Weily Soong commits to growing Birmingham’s talent pool
Participating in the class of 2015 continues to pay career dividends for Weily Soong, Allervie Health chief medical officer, who ranks it among “the most influential experiences in my adult life.” In return, he has eagerly shared his time and resources, serving as Health Day co-chair in 2016 and 2022 and making a monetary gift to support Leadership Birmingham programming.
Soong describes Leadership Birmingham’s impact and the crucial reason all alumni should consider making a contribution:
What encouraged you to stay involved?
Soong: Leadership Birmingham helped me to further understand that health-care problems—specifically health disparities and inequities—involve many different areas in our community and encouraged me to be creative in developing solutions.
Last year, we grew Alabama’s largest group of allergy and immunology specialists into one of the nation’s largest. One reason we went national is that many of Birmingham’s allergy-care problems need to be solved on a larger scale. For example, asthma and allergies are one of the leading causes of health-care costs in children. We want to provide tailored care to kids with the most severe allergies and asthma problems. But they may not have insurance, or they might be in one-income families that can’t afford the medications or high deductibles, or they might go to the emergency room for care because it’s open all the time and their parents can’t take time off work. We’ve always been interested in exploring better ways to deliver care by utilizing technology like telehealth, but it requires capital. Now [as part of a national network] we are hoping to have the ability to manage chronic diseases better by staying in better communication with our patients and by improving the monitoring to keep our patients well. Another great thing about Leadership Birmingham is that many of our local leaders are national leaders, too. For me, getting their perspective about ways to address issues on a broader scale has been very helpful.
What did you want members to take away from Health Day in 2016 and 2022?
Soong: In 2016 I presented a lecture explaining how people get health insurance from childhood through age 65. I wanted people to realize how complicated the health-care system is—and how shallow the safety net is. At the time, we were debating the Affordable Care Act, and health care dominated the news cycle. You are one health crisis away from bankruptcy. Your entire life can be altered based upon an accident or disease—things you have almost no control over.
This year Brantley Fry, vice president of people and community at Southern Research, and I were co-chairs. I wanted to make sure that the class got a physician/medical provider perspective, particularly in the area of health-care inequities, and to help them realize that the way we get medical care is changing. We now see nurse practitioners and advance practice practitioners, urgent-care centers, and pharmacists playing more of a role, especially during the COVID pandemic.
Why should alumni invest in Leadership Birmingham?
Soong: We need to develop future leaders. Our talent pool in Birmingham needs to grow, especially during the pandemic and with staffing shortages. Our talent is going to bigger cities, and it has been challenging to recruit people here.
One way to help grow our talent pool is to support Leadership Birmingham. It’s different from most leadership programs around the country because you can be selected even if you’re young or new to town. I tell people that if they’re motivated and talented, then they can do a lot in Birmingham very quickly and make a tremendous impact in our community. And we also rally around one another and promote each other. Their name can get out quickly, which can give them a jump-start on a national reputation.
What is the best way to give? And how much should I give?
Soong: You don’t have to be Warren Buffett to make an impact. Camille Spratling [executive director of the Railroad Park Foundation] helped me realize that during her Leadership Birmingham talk. She said giving even just $50 at a time to an organization is important because it makes you a member. It shows that you care. I always want to do more, but simply becoming a member—either with a contribution or with time, such as volunteering to be a panelist for a program day—is a good place to start. It’s also important for us to talk up Leadership Birmingham and Youth Leadership Forum and to encourage people to apply. It takes leaders to attract other leaders.
Discover how you and your company can support Leadership Birmingham at leadershipbirmingham.org/support.