Get to Know – Kim Thiboldeaux
What about NEBGH’s mission drove you to want to join our team? I’m passionate about health care and ensuring that all people have the resources, support, and care they need and deserve. NEBGH is committed to ensuring excellence in health care and bringing our members best-in-class resources and experiences for their employees and partners. Those values drew me to this opportunity, along with the amazing board and staff!
You have an extensive career helping countless people navigate the healthcare industry. What’s your “why?” For me, it’s all about people. Being healthy and pursuing wellness helps us be the best version of ourselves and achieve our full potential. I always loved the World Health Organization’s definition of health, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Our members are striving to live up to that definition for their employees and partners every day.
What inspired you to pursue a career in health care, and how has that motivation evolved? I started my career in health care working at an HIV and AIDS clinic in Washington, DC in my 20s. Through that experience I learned that nothing else really matters if we don’t have our health. Over the years I have worked with passionate people who have inspired me to make a difference. Working in health care has taught me how unpredictable life can be – so don’t wait to do the things you love and that matter to you. After my time at the clinic, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry with colleagues who were committed to bringing better treatments and cures for patients with a wide range of diseases. And most recently, I was the CEO of a non-profit called the Cancer Support Community where we provided support, education, navigation and hope to tens of thousands of cancer patients and their families. Each chapter of my career has been a building block, exposing me to new experiences and bodies of knowledge and expertise. I am excited to bring that experience to NEBGH and work with our board, staff and members to achieve our next level of potential and excellence.
How did you become involved with the Navajo Nation? Tell us about the experience of bringing the first-ever full-time cancer center to an American Indian Reservation. In early 2017 I was running a program at the White House with the Cancer Moonshot team on bringing cancer care to underserved and marginalized communities. At the end of that program, two women approached me and shared that there was no full-time cancer center on any native land in the U.S. I was shocked and horrified to learn that and pledged my support to change that reality. In 2019, in Tuba City, Arizona on the Navajo Nation the first-ever cancer center opened on an American Indian Reservation. In attendance for that historic event were Dr. Jill Biden, then President of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan Nez, hospital and tribal leaders, patients and others from the community. It was a historic moment and one in which I was incredibly proud to participate.
That project also led to the development of a documentary called “Navajo Nation USA” (www.NavajoNationUSA.com) which tells the story of the cancer center and highlights the challenges and triumphs of the Navajo people over the years. Through that project, I became what I call an “accidental filmmaker,” serving as Executive Producer and Writer on the film.
Share a memorable moment from your career that taught you a valuable lesson about the importance of communication in healthcare. Over the past couple decades, we have seen the emergence of what is sometimes called patient-centered care. It is critical to listen to patients, value what they say and create an environment where they feel heard and are true partners in their own care. I remember a man in Philadelphia who had advanced lung cancer. After many months of grueling chemotherapy and significant side effects, he wanted to stop treatment and transition into hospice care, but was afraid to tell his doctors and his family because he thought they might believe he was giving up. Once he found the language to tell them – I’m not giving up, I’m letting go and moving to the next phase of my life, everyone was on board and the last 2 months of his life were extraordinary, with love, deep sharing and time to cement his legacy for his family. We need to do a better job of listening in health and giving patients and consumers control to define their own stories.
Rumor has it you attended the Grammy Awards. Who did you sit next to and what performance was your favorite? The Grammy Awards were epic! I’m a huge music fan, so just being in that energy was unforgettable. I loved Trevor Noah as host and was thrilled to see Lizzo, who I saw in concert in a small venue years ago before anyone knew who she was. It was also great to see Bonnie Raitt recognized – and see performances by Bad Bunny, Sam Smith, Stevie Wonder and Smoky Robinson. But for me, the highlight was the tribute to 50 years of Hip Hop with LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, De La Soul and others. Everyone was on their feet – it was a big dance party!
Being a Philadelphia native, what’s your favorite thing about the City of Brotherly Love? I love our grit in Philadelphia. We work hard, get the job done, take care of each other, and don’t take ourselves too seriously. Of course, we are fiery sports fans and love a good cheesesteak! We have produced the likes of Questlove, Tina Fey, Jill Biden, Billie Holiday, M. Night Shyamalan, and of course, Benjamin Franklin. We are home to Rocky, Abbott Elementary, the first hospital in the U.S., and great food and arts scenes. We are the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection!) and strive to live up to that motto.
Travel and learning about different cultures are passions of yours. How do you think your extensive travel has shaped the person you are today? I think travel teaches us so many things – curiosity, empathy, tolerance, creativity, patience. Years ago I set a goal to visit all 50 states, 50 countries, and all 7 continents before the age of 50. I’m happy to report that I achieved that goal and have had some spectacular adventures along the way, including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiking the Incan trail to Machu Pichu, traveling to Antarctica on a Russian ice breaker, and camping in a yurt on the steppes of Mongolia. I’ve even been to Timbuktu – yes, it’s a real place! Travel fuels my desire to be a lifelong learner and a citizen of the world. I plan to continue my exploration of the globe and can’t wait to hear your travel stories and compare notes. As Susan Sontag once said, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”
Share a funny or heartwarming story from your experience that made a lasting impression on you. In 2018 I had the rare opportunity to take my dad, a Philly bus driver of 30 years and lifelong Eagles fan, to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis where we saw our beloved team win their first Super Bowl. I come from a loving and devoted family where we learned the values of hard work, selflessness, laughter, and service to others. Because of my dear friend Nick, I was able to give back to my dad after all he gave me and provide the experience of a lifetime and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
We hear you love to cook. What’s your favorite dish to make? As the oldest girl of five children, I’ve been cooking since I was a kid. My mom taught me the basics, and showed me how to cook for our big, extended family. Over the years, I have come to love many different ethnic dishes and have gone to cooking school in about a dozen different countries including India, Vietnam, Mexico, and Morocco. I recently made a shakshouka, which is usually made with eggs, but I made it with cod instead, with lots of vegetables and North African spices. I served it with couscous and a Mediterranean salad. It was a hit! The recipe was from the chef Michael Symon, if you want to give it a try.