‘I want to be part of the change’

Shannel Newton turns diversity and inclusion into action

Shannel Newton believes serving the community can change your life. She lives that mantra every day as a single mother of three and clerical supervisor at Novant Health.

Newton was recently promoted to clerical supervisor III at Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute located at Presbyterian Medical Center, where she leads a new group of more than 20 team members. In addition to helping provide remarkable care, she enjoys the opportunity to get to know others and serve them. She believes working in a healthcare system is the best place to teach others about diversity and inclusion.

“I think working in healthcare is the ultimate platform to reach adults,” Newton said. “Everybody should be going to the doctor, whether it’s for a mammogram or a physical. At a healthcare system, you have the opportunity to engage with all different backgrounds. Working as a patient services coordinator has provided me the gateway to share my love for servant leadership and my passion for diversity and inclusion.”

Newton, who came to healthcare from a community nonprofit background, loves the opportunity to personally engage with community members. For several weekends, she’s appeared at a local church to help others learn about COVID-19 vaccines and dispel rumors. Many lack confidence in the vaccine, stemming from misinformation and social injustices inflicted on the black community. Newton tries to assure them the vaccines are safe.

“I want them to know, ‘Look, I’m African-American and I believe in the vaccine,’” Newton said. “My whole goal is for them to get the vaccine and protect our communities. I say, ‘Now, you have the power.’”

Newton sees this engagement as a crucial part of building trust on an individual level.

“I don’t want to just be in the room,” Newton said. “I want you to show me something. I want you to listen and I want to be coached. And I want to coach you so we can actually increase everyone’s confidence that this is a great organization. I want to be a part of the change.”

Shannel Newton running for Novant

Promoting diversity within the community has been a passion for Newton since she was a teenager. Relocating from Ohio, she landed a front desk position at Presbyterian Medical Center.

“I took the position for front desk because I felt like, ‘I have servant leadership and a full diverse background.’”

Today, she is co-chair of Novant Health’s African-American business resource group (BRG) and a member of the women’s BRG. BRGs are groups comprised of team members, each with a common identity or an interest in advocacy. The BRGs are organized around demographics such as age, race, gender identity or abilities. Together, these groups provide a forum for professional support, community events and education around perspectives and engagement strategies. Recently, the African-American BRG read books to children and screened “Black Men in White Coats,” a documentary that seeks to increase the representation of black men in the medical profession.

“I try to collaborate with all of our BRGs because that’s how you learn about other people that you may not associate with,” Newton said.

Newton finds it encouraging to see both women and women of color in leadership roles at Novant Health. She cited as inspirations Novant Health’s Angela Yochem, executive vice president and chief transformation and digital officer, and Tanya Blackmon, executive vice president and chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer. She’s seen the growth in women leadership at Novant Health as well.

“I love to see women in leadership,” Newton said. “I look at them as if they were me and I can be in that position to make change. That’s important to women because we’re educated, we work hard, we’re away from family and we’re leading. There should be opportunity for us to grow too.”

Newton is making strides in her free time to grow professionally. She’s finishing her bachelor’s degree in healthcare management, and her ultimate dream is to attend law school once her kids have finished college.

“I would love to work in the legal department at Novant Health,” Newton said. “I have great, big dreams, but I really believe because our organization is so diverse, those dreams can come true.”

Through each encounter with patients and team members, Newton is grateful for the opportunity to make a difference.

“It’s really freeing to open your heart,” Newton said. “Serving and giving to others is the greatest thing you can do.”

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