Thrive by IU Health

October 02, 2023

Si se puede: COO reflects on his Hispanic roots

IU Health West Hospital

Si se puede: COO reflects on his Hispanic roots

This National Hispanic Heritage Month, Juan Guzman, chief operating officer of IU Health West, is looking back at his time at IU Health, how he got there and what he’s learned along the way.

By Charlotte Stefanski,, writer for IU Health's Indianapolis Suburban Region

As a teenager, Juan Guzman had no idea what he wanted to be when he grew up. But his mom had given him four choices—doctor, dentist, lawyer or nurse.

Growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind., Guzman had a very different life from his parents, who had both immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the 80s.

His father had traveled from Mexico to California, across the country to Chicago and then found a job in Fort Wayne. His mother was born and raised in Harlingen, a border town in Texas. The two found work in Fort Wayne at General Motors and Dana Incorporated.

“One of the things my parents always told me was, ‘We always want you to do better than we are doing in life,’” he says.

Guzman took his mother’s advice, attending Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis for his undergraduate degree in biology. But he wasn’t sure if the clinical side was a good fit.

“I thought maybe looking at the other side of healthcare—which I didn't even know existed at the time—that healthcare administration might be more conducive to my skill set,” Guzman says.

His college mentor helped guide him toward healthcare administration, and after completing his undergraduate degree, he went on to an accelerated master’s program. Upon graduation, he had applied to more than 20 administrative fellowship programs.

It was the first year IU Health had this type of program and Guzman was selected as a fellow. He would work with the system leadership team, learning the ins and outs of the organization. Now, eight years later, he’s chief operating officer of IU Health West.

“Leadership gives you the opportunity to have that macro impact on healthcare and the delivery of what we're providing for patients and our communities,” Guzman says.

Now, during National Hispanic Heritage Month, Guzman is looking back at his time at IU Health, how he got there and what he’s learned along the way.

Moving into leadership

After Guzman completed his fellowship program in 2016, he became director of Planning and Strategy at IU Health West, where he spent much of his time working on the strategic plan for the hospital’s “Raise the Roof” project, an $84 million vertical expansion that was complete in 2021.

From there, he took on leadership of other departments and service lines, including orthopedics and protective services.

In January 2020, Guzman became director of the IU Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center in Carmel, which had just opened its doors on the IU Health North campus. He stayed in that role through the COVID-19 pandemic, and then made his way back to West as chief operating officer (COO) in December 2021.

As COO, Guzman oversees IU Health West’s day-to-day operations, overseeing departments like Food and Nutrition Services, Pharmacy, Imaging, the Cancer Center, Orthopedics and Cardiovascular programs and more.

“I'm responsible for the day-to-day operations of the facility, but I'm also responsible for ensuring that we're making the right strategic decisions for the facility, to meet the needs of our community on the west side of town,” he explains.

That means collaborating with physicians and other hospitals within the IU Health Indianapolis Suburban Region, which includes IU Health North, Saxony, Tipton and West hospitals.

Every day is different for Guzman. One meeting can be about budget, while the next is about patient experiences, followed by interviews for new surgeons. But at the end of the day, he’s working to meet his community’s needs.

Those big impacts are what drew him to leadership in the first place. It’s intriguing to see how he can help teams change the way they deliver care and see how it impacts outcomes and helps achieve goals.

Guzman notes he’s always had mentors—whether it be his parents, school counselors or current professional mentors—give to him.

Healthcare is an industry that always allows him to give back. Just as his mentors saw much more in him than he could ever see in himself, he does the same for those he’s now mentoring in the hospital.

“One of the most rewarding things to see is some of our leaders get promoted, cut a ribbon to a new department or take on a project that's going to really stretch them,” Guzman says. “That is something I really take pride in. How do you develop other people? Because so many other people invested in me too.”

Celebrating Hispanic heritage

Observed Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, National Hispanic Heritage Month honors the diverse cultures and achievements of Americans with roots in Latin America and Spain, as well as celebrating the independence anniversaries of several Latin American countries.

With Guzman’s father being from a small town in Guanajuato, Mexico, that heritage is a strong part of his identity.

“I don't really boast about my culture all the time. But it's always with me and ingrained in me,” Guzman explains. “I think there are a few core values that the Latino community believes in—faith, family and food.”

Family has always been important to Guzman, and he has vivid memories of a multi-generational home growing up.

“I’ll never forget where I've come from or the struggles that my parents and my family have gone through to afford me the opportunities that I've had today,” he adds.

Juan Guzman and his parents.

Every year, Guzman also takes National Hispanic Heritage Month as a learning opportunity. There are plenty of events in the Indianapolis area planned in celebration of this month too.

Guzman is secretary of La Plaza’s Board of Directors—an organization that advocates Latino students for educational success and connects their families to health and social services. The organization recently held a large celebration in downtown Indianapolis, with Latino vendors, food and more on display.

He also spoke during the Indiana Latino Institute’s Nuestra Luz (Our Light) celebration this month, which highlights the Latino community and its contributions. He’ll also be checking out the Indiana Historical Society’s month-long Latino heritage series.

“It's an opportunity for us as a Latino community to learn about our rich history, culture and heritage, and then also allow others to learn about it too,” Guzman says.

As Guzman has found success at IU Health, he’s always tried to carry that forward with the local Latino community.

Along with serving on La Plaza’s board, he also serves on the Hispanic Business Council’s Indy Chamber. He’s also mentored a local Latino student through the Starfish Initiative, giving him support from freshman to senior year.

“I've always wanted to give back to the Latino community in any way I've been able to, because it's that sense of family,” he says.

Si se puede — Yes, we can

As Guzman has given back—both to IU Health West and his community—it’s also given back to him.

According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, Latinx and Hispanic people represent the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the United States, comprising 18.5% of the total population. Yet, data still shows that few hold executive-level roles. Guzman's strives to be an example for other up and coming Latinos.

He was also one of the Indiana Latino Institute’s 2022 Elevated Latino Under 40 honorees, after being nominated by IU Health President and CEO Dennis Murphy, Director of Patient Safety Stacey Pomeroy and Art Vasquez, president of IU Health West Central Region.

He thinks back to his father, who made a dangerous journey to become an American citizen.

“My dad came here as an illegal immigrant, with $20 in his pocket, the clothes on his back and a gallon of water. He always tells me if he can make it in the U.S., anybody can make it,” Guzman says. “He didn't speak any English. He had no social security card. He had no high school education. What do I have to complain about? I've got everything and more above and beyond that.”

Juan Guzman with his father.

There’s a phrase in Spanish, Guzman adds, “Si se puede,” or “Yes, we can.” If Guzman’s father can do it—if Guzman can do it—anybody can.

“I take it as a personal mission to ensure I'm as good of a role model as I possibly can be for other young Latinos that are in healthcare, whether it be clinical or non-clinical,” he says.

Guzman recently helped launch the Indiana chapter for the National Association for Latino Healthcare Executives, with the goal to ensure that healthcare and healthcare administration is a career choice for Latinos.

While his father might not know it, he’s taught Guzman a lot, and now, Guzman is sharing it with young professionals at IU Health and beyond. The most important things he has learned are:

  • Hustle. There’s no substitute for a strong work ethic.
  • Be humble—you’re not as good as you think.
  • Never focus on someone else’s money or possessions. Hard work is always rewarded.
  • Don’t ever stop being a kid.