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A template for change: Continual transformation is a must for leaders

By | January 8 th,  2019 | change management, Changing Face of Healthcare Leadership, change agents, transformational leadership | Add A Comment

Atrium Health’s Gene Woods provides guidance for enacting a ‘relentless pursuit of excellence’GeneWoods-Headshot

 

At a recent Modern Healthcare gathering on transformation, Atrium Health CEO Gene Woods gave an impassioned presentation on how health systems need to evolve and reinvent themselves. Yet he also says continual transformation is something he and his leadership team must take to heart themselves.

 

“In my 27-year career, the field is changing faster than any of us anticipated,” he says in an interview. “Just look at Medical knowledge and how it is now doubling every several months. This is just one small example of why it’s so important for healthcare leaders to be learning, and that’s what my team and I have been doing. It’s probably been more intentional than anything I’ve ever done.”

 

A quote from leadership expert and former GE chairman Jack Welch is something Woods can quote from memory on this topic: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then irrelevance is near.”

 

Thus, among other actions, Woods and his team have created an ongoing series of what he calls “Home and Aways,” where successful and innovative healthcare organizations visit Atrium to share best practices, and Atrium leaders travel to other healthcare companies to do the same.

 

The exchanges benefit the organizations, but also serve as leadership development exercises for the teams involved. Managing change is high on a CEO’s list these days, and organizational leaders must be painstaking in making sure their teams are aligned. That, in part, has led to a rise in the use of executive team performance training.

 

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How other industries adapt to change

 

But Woods’ interest in transformation doesn’t stop at the boundaries of the healthcare industry. “Sometimes, we can be insular as a field,” he says, “and not recognize what other fields are doing as they’re adapting to change.”

 

So, Woods leans on his board chair, Ed Brown, to help him and his senior leaders learn from other industries as well.  Brown put together the financing for the new stadium that is home to NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Brown currently serves as CEO of Hendrick Motors, the most recognized brand in auto racing, and Woods notes that the entire auto industry is going through transformation as well.

 

“The key thing,” Woods says, “is being more intentional, not just around what’s happening with other health systems throughout the country but looking at what’s happening in other industries and how they have adapted over time.”

 

Forward thinking is part of what has made Woods, the former chair of the American Hospital Association, one of the most influential CEOs in the country. Even when he took the reins of Atrium two years ago (then known as Carolinas HealthCare System), he left no stone unturned in examining and reinventing a historically successful organization.

 

“I think the changes we’re making are about how to continue to position ourselves to be successful for the next decade and beyond,” he says. “Standing still is not an option. Standing still is going backwards. And so, we continue this relentless pursuit of excellence. That requires that we continue to make changes. The resiliency in the face of change is something I’ve really been proud of in our team.”

 

Examining one’s own leadership

 

Woods says he expects just as much openness to change in himself as he does in the Atrium team.

 

“My philosophy is this: No matter how accomplished of a leader you are, no more than 60 percent of your experience will be relevant to your new organization; there’s probably 40 percent that you have to learn and digest. That keeps you a bit humble and keeps you in a listening mode,” he says.

 

A leader who goes into a new position simply planning to share their vaunted experience “may miss some of the cultural cues,” Woods adds.

 

For reasons such as these, an increasing number of ... 

 

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2016 Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare--Tauana McDonald: Leaders remove roadblocks so their people can succeed

By | December 8 th,  2016 | Blog, bundled payments, C-suite, Catholic healthcare, change management, electronic health records, IBM, ICD-10, leadership, Modern Healthcare, Rometty, SVP, Tauana McDonald, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, Trinity Health | Add A Comment

 

Classic content: One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare for 2016.

 

She paved the way for the ICD-10 project at Trinity Health in Michigan. She led the move to electronic health records. She mastered meaningful use. Now, she’s wrapping up bundled payments.

 

If you need a major project orchestrated correctly at Trinity Health, you inevitably turn to Tauana McDonald, senior vice president of clinical business operations for the Catholic health system.

 

“I know that I am not a clinician,” she says. “I identify the strategy needs and develop the plans. I lead the work from the corporate office so our clinicians don’t have to focus on operational issues and they can do the work they do best, which is taking care of patients.”

 

From the standpoint of organizational mission and personal satisfaction, it’s a role that McDonald says is a good fit for her.

 

“I think some of the projects I lead are making very positive change,” she adds. “That’s how I get to impact both the patients and the caregivers.”

 

McDonald came close to becoming a physician herself. Both of her mother’s sisters were nurses – one in the operating room and one in pediatrics. She remembers them both as being very nurturing people.

 

“People in the community looked to them during their most vulnerable times and there was something about that quality that really appealed to me,” she says.

 

 

So she completed four years of college as a pre-med, but the doubts about whether it was a good fit for her intensified as she sat down to apply to medical school.

 

“I called my parents and said, ‘I don’t think I want to be a doctor.’ And they said, ‘That’s fine. You just need to do something that is going to make you happy and contributes to society.’ ”

 

Giving back is a crucial part of McDonald’s ethics, a trait that she says was instilled by her parents. “In our household, we were always taught to serve because we were blessed and we should use our gifts and talent to help other people,” she says. “I thought healthcare was a great way to do that.”

 

After deciding to pursue a different future than medicine, she enrolled in the University of Michigan graduate school, where she earned a master’s in health administration. “From the first day in the first class, I knew I had landed in the right spot for me. That’s what got me started on my healthcare journey.”

 

Her path had several key stops along the way – IBM, where she was hired by future CEO Ginny Rometty; Deloitte, where she spent seven years doing strategy and operations consulting with healthcare organizations around the country; and motherhood – she stayed home for several years after her children were born.

 

The traveling that came with the Deloitte job was more than she wanted as she balanced family responsibilities, but her former employer Deloitte helped her find a good match at Trinity Health, where she gravitated to the system’s mission that echoed her mother’s advice that “to whom much is given, much is required.”

 

“A few days after I joined Trinity Health, I was in a meeting and we had to make a tough decision,” McDonald remembers. “The CEO leading the meeting said, ‘Can we bow our heads in prayer? Lord, let us put the patient first and ourselves last. Let us do the best thing for our patients.’ At that moment, I understood what it meant to be part of a faith-based organization. It really resonated with me. It still does.”

 

She says she also appreciates the diversity of the ministries that Trinity Health offers.

 

“If there is any kind of work you want to do in healthcare, you should be able to do it at Trinity Health,” she says. “Because we’re so big, there are so many different experiences. If you want to work in a large urban environment or an academic setting, you can work with our Loyola system. If you want to work in a small space, you can do that too. If you are interested in advocacy, we have a huge advocacy team.”

 

The diversity of the staff is of utmost importance to McDonald as well.

 

“Developing diverse leaders is really my passion, and I am intentional about it every day, looking at people in our organization who have a lot of talent that other people may not see right away,” she says.

 

“I believe that having a diverse workforce as well as a diverse leadership team helps us serve our patients better, because we’re bringing those same perspectives. We look like the patients we serve.”
As healthcare continues to evolve, the need for new ideas is critical, and a diversity of experiences can catalyze that, McDonald says.

 

“I take every opportunity that I can to help people with different perspectives share their voice and get a place at the table that allows them to do that.”

 

As the leader of so many key initiatives at a major American health system, McDonald is highly sought after as a mentor. Yet she says many of her key takeaways in leadership come not from another healthcare executive but from Florence Ferguson, her 102-year-old grandmother.

 

One key lesson Ferguson taught her repeatedly was, “You need to begin with the end in mind.”
“She said that a lot,” McDonald recalls. “She said that you need to think about where you want to end up because, as you’re going down that path, you need to be very thoughtful in order to get the results you want.”

 

Ferguson’s other key concept echoed the best leadership experts in her own less-fancy words.

 

“We always hear people talk about the shadow of the leader,” she says. “In her words, my grandmother would say, ‘Tauana, your actions are speaking so loudly that I cannot hear your words.’ If you speak things and your actions go in a different way, I don’t think you’re credible as a leader. So I try to have my actions support what I say – and I learned that from my grandmother.”

 

 

Strategic excellence is Tauana McDonald's calling card at Trinity Health

By | July 1 st,  2016 | Blog, bundled payments, C-suite, Catholic healthcare, change management, electronic health records, IBM, ICD-10, leadership, Modern Healthcare, Rometty, Tauana McDonald, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, Trinity Health | Add A Comment

 

One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare for 2016.

 

She paved the way for the ICD-10 project at Trinity Health in Michigan. She led the move to electronic health records. She mastered meaningful use. Now, she’s wrapping up bundled payments.

 

If you need a major project orchestrated correctly at Trinity Health, you inevitably turn to Tauana McDonald, senior vice president of clinical business operations for the Catholic health system.

 

“I know that I am not a clinician,” she says. “I identify the strategy needs and develop the plans. I lead the work from the corporate office so our clinicians don’t have to focus on operational issues and they can do the work they do best, which is taking care of patients.”

 

From the standpoint of organizational mission and personal satisfaction, it’s a role that McDonald says is a good fit for her.

 

“I think some of the projects I lead are making very positive change,” she adds. “That’s how I get to impact both the patients and the caregivers.”

 

McDonald came close to becoming a physician herself. Both of her mother’s sisters were nurses – one in the operating room and one in pediatrics. She remembers them both as being very nurturing people.

 

“People in the community looked to them during their most vulnerable times and there was something about that quality that really appealed to me,” she says.

 

 

So she completed four years of college as a pre-med, but the doubts about whether it was a good fit for her intensified as she sat down to apply to medical school.

 

“I called my parents and said, ‘I don’t think I want to be a doctor.’ And they said, ‘That’s fine. You just need to do something that is going to make you happy and contributes to society.’ ”

 

Giving back is a crucial part of McDonald’s ethics, a trait that she says was instilled by her parents. “In our household, we were always taught to serve because we were blessed and we should use our gifts and talent to help other people,” she says. “I thought healthcare was a great way to do that.”

 

After deciding to pursue a different future than medicine, she enrolled in the University of Michigan graduate school, where she earned a master’s in health administration. “From the first day in the first class, I knew I had landed in the right spot for me. That’s what got me started on my healthcare journey.”

 

Her path had several key stops along the way – IBM, where she was hired by future CEO Ginny Rometty; Deloitte, where she spent seven years doing strategy and operations consulting with healthcare organizations around the country; and motherhood – she stayed home for several years after her children were born.

 

The traveling that came with the Deloitte job was more than she wanted as she balanced family responsibilities, but her former employer Deloitte helped her find a good match at Trinity Health, where she gravitated to the system’s mission that echoed her mother’s advice that “to whom much is given, much is required.”

 

“A few days after I joined Trinity Health, I was in a meeting and we had to make a tough decision,” McDonald remembers. “The CEO leading the meeting said, ‘Can we bow our heads in prayer? Lord, let us put the patient first and ourselves last. Let us do the best thing for our patients.’ At that moment, I understood what it meant to be part of a faith-based organization. It really resonated with me. It still does.”

 

She says she also appreciates the diversity of the ministries that Trinity Health offers.

 

“If there is any kind of work you want to do in healthcare, you should be able to do it at Trinity Health,” she says. “Because we’re so big, there are so many different experiences. If you want to work in a large urban environment or an academic setting, you can work with our Loyola system. If you want to work in a small space, you can do that too. If you are interested in advocacy, we have a huge advocacy team.”

 

The diversity of the staff is of utmost importance to McDonald as well.

 

“Developing diverse leaders is really my passion, and I am intentional about it every day, looking at people in our organization who have a lot of talent that other people may not see right away,” she says.

 

“I believe that having a diverse workforce as well as a diverse leadership team helps us serve our patients better, because we’re bringing those same perspectives. We look like the patients we serve.”
As healthcare continues to evolve, the need for new ideas is critical, and a diversity of experiences can catalyze that, McDonald says.

 

“I take every opportunity that I can to help people with different perspectives share their voice and get a place at the table that allows them to do that.”

 

As the leader of so many key initiatives at a major American health system, McDonald is highly sought after as a mentor. Yet she says many of her key takeaways in leadership come not from another healthcare executive but from Florence Ferguson, her 102-year-old grandmother.

 

One key lesson Ferguson taught her repeatedly was, “You need to begin with the end in mind.”
“She said that a lot,” McDonald recalls. “She said that you need to think about where you want to end up because, as you’re going down that path, you need to be very thoughtful in order to get the results you want.”

 

Ferguson’s other key concept echoed the best leadership experts in her own less-fancy words.

 

“We always hear people talk about the shadow of the leader,” she says. “In her words, my grandmother would say, ‘Tauana, your actions are speaking so loudly that I cannot hear your words.’ If you speak things and your actions go in a different way, I don’t think you’re credible as a leader. So I try to have my actions support what I say – and I learned that from my grandmother.”

 

 

Profiles in Leadership: Top 25 Minority Executives Ben Chu helps Kaiser Permanente make quality count

By | July 6 th,  2012 | American Hospital Association, Blog, CEO, chairman-elect, change management, diversity, Furst Group, health system, Healthcare, healthcare reform, hospital, Kaiser Permanente, leadership, Modern Healthcare, physician, population health | Add A Comment

Chu

 

One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)

 

Benjamin Chu, MD, MPH, MACP, oversees Kaiser Permanente Southern California and Hawaii as group president. In the seven years since he arrived, Kaiser Permanente has amassed many awards for quality. He also is chairman-elect of the American Hospital Association and will begin serving in that capacity in 2013.
Prior to joining Kaiser, he was president of New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corp., the largest public health system in the country. He also served as associate dean at both Columbia University and New York University.

 

Following is an edited transcript of the conversation:

 

You have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. What spurred you to go for an M.D.?

 

I think I always was going to be a doctor. Unlike a lot of people who have a core basic science orientation, I was always more interested in the human side of medicine. Psychology, child development, and anthropology are more in line with things I was thinking about. As you know, in medicine, there are a lot of behavioral and developmental aspects. In order to be effective, you have to understand the cultural determinants of health. All of these factors led me to pursue work in a field where I could actually help people. There is a whole sociology and culture of medicine that one cannot fully understand unless viewed from the psychological perspective.

 

You spent most of your life out East before moving to California. What spurred that move, and has it worked out as you expected?

 

I was running the NYC public hospital system under Mayor Bloomberg. It was an incredible experience and an incredible job. We were doing very innovative things in that system. It is a huge system that cares for 1.3 million NYC residents. When the opportunity arose to move to California and run a large chunk of Kaiser Permanente, the prospect piqued my interest. How far can you take a systems approach to delivering on improving the health of the population under the care of a large system? In Southern California, Kaiser Permanente has 3.6 million members, three times the size of the population we were caring for in NYC. The nice part about it is that the components and pieces are linked in a large multi-physician group that only works with the health plan and the hospitals. The health plan allows for pre-payment for care of the population. There is an entire delivery system under us that allows us to decide how to parcel resources in order to achieve the goal of maximizing the health of the population we serve.

 

How do you get a big system like KP to deliver on its promise and to take healthcare to a whole different level?

 

That was both the challenge and the fun part of coming to KP & California.
I didn’t know many people when I was coming to Kaiser – primarily George Halvorson [chairman and CEO] and Ray Baxter [senior vice president for Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy]. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. We had to put systems in place – our electronic health record and other systems – to allow us to look at our performance in a very open, honest, and critical way. We had to reconfigure the system. KP had been better than average on quality and outcome for our members. Now, because of what we’ve been able to do with tools, reconfiguring our system, and getting complete alignment of our systems, components and people (including the 60,000 employees in Southern California), we are pretty close to leading the country on many metrics.

 


From Leapfrog to NCQA, KP across the board has achieved some remarkable ratings for quality.

 

There has been a steady progression over the last half dozen years. We’ve taken a systematic approach. We engaged every member of our staff, from doctors to non-doctors and from professionals to frontline workers, to get to that point. It has been very rewarding and a lot of fun to do.

 

The last six years coincide with your arrival. What role did you play in these changes? What role did you leadership team play? What did you look for when bringing a new leader on board?

 

To tell you the truth, I don’t think I have brought anyone new in, believe it or not. I spent time getting to know the people here. We have a wonderful leadership group, and there have been very few changes. The changes were largely to replace people who left. What would be the key to our success? It hovers around getting complete alignment over what we wanted to do.

 

Much of the alignment was around trying to make sure we did everything possible to benefit our members. It was not a financial decision. While financials are important, they aren’t driving our goals at this point. The larger point was to make sure everyone understood that at the end of the day, it is our members and patients, and how we perform for them, both in the individual aspect and aggregate aspect.

 

People rallied to this message of reaching for the higher mission. It’s hokey to think about in that way, but you’d be surprised. Everyone comes into healthcare to make a difference in another person’s life. One of the things we did as a leadership team was to galvanize everyone’s desire to make a difference and reminded people of this. I think this is the key to leadership overall. I am blessed to have a lot of incredible people working with me on much of this.

 

Obviously we had to put in the systems to give us the information to know if we were making a difference in people’s lives. Once we got that in place and held that mirror up, the ideas came flowing out, and we could tap into this wellspring of creativity and desire to do the right thing. I am a doctor by training in a non-clinician role right now, but it is a pleasure to see that marriage of clinical outcomes and my public health background on population health outcomes come together in a delivery system.

 

As you look at your role at the American Hospital Association as chairman-elect beginning in 2013, do you get the sense that part of what they are looking to you for is to help other hospitals across country pick up on what Kaiser has done and get the quality scores up and make a difference nationally?

 

If you actually talk to the hospital leaders and members of the boards across the country, there is an enormous amount of energy working to find ways of taking care of their communities. Part of this is the quality agenda. Thousands of hospitals have joined the hospital engagement networks that are forming right now and are trying to learn from each other and optimize the quality of care given in the hospitals themselves. Hospitals are beginning to see that they play a pivotal role in their communities.

 

Rather than be passive and wait for people to get sick and come in, there is a role to be played more upstream – to make a difference in the community’s fabric and in its health. Some of it has a lot to do with impacting the developing ACOs. It is an often misunderstood, yet often used, term. The idea is to get an organization and care delivery system to care for a population and try to go as upstream as possible to find strategies that lead to good health and mitigate things that lead to bad health, not just treat emergency situations. It means partnership with providers who work in the upstream levels. Doctors who see patients in an outpatient setting tied to the hospital or in their practices – we need to link the two together.

 

There is a lot of energy in the hospital world. One of the reasons I was asked to chair in 2013 is that there are tremendous, yet uncertain, changes that are happening. There are also these powerful positive forces that can help hospitals and health systems come together in a better way to take better care of their communities. I think I was asked to chair so we can engage in a system-wide and country-wide dialogue to help each other overall.

 

Given the uncertainty around reform – does that make leadership harder for you and the people running hospitals round the country?

 

It depends on what you mean by harder. It certainly makes it much more interesting. The pathways to choose are much more ambiguous. In uncertain times, leadership needs to focus energy on the right things. I think that is why the AHA is working with our member hospitals to determine the higher-order outcome. If we dive into the weeds and get into the arcana of legislation and stay there, we will get lost. That is not to say reimbursement and policy changes aren’t important, but if that is all we think about, there is no ability to guide organizations through a field of uncertainty.

 

If you can’t pick up your head to see where you are going, you cannot mobilize physicians and institutions to move in the same direction, and we will be mired in the field and will not get anywhere. That is the difference between someone who is good operationally and a leader who can engage people in dialogue to get everyone to a place where we want to be.

 

There seems to be a growing consensus among healthcare leaders that we are on a course of change that will continue whether mandated or not.

 

I think that is absolutely correct. Healthcare is changing in a good way, I think. I know people worry about losing the good things in uncertain times. When you think about what we are capable of doing and how many people we are capable of doing things for, I am convinced that with a little change in perspective and focus, we can utilize the dollars we spend in healthcare and create a lot more healthy communities. It is a journey in a lot of ways – a very uncertain journey. I think the focus is changing. Payment reform is happening. A lot more transparency is coming. There will be changes to tell us how we are really doing. Once you are confronted with that information, it is a compelling force driving changes that could get us to a better place.

 

I think that in the best framing of what is happening now, that is the direction the country’s healthcare systems is headed. Probably the direction the world’s healthcare system is headed. Even though we are making a difference, how do we know we couldn’t be making a bigger difference? When you think of disparities in healthcare and how uneven results are, I think in this day and age, there is little the systems cannot tackle. We won’t all get there at the same time, but if we focus right, there’s a lot more good that we can do.

 

There seems to be an increasing interest in physician executive leadership. As a doctor and physician yourself, what is your take on that?

 

The lesson we’ve all learned is that in order to take on the larger tasks, the triple aim, all of the key pieces must be aligned. Physicians and other healthcare professionals have to be integrated into the whole system. We are trained to be separate. Even though hospitals are a part of the action where people are treated and where doctors do what they do, they are still only a piece of the puzzle. To integrate the perspectives, many places are looking towards physician leadership, whether as an administrator or at a Medical Director/CMO level.
We need voices there and to be open and honest about the larger goal. We cannot just see hospitals as a doctor’s workshop. That will only get us so far. Obviously, we want someone to care for patients and bring their expertise. However, it is not just a single doctor, but multiple healthcare professionals. We want to see the larger role for the community.

 

We need to make decisions on the deployment of resources and make a bigger difference than just delivering the best care in the ER. I’m not saying the best care shouldn’t be delivered in the ER, but when you think about it, it may not be the optimum expenditure of resources if you only concentrate on the ER.

 

In my opinion, there should be more doctors at senior levels of health systems. Having everyone’s perspective is important and makes a difference.

 

You spent time working in the office of Sen. Bill Bradley. What insights from that time guide your perspective in today’s healthcare climate?

 

I’m not sure there is a tremendous amount of insight but, when I worked for Senator Bill Bradley, it was one of the last times for major Medicaid expansion. The American with Disabilities Act was passed the year I was there; we passed the Medicaid Best Price legislation for pharmaceuticals, and expanded Medicaid to children up to 133% of the poverty line and pregnant women up to 185% of poverty. That was really the last big expansion before the children’s health program came in.

 

When I think of that era, it was a time of greater bipartisan collaboration. I worked for a Democratic senator when the first George Bush was president. There was a lot more collegiality. That’s not to say that cannot happen again, but I’m hoping after the upcoming, probably raucous, presidential campaign, that people will be more realistic in looking at the problems of our country and figure out how to solve them.

 

Even if we concentrate on legislation, that’s not always where the action is. Many core changes are already starting to happen. Core systems changes are being worked on. I don’t think there is a way back. From the hospital perspective, one of the opportunities was finally being able to count on some sort of payment for care of the significant portion of uninsured patients that would come in to the ER and hospitals. This includes upstream care and hospitalization. From the community and hospital point of view, that was one of the best parts of healthcare reform. I hope that will continue. I know it presents problems for many aspects of the healthcare world, the Medicaid expansion, as well as the exchanges, but I hope that some sort of increase in uninsured care will continue. We will always muddle our way through. We always have muddled our way through, based on my experience with Senator Bradley. It was not always clear then (1989-1990).

 

Healthcare organizations, particular in the inner cities, are creating senior housing, opening banking centers, farmers’ markets, and developing other innovative systems and ideas such as free surgery day. Some might think it’s a bit far afield of healthcare, but it seems to be a growing part of preventive care. Is this part of the equation at Kaiser Permanente as well?

 

Every one of KP’s medical centers runs a farmers market. In fact, we run the only farmers market in Los Angeles. This is illustrative of what I was talking about earlier – the tremendous amount of energy spent in the hospital world trying to figure out how we go upstream. The medical model is individual – one person at a time. When someone is sick, you care for them and send them back out. This is an important function for every community. The underlying premise is that the sum of all the good one-on-one work will translate into a healthier community. Clearly, this model leaves huge gaps. The medical model really is not directly focused on the population’s and the community’s total health.

 

There is a broader understanding that what makes a person healthy or not is as much about the health of the community and total health of the environment as it is to prescribing the right medicine. Eighty percent of the determinants of health are not linked to care. Smoking, exercise, drug use – these are things people need to think about if we are going to make a greater impact on the community and population health.

 

At Kaiser, we have a theater troupe that goes into grade schools to do thousands of performances on healthy eating to influence kids on eating habits. Collectively, if 5,000 hospitals and health systems can get it together and start moving upstream together, it could be a very powerful force. To become a vibrant part of the community is key. We helped invest in parks. We have beautiful weather in Southern California, but unless you have good outdoor spaces, people will stay in their homes or in their cars to go from place to place. The built environment in the community makes a difference. Do people have the choice to make better decisions? We need to provide spaces to make better decisions.

Profiles in Leadership: Top 25 Minority Executives Change, challenge invigorate Saad Ehtisham

By | June 25 th,  2012 | Blog, CEO, change management, diversity, Furst Group, Healthcare, leadership, mentor, Modern Healthcare, Saad Ehtisham, University Medical Center | Add A Comment

 

One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)

 

If Saad Ehtisham is something of an expert at change management, you might say it’s because those skills began to be honed at a young age.

 

After graduating high school in Pakistan, he began to look for a solid university for pre-med studies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where the majority of his mother’s family resides. (He’d been inspired to pursue a career in healthcare after helping to take care of his grandmother after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.) Ehtisham ultimately chose Baylor and, while he ultimately chose a route in nursing and healthcare administration instead of pursuing an MD, he cites that experience as a building block in his rapid rise through the healthcare industry.

 

“When you emigrate to a country at a young age, you tend to grow up a lot faster,” said Ehtisham, 42, the CEO of University Medical Center in Lebanon, Tenn., in a calm voice that sounds as Texan as a 10-gallon hat. “Going to Baylor was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was one of two students of Asian-Indian-Pakistani descent, and we were able to open up the university to greater diversity. It was a great atmosphere and I made some lifelong friends.”

 

He finished up with bachelor’s degrees in science and biology at Baylor, then continued his studies at Texas Woman’s University, where he earned bachelor of science degree in nursing, a master’s in business administration, and a master’s in health care administration. He took his degrees and started his medical career as a phlebotomist, drawing blood from patients. He became a nurse and worked his way up. He’s been a medical and surgical director, a chief nursing officer, a chief operating officer, and even served as an interim CEO in a career that has taken him all over the country, from Texas to New Mexico, Kentucky, Indiana and now the Nashville area. Ehtisham says the changes he’s experienced in his wide-ranging career have helped him better understand healthcare.

 

“One of the things I have learned in moving around the country is that healthcare is regionalized,” he says. “It really is different in different parts of the country. That’s helped me to become more diverse in my approach to healthcare.”

 

Having experience on the front lines as a nurse has helped him relate more easily to clinicians in his roles as an administrator, says Ehtisham, who has helped reduce turnover and increase patient and staff satisfaction at a number of his career stops.

 

“For me, clinical knowledge has been my greatest asset,” he says. “It’s helped me to get farther with physicians and get them more involved, usually with educating the front-line staff about different diseases. And it’s helped me to a better advocate for patients.”

 

Ehtisham describes his management style as “patient-centric.”

 

“When I approach decisions, I want to know two things: how does it improve patient care, and how does it improve my outcomes? If we’re evaluating a process and it doesn’t improve patient care, is it worth doing? Let’s think that through first, because anything else is wasteful and we don’t need it.”

 

Although success has come swiftly for him, he is quick to credit three mentors for shaping his leadership in key ways.

 

“Tim Charles was my first CEO, at Presbyterian Hospital (in Denton, Texas). I learned a lot from him—the way he interacted with physicians and his community involvement. I spent about 18 months with Dewey Greene in Albuquerque (when Greene was COO of Lovelace Health System). I would meet with him and barrage him with questions. He had a significant impact in preparing me for the CEO role.

 

“And Angela Marchi was my CEO at Albuquerque. She taught me how to stop being uptight and relate to employees in a way that would empower them to be more effective. She was very skilled at relationship building. Leadership is about relationships, and she taught me that if you can lead people, you’ll be much more successful than having to manage people.”

 

So Ehtisham has worked on his relationships, and on building his own leadership team as a CEO.

 

“To build a good team,” he says, “I look for diversity among the team members – not just ethnic diversity, but diversity in the way we approach things and the beliefs that we hold as a team. I like people who are comfortable with ambiguity, and I look for perseverance – anybody can lead through the easy times.”

 

In the rapidly changing world of healthcare, there’s a lot of ambiguity right now, but Ehtisham doesn’t see that as a barrier at all.

 

“I’m excited and energized by the uncertainty in healthcare right now. We’re ready to rise to the challenge.”

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