Helen Fries
May 2018
Department of Womens Health OB GYN Specialties
Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC
United States




I have known Helen since working as a nurse in Labor and Delivery when she was an administrative supervisor (or whatever we called them in the olden days). And since then my respect and admiration for her have grown exponentially. She has been a friend, mentor, and quite frequently a shoulder to cry on. We have opened and closed more than 30 offices in the past 11 years. We have lived through three department chairs and two department administrators. We have onboarded hundreds of physicians and office staff. As I observe Helen preparing for her retirement this year with such careful thought, I reminisce about the experiences that I have shared with Helen that have made me a better person and leader.
Back in the labor suite days, I remember Helen as this very little but very poised and knowledgeable nurse who was very resourceful in her problem-solving. I remember thinking that knowing a little bit about everything goes a long way; knowing where to look for the solution goes even farther. I thought that she was very practical and wise. Importantly always smiling, laughing, and kind.
Fast forward to 2007 when I became the office manager for the Uro/Gyn Division. This is truly when Helen took me under her wing. I always admired her nursing and leadership skills, but now I was working directly under her guidance. It was refreshing. In many early meetings, I observed her attention to her staff, to her patients, to her physicians. I learned as much from nonverbal cues (through watching) as through conversation. The way that she treats everyone with such dignity and respect and her careful listening skills were qualities that I wanted to adopt and that made quite an impression.
In the early years of my management experience, the Department of OBGYN was expanding quite rapidly. In a span of 10 years or so, we went from less than 50 physicians to well over 200 physicians, additional Advanced Practice Providers, and many, many new office locations. Helen's expertise in guiding these acquisitions was key. There was new staff to assimilate who were moving from private practice to UPMC academic medical practices. Electronic systems changed. Scheduling systems changed. Regulatory requirements changed. There were many who were not happy about the changes. I learned so much from Helen through these experiences, as she guided this change in the least painful manner and with a big smile.
I know that Helen cares deeply about Magee, her baby (Gyn Specialties Division), her patients, her doctors, her staff. That comes through each day in her actions. She gladly accepts new challenges as they arise, including assuming administrative responsibilities of other divisions in need of leadership during transitions, and has done this on several occasions. She has earned the respect of physicians throughout the Department as a result. She is an expert when it comes to opening offices, planning space needs, considering regulatory requirements, and, of all things, the Department of Health (after many visits to their zero-level office). She gladly passes along her experiences for others' benefit.
My staff are comfortable contacting Helen as appropriate. She is a visible presence, and well respected by all. Many have known her, as I, for many years.
Helen has helped me deal with several patient circumstances, both positive and negative. With each, I have observed her attention to quality and maintaining a safe environment; sharing responsibility; caring and listening. Helen continues to be actively involved in the day to day operations of the Gyn Specialties office, at least to the extent possible and is always visible to her staff and their patients.
There is still a group of us at Magee who feel like we grew up here. I am one of them. I am thankful to have "grown up" with Helen by my side. She has made a huge impact on my leadership style as I observe the impact that she makes on the people surrounding us every day. She has been so respectful of my dual responsibilities with clinical care and research and shows me such respect when she has a research need. I will be forever grateful for her leadership and her mentorship. She will leave quite a legacy as well as large shoes to fill when she retires later this year.