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SreyRam Kuy's field guide to developing physician leaders and diverse teams


One in a series of interviews with the top executives in healthcare


SreyRam Kuy wears two hats for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She is the associate chief of staff for the Michael DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston and a senior advisor to the Secretary of the VA.


In an interview with Furst Group and NuBrick Partners as part of the 2018 Top 25 Minority Executives in healthcare awards program for Modern Healthcare, she explains how her background as a surgeon has been ideal training for becoming a leader. 


“When you have a trauma bay and are doing an emergency thoracotomy (cracking open the chest to access the heart)," she says, "you have nurses and technicians and anesthesiologists and the ER team and students and residents in play. Sometimes, there are even family members of the patient whom you’re trying to get out of the way. It’s definitely a master class in learning how to manage crisis.”


Kuy almost didn't get the chance to use her gifts. She was born in Cambodia's killing fields and was badly injured as a child when a rocket-propelled grenade hit her family's tent in a refugee camp. A volunteer American surgeon performed emergency surgery on both Kuy and her mother.


Kuy also credits three formal leadership programs in which she has participated as also being pivotal catalysts for her career:

  • Presidential Leadership Scholar (under the aegis of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton)
  • Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar
  • American College of Surgeons (ACS) Health Policy Scholar at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Management

The Presidential Scholar program in particular, she says, helped her during a stint as chief medical officer for Medicaid for the state of Louisiana. She learned how to build consensus and turned some of the biggest detractors of her policies into champions. By creating more diversity of thought and backgrounds you can gain a broader sense of the issue and gain more traction. 


“When you exclude people, there will be opposition," Kuy says. "But when you bring people into the fold, you give them an opportunity to use their talents. That’s how you engage people and drive initiatives that are successful.”


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Tags: diversity, physician leadership, SreyRam Kuy