For most students, the first year of law school is a huge challenge, one that many lawyers remember as a highly demanding introduction to the law. Wyman Bowers decided he would obtain a second degree at the same time.
At the time, the University of South Carolina had dropped its specific program allowing students to earn a joint juris doctor and master’s in public administration second degree while they studied law. But Wyman and a couple of friends were game to study for their master’s degrees in public administration at the same time as obtaining their juris doctor degrees. Their appeal to do so prompted the law school to re-launch its program allowing dual study. “The three of us really restarted that dual-degree program,” he says.
Not surprisingly, it was a lot of work, he admits. But to hear him tell it, it was no great challenge. “We just took some classes at night and finagled the schedule to make it work for us.”
Bringing groups together to take on what looks like a huge challenge seems to be a habit for Wyman, whether it means getting three postgraduate degrees or moving to head a health care technology company without any experience working on software.
“Every part of the industry is constantly changing rapidly. That’s fun, most days,” he says.
Since 2016, Wyman has been the chief executive of the S.C. Health Information Exchange. The nonprofit company serves as a connection between hospitals, medical practices, and health care providers. Using the exchange known as SCHIEx allows these groups to share the vital information that they need to provide better care. But it is a complicated connection to establish.
Wyman summarizes the challenge: “A health information exchange, in its most basic format, simply seeks to get a patient’s medical records from one place to another in an efficient and effective manner.”
That is not as easy as one might assume. For one thing, the different entities involved in health care, from physician practices to hospitals, use their own separate systems to take health care records from paper files to digital ones. The resulting systems do not automatically connect or even function on the same computer systems.
Wyman contrasts the situation with a more tangible piece of technology: the cellphone. It is, of course, possible to call and converse with people, regardless if both parties use the same type of phone. For health care records, no simple number automatically makes the connection.
“The transfer of that information is unbelievably cumbersome,” he says.
Wyman’s role is to help SCHIEx make more connections and bring more providers into the network, which can require some diplomacy. He has to show the health care providers the value that is in it for them to join. “You would like to think that the common good truly is a common good, but it’s only a common good if it helps them,” Wyman says.
That kind of negotiation in the health care space brings together the skills he has accrued both at the USC and in his career: bringing people together to accomplish something that might have daunted others.
After receiving both his law degree and master’s in public administration, Wyman was focused on pursing a legal career, working for a year as an attorney at the firm of Murphy & Grantland. Wyman was a fine and diligent attorney in private practice, according to Ron Diegel, a partner who worked with him at the firm.
Wyman found, however, that he wanted more variety in his career than he was likely to find in a private legal practice, where he would probably be taking on the same types of cases most of the time. Wyman began to look for ways to use his education that would be more stimulating.
Ron is not surprised that Wyman’s career focuses on being helpful and challenging rather than ordinary and predictable. “Wyman is a thoughtful, really deep thinker,” he says. “He’s an independent person.”
Wyman changed jobs to become associate general counsel for the S.C. Medical Association, which brought more variety in its day-to-day work. This position quickly exposed him to many issues involved in the medical field, from insurance rules to the needs of working medical professionals. He began to see management roles in the medical sector as a likely path for his career to take. “That really opened my eyes to health care,” Wyman says. “I didn’t really know health care at all before that.”
To Wyman that meant it was time for a third advanced degree: he pursued a master’s in business administration at USC.
He moved into health care just as it was being changed by passage of the federal Affordable Care Act. “I got a crash course in what the new era of health care was going to look like,” he says.
While he had little experience in health care, he quickly came to see it as an area in which he wanted to work and one in which he could make a difference. “It’s so dynamic and changing, and there are so many opportunities to improve the system,” he says. “The challenge is the how, but that’s a fun challenge to tackle every day.”
From his post at the S.C. Medical Association he moved to take on a new role in health care as chief operating officer for Midlands Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery, a large medical practice that would grow to have more than 20 doctors on staff during his time there. This position gave him a full indoctrination into the day-to-day demands of health care as a business and the challenge of keeping all the parties involved happy.
“It was certainly a very large learning curve,” he says.
Wyman’s ability to bring folks to the table with a purpose of making progress seems right in line with the kind of person he was as a young attorney at Murphy & Grantland, according to Ron. “He tries to be a positive impact on his environment and the people who are around him,” Ron says.
Ron sees Wyman’s deeply held Christian beliefs as a core that spurs him to find ways to be of service and to bring people together. Wyman seeks to show his faith in how he approaches the world and seeks to improve it.
Looking ahead, Wyman is not sure that his career will keep him in health care and technology, but he sounds skeptical that his career will soon lead him out of town. For him, Columbia and South Carolina mean family.
When he is not working, he and Ann Forrest, his wife, keep busy with three children — a son, Wyman, and two daughters, Mae Wells and Lawton, between the ages of 3 and 7. He says that he spends his free time either being with them at home or enjoying their participation in church league basketball, where he coaches Mae Wells.
He says he feels connected to Columbia and to the state of South Carolina, with deep family roots in Hampton County. Both he and Ann Forrest also have siblings and extended family in Columbia.
“Family is a real big part of what we do,” Wyman says.
For SCHIEx, Wyman works on the big picture of overall growth for the information exchange, trying to use his skills at bringing people together to broaden its reach. When he focuses on why it is important, however, he looks at the smallest, most intimate of decisions. To him, it’s about one doctor and one patient making a deeper connection and medical professionals obtaining the information to make a better decision for that patient’s future.
“To know that, in a small way, I can facilitate a patient getting better quicker is very rewarding,” he says. “If we can enable clinicians to have better information in a timelier manner perhaps to make a better recommendation for the patient, that’s the end goal. That’s what it’s all about.”