One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)
Linda Leckman was in her car – again – driving up to Ogden, Utah, from Salt Lake City, to meet with a group of thoracic surgeons. Road trips like this one – which Leckman actively seeks out to keep in touch with her colleagues and staff -- are common for the vice president of Intermountain Healthcare and the CEO of the Intermountain Medical Group.
“I’ve learned the value,” says Leckman, a general surgeon herself, “of sitting down face to face and actively listening to people.”
While Leckman’s reputation precedes her as one of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare, she is transparent about her growing pains in moving from a career as a surgeon in private practice to an administrator. Listening, she says, was actually something she had to grow into.
“One of the things I did not do very well, initially, was to listen. I guess, as a cliché, you could say, ‘Well, what would you expect from a surgeon?’ ” she jokes. “But I also got some bad advice in regard to approaching a contract situation, and I learned from that.”
Leckman is not one to waste a lesson. These days, the people around her know “listening” is a Leckman staple. Another is consistency.
“The medical group is spread across the whole state of Utah,” she says. “We have more than 130 clinics, so my management structure is geographic. My managers need to be able to make decisions on their own that will be consistent across the organization, so it’s very important that I be consistent, that we set up procedures and standards that are consistent.”
What’s also consistent is the way Leckman diverts attention away from herself and toward Intermountain.
“I believe one of the reasons I was recognized by Modern Healthcare was because I work for Intermountain Healthcare,” she says simply. “I take it as much of an acknowledgement of Intermountain’s role in leading clinical quality development as of anything that I specifically did. But that’s OK, because I’m a real cheerleader for my organization.”
Intermountain was in the spotlight several months ago when it was one of several prestigious systems, along with Mayo, Cleveland Clinic and Geisinger, to announce it had no plans to sign up for the government’s ACO program as it was then structured.
“The idea of accountable care is one that we totally support, the idea that quality needs to be improved and costs need to be reduced – that’s something we’ve been doing for years,” Leckman says. “One of the big concerns was that we were going to be measured basically against ourselves in terms of whether there is improvement or not. And since we have been working on it for a long time, a lot of what would be considered as potential gains for managing better are things we have already achieved. And so we really had more to lose than gain from being involved.”
If such a stance surprised the industry, it was not out of character for Intermountain, or for Leckman, who has been something of an unintentional pioneer. After graduating from Texas Christian University with a degree in history (and a minor in combined science, which included pre-med classes), Leckman enrolled at the University of Nevada to work on a master’s in history. It didn’t last. In her second year, she decided she really wanted to become a physician. A surgeon, no less.
“But this was the 1960s, and it was unusual for a woman to go to medical school,” she says. “And I was raised by my mom to be a housewife.”
Undaunted, she got her M.D. from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and became the first woman resident to finish the surgery program at the University of Utah.
“That’s been a pattern in my life – I end up in areas dominated by men,” Leckman says with a laugh. “But it’s worked out OK.”