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"The one thing my parents taught me was you really have the ability, in life, to do what you’re passionate about. Don’t make a decision about what you want to do in life based on superficial things that seem attractive. You’ve got to find a way to follow your heart. For me, that was about wanting to commit myself to helping people.” Jan Bergen, president and CEO of Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine, always wanted to help people.
Bergen’s mother (and grandmother) emigrated from Sicily and immigrated to the United States when she was two years old—joining her father who was already living here. Bergen’s parents met when they were fifteen years old, fell in love, and raised her and her two brothers. Both her parents are still alive today; her mother is 92 and her father is 93 years old. “My mother has this huge personality, very driven, very outgoing. My dad is a much quieter person, very thoughtful, very bright,” she says. Her father was a pediatrician and her mother a teacher. Her mother was so heavily involved in Bergen’s education that her father suggested it would be helpful for her to go to boarding school—thinking the distance would be good. So off she went to the George School.
The Quaker based co-education boarding school in Bucks County was foundational and life changing for Bergen. She fell in love with the Quaker philosophy. The George School afforded her many enriching experiences, often times outside of her comfort zone. She was impressionable and no longer in the cocoon with her family. The work studies outreaches showed her a world of people who lived in difficult circumstances, frequently helping individuals and families from south Philadelphia. “Sometimes we were cooking meals and sometimes we were taking care of a disabled person, and sometimes we were helping paint a house,” she recalls. “It really instilled in me that sense of volunteerism and wanting to commit myself, in some way, to helping people. It has really influenced how I think about life every day.” Today, she credits some of those insightful moments, during times of service to others, to her personal philosophy to focus on the fundamental blessings in life—namely relationships and health.
When it came time to go to college, Bergen chose Lafayette. The school’s motto is Vertias liberabit, which means “The truth shall set you free.” While she admits she was unsure what she wanted to do, Bergen believed she would work for a nonprofit organization or study social work. Somewhat influenced by her father’s experiences in medicine, she looked for opportunities to connect her social work interests with healthcare. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology and says she never questioned how she would use it—linking her understanding of social norms and cultures to leading an organization. She has also continued her education through Harvard’s executive program. Her ability to be an effective leader stems from her natural tendency to connect with people on a real level. “I actually was very blessed throughout my career. I just had lots of opportunities to be able to follow my heart in terms of wanting to stay connected with something I thought was meaningful and changed lives.”
Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine, which has been in existence for 123 years, employs nearly 7,600 people. The nonprofit health system continues to help serve, support, and engage the community in many ways. “With the Affordable Care Act and changes that are occurring at a national level with healthcare reform, we have been, over the last seven years, thinking about the next 125 years for this organization. The August 2015 consolidation with Penn Medicine was a strategic move designed to bring subspecialty care to Lancaster while positioning the organization for future growth—particularly in the area of genomics. “A relationship with Penn Medicine was strategically critical for our organization and for our community. A relationship with an academic medical center was essential.”
Bergen serves on the board of United Way. She is happy to have found her path—one that both enriches her own life while helping those around her live their best lives.
Do you have any collections?
I own over 170 cookbooks. I can sit and entertain myself for hours just looking through cookbooks. I love to try new recipes.
Do you have any specialties?
The dishes my family loves the most are the Italian recipes that I have through my family. My husband’s favorite is my Bolognese and a homemade pappardelle.
I like to fast walk, play golf, and read.
Forgiveness—of yourself and others.
From that bad advice, I learned to seek opportunities and not status.
What makes you laugh?
My grandchildren [Emma and Anderson].
One of your favorite books about leadership?
The fifth level of Leadership by John Maxwell.
A happy memory?
When my husband and I went to Borgo San Pietro, Italy, for our 40th wedding anniversary.