a lot of his principles today.

Did you participate in campus activities while at SJSU?

I worked a lot outside of school, but I was the president of the Portuguese Student Association, Clube Lusitânia, which promoted Portuguese culture. I started a tradition of doing a fundraiser to create a scholarship for those enrolling in Portuguese classes.

What would you want people to know about SJSU?

The university provides a beautiful way to understand diversity. You get out of it as much as you put into it.

Tell us about your position at Johnson & Johnson.

I work under the Health Technology enterprise function of Johnson & Johnson, which is huge and covers many branches: pharma, consumer medical devices, etc. My department is bringing tech innovation into healthcare. We’re known as a science-based innovator, but we feel that digital and tech can further advance innovation in healthcare—specifically apps or other solutions to treat disease and help the wellbeing of the patients we serve. One of our key missions is to continue to innovate.

What inspired you to work in healthcare?

In my first five years working, I was building digital platforms. While it was fulfilling, I felt something was missing. It was a hot space, but I felt my work needed to contribute to a higher cause if I was going to be working so many hours. As a child, I was diagnosed with a rare disease, and it was a really tough few years. I realized I needed to be in healthcare. It’s been very rewarding.

What is the biggest challenge with U.S. healthcare today?

Chronic disease is increasing every year. It’s a becoming an epidemic, even though it’s not infectious. The increase is impacting the cost of healthcare globally. In 2007, U.S. healthcare expenditure was 2.7 trillion. Ten years later, it’s 3.5 trillion. This is driven in part by chronic disease. We need to increase health education, and help people’s ability to control their lifestyle.

What is currently working well in U.S. healthcare?

Venture capitalists have invested more than $18 billion in health technology alone over the last five years in the U.S. We’re delivering better outcomes. The quality and quantity of innovation continues to be very promising.

What does the healthcare industry need most from academic partners who are training the next generation of innovators?

We need critical thinkers and courageous innovators. We need to take risks on things that at first may not be very profitable. When we educate people, we focus so much on hard skills. We also need to give people examples of what it means to be a creative thinker and a creative leader, so they can have a vision for themselves.

What do you look for when hiring new people?

Passion for improving people’s lives, a desire to help, integrity and honesty. Other aspects include technical skills, which are dependent on the job, plus the desire to continuously learn. We look for excellent communicators. Teamwork is so much of what we do.

How did SJSU prepare you for your career and your current role?

SJSU gave me a strong foundation and appreciation for critical thinking and diversity. A lot of students were also working hard and we had pride in our work ethic and our learning. When I landed my first job, I built on that foundation.

What advice would you give patients and caregivers in navigating the complexities of U.S. healthcare?

We are experiencing a major shift in healthcare. Patients are becoming more empowered, as they should be. Remember that you as the patient are the customer.

What is your one message for your fellow alumni?

Find your passion, pursue it relentlessly, and never forget to give back.

“We need to give people examples of what it means to be a creative thinker and a creative leader, so they can have a vision for themselves.”

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