Prioritizing a “People First” Culture: An Interview with Paula Just

May 17, 2023

Almost more than any other category of business, healthcare organizations are striving to be recognized for having a “people first” company culture.  But a rare healthcare organization is making that a top priority—internally and externally—with an intentional, personalized approach to patient care. Health First, the only fully integrated healthcare system in Central Florida, is on a mission to set an aspirational vision for where healthcare is going, delivering access, ease, delight, cost transparency, and above all, excellence.

Beyond providing clinical support to four different hospitals and more than 4,000 providers, what makes Health First stand out from other healthcare organizations is their desire to build deep relationships with both the employees and patients. How do they manage to do this? For this month’s newsletter, I had the opportunity to sit down with Health First’s Chief Experience Officer and former Fellowship attendee, Paula Just to learn about what makes their culture stand out. I am so excited to share this conversation with you and hope you walk away just as inspired as I was!


Q: Tell us about Health First – can you give us some background on your role there and share one unique thing you love about your Culture?

A: At Health First we are committed to serving the community of Central Florida in order to help them be well – in every way possible. I wear multiple hats as the Chief Experience and People Officer. Over the past several years, our team has analyzed the best ways to serve our patients and we’ve found that, historically, the majority of health organizations around the world treat people only when they are injured or ill. We like to think more expansively about ways we can partner with people to help them stay well and be well through a proactive whole-person approach to care. The driving force of our culture is how we embrace our patients through active listening and an individualistic approach to what wellness is and how it’s unique to every person. We believe that wellness starts with “we” and we ask intentional questions to both our Health First colleagues and our patients about what wellness looks like for them and how we can help them be and stay well. The goal for us is to be patient-centered across the board, and we continually empower and unify our leadership and associates through supporting wellness for others.

Q: What are some lessons you have learned managing people at Health First and beyond?

A: Marking a journey of leadership and becoming a “people first” culture requires engaging with employees and patients in deeper relationships and conversations – asking about their aspirations, dreams, hopes and as they relate to overall wellness and where they are on their Heart First journey. It also requires us to create an environment where we can be of full service and meet needs wherever possible – not just physically. Imagine how connected and cared for patients feel after sharing what makes them feel and be well after leaving the hospital room. They walk away physically mended and emotionally encouraged!

Q: What’s the number one thing you gained by attending The Fellowship?

A: Attending The Fellowship in 2019 allowed me to connect and build relationships with Culture Pioneers who are truly experts in their field. From leaders to the attendees, there was unmatched brain power present and that fostered a spirit of sharing and invited everyone into the conversation of how organizations can flourish when they focus on culture. I gained valuable strategies, learned how to develop a roadmap, and found the power in naming problems and obstacles and talking about how to be the best versions of ourselves. It truly changed the path of my career.

Q: What did you walk away with that you were able to implement immediately?

A: I walked away with a new lens to look at things and immediately put my new perspectives into action. At Health First, we were able to establish a Culture Design Team – a team of impactful leaders who design and outline the transformational journey for Health First. We were also able to create a Culture Champion Network – a program in which we identify the top 100 culture employees (out of our 9,000 person team), who facilitate meaningful conversations about transformation and where we are going, asking others the hard questions. 

We are the largest private employer in our county, which is a hub for innovative technology. Even among our relatively large team, we have a commitment to having meaningful check-ins, telling stories, and creating avenues and channels through which we can share takeaways and direct learnings from The Fellowship at a higher strategic level and day-to-day things.


I am so thankful for my interview with Paula Just and I am so impressed by the way she implemented all of her learnings from The Fellowship 2019 into the fabric of Health First. Not only that, I love that she has continued to send team members to the Fellowship so that the leadership stays aligned and growth-oriented. I especially like how she emphasized, “Marking a journey of leadership and becoming a ‘people first’ culture requires engaging with people in deeper relationships in conversations – asking others about their aspirations, dreams, hopes and how it connects them to staying well and engaged in the midst of their Heart First journey.” 

It captures exactly what it requires to cultivate a “people first” culture and demonstrates that Health First is doing everything it takes to make it happen, and because of that, they are able to face the challenges in the healthcare industry across our country. To top it all off, rich relationships are being formed and patients are remaining well after walking away from the wonderful team at Health First. I truly hope you benefit from the conversation and learn from Paula’s approach just as much as I did!


Ginger Hardage 

P.S. If you haven’t yet heard of The Fellowship, it’s an event I founded back in 2018 to support culture builders in their effort to build and sustain cultures of enduring greatness. If you found this article interesting and want to grow in purpose as a leader of your organization, I invite you to learn more here and claim your spot today!

You May Also Like…