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From Brigham and Women’s to the NFL, Elizabeth Nabel looks to make an impact

By | August 26 th,  2015 | risk, cardiologist, heart disease, Modern Healthcare, NFL, NHLBI, president, Red Dress Heart Truth, Blog, intellectual humility, value-based care, women, academic medical centers, Brigham and Women's Health Care, Elizabeth Nabel, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment





One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.


Elizabeth Nabel already was one of the nation’s premier cardiologists and researchers before she began leading the respected Brigham and Women’s Health Care system in Boston as president in 2010.


Yet even with such an impeccable pedigree, she has never been shy about taking risks. She took on a very visible role earlier this year as the first-ever chief health and medical advisor to the NFL. And when she was director of the government’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, she worked with commercial industries – even Diet Coke – to spread the message that women were just as susceptible to heart issues as men.


“For me, these positions aren’t about visibility, but about the impact I can make,” Nabel says. “I feel it’s important to be a positive deviant, to have the courage to take risks and stand up for what you believe in, and not be afraid to be different or unpopular to get something done.”


While the NFL recently has had its share of controversy, she sees her role as an opportunity to make sports safer for people far beyond the professional level.


“The NFL has the opportunity to innovate in a way that will impact the health and safety of all athletes of all kinds, at all levels. I see this partnership as a great way to apply the knowledge acquired through the efforts of the NFL to the greater population of professional, amateur and recreational athletes.”


Before taking on her current position at Brigham and Women’s, Nabel served as director of the NHLBI from 2005 to 2009. It was there that she sought to drive change by launching the Red Dress Heart Truth campaign that still is going strong today.


The Red Dress, she says, “is a symbol of women and heart disease. Our goal was to raise awareness about heart disease in women to encourage them to take action and improve their heart health.”


Nabel lined up 150 partners, including 50 companies, to spread awareness. That included Diet Coke, which stamped the campaign on its cans and delivered a visibility that the government agency couldn’t have touched on its own.


“The strategy wasn’t without risk, and it earned me some harsh public criticism from detractors who felt it wasn’t the place of government to ally so closely with industry,” she says. “But I firmly believed it was the right thing to do, and looking back I consider these partnerships instrumental to The Heart Truth’s tremendous success.”


Due in part to the campaign, Nabel says heart disease awareness among women has risen to nearly 70 percent, compared to 34 percent just a decade ago.


As a cardiologist, Nabel’s concern for women’s heart health is natural, yet there is a deep-seated connection to an incident early in her career.


“One night, a 32-year-old woman arrived in the emergency room where I worked,” she says. “She described vague symptoms: aches, fatigue, a low-grade fever – nothing terribly specific. I ran some tests, didn’t find anything telling, and sent her home with Tylenol. Two days later she came back with a full-blown heart attack.”


Nabel was stunned – it contradicted her medical education that males were typically the only gender with heart issues.


“I had been trained by the best,” she continues, “and the best had taught me what the best had taught them: Heart disease was a man’s disease, and the primary symptom of heart attacks was chest pain, which my patient did not have. Thank goodness, that woman survived. The experience stayed with me, and I recognized the need to raise awareness about women’s heart health.”


If you called that incident a humbling experience, Nabel might agree – she sees no need for egos where patient care is concerned. In fact, she delivered a fascinating TED talk on the need for intellectual humility. From her vantage point at Brigham and Women’s, she stresses the need for those who work in healthcare to admit what they don’t yet know.


“An essential part of our mission at BWHC is to educate the next generation of healthcare providers,” she says. “Based on my experiences as a physician and researcher, I believe it’s vital for future healthcare providers to understand the importance of challenging the known and putting our ‘knowledge’ to the test.”


Admitting what you don’t know, she says, can actually be the starting point for breakthroughs.


“An oft-shunned word—ignorance—carries great importance when we consider it as the driver of scientific inquiry, and thus, the molder of new knowledge. Yet when myths—such as heart disease as a man’s disease—are widely believed to be facts, ignorance can kill. If we can help the next generation of care providers embrace the idea of humility, it will open the door for a wider range of new discoveries that will ultimately save lives.”


With value-based care becoming the holy grail in healthcare, discovery and innovation are sorely needed, Nabel says. Yet the pressures on academic medical centers are multiplying, from readmission penalties to cuts in NIH funding.


“In the context of healthcare’s new economic reality, innovation is more important than ever,” she says. “The answers to so many of the challenges we face in healthcare are so close – it is incumbent upon us to provide an environment where solutions can be cultivated and future innovations can flourish.”


Nabel hopes the game-changers that are within reach don’t get derailed by outside forces.
“We must help the policymakers and the public understand that investments in biomedical research drive improvements in patient care, which could ultimately reduce cost.”



Profiles in Leadership: In Detroit, Schlichting’s success story is one to celebrate

By | July 5 th,  2011 | chief executive officer, Detroit, Healthcare, risk, Top 25 Women, Modern Healthcare, Blog, finances, Henry Ford Health System, leadership, leadership academies, Nancy Schlichting, culture | Add A Comment

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


If you ask Nancy Schlichting about what sparked the most professional growth in her career as she rose to become chief executive officer of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, she is quick to point to people other than herself.


“Having strong mentors has probably been the most important element of my career,” she says.


The two key ones, she adds, are Al Gilbert and Gail Warden, who led Summa Health System in Ohio and Henry Ford, respectively.


“They are two individuals who had profound impact on my career,” Schlichting says. “Al Gilbert appointed me at the ripe old age of 28 to be executive vice president and chief operating officer of a 650-bed teaching hospital. That was what launched my career in so many ways.”


If there is one skill Schlichting learned from her mentors, and one that she made all her own, it is taking risks. In Schlichting’s case, she opened a new, $360 million hospital, West Bloomfield, during the worst economic downturn since the 1930s in a region of the country that has not seen an abundance of success stories in recent years. She topped off that move by hiring a non-healthcare executive to run the place.


Gerard van Grinsven became president and CEO of West Bloomfield after a successful career as vice president of the Ritz Carlton hotel chain. Schlichting calls his hiring one of her best moves.


“Gerard is my poster child for taking risks on people,” she says. “He came to us through his involvement on our board. I got to know him. He told me he did not want to be traveling as much for personal reasons. I had no clue what to do with him at first.


“But the more I thought about it, I realized that he had opened more than 20 hotels around the world and was an incredible leader of people – smart and competitive.”


In two years, West Bloomfield has surpassed all of Ford’s financial projections, and Schlichting says van Grinsven’s work has been “nothing short of phenomenal.” Simultaneous to West Bloomfield’s debut was a renovation of the Detroit flagship hospital that cost $300 million. Revenue has doubled in the last ten years.


No wonder, then, that Fast Company co-founder William C. Taylor talked about Schlichting’s work in transforming her health system in his new book “Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself” (William Murrow).


Given her successes, Schlichting believes that financial acumen is an overlooked but mandatory part of an up-and-coming executive’s skill set. “Many of my colleagues, both male and female, need to have a more in-depth understanding of finances. We are running very large enterprises. How we use resources affects the overall financial health of a hospital.”


The other key to focus on, she says, is simple – people. “Healthcare organizations are very people-centric,” she says. “Having good relationship skills is important. It’s about creating a positive environment for people to work in and helping everyone reach their potential.”


To that end, Schlichting has launched several leadership academies to develop leaders and help retention in a market that has its challenges.


“If you don’t have a good culture,” she says simply, “you’re not going to be successful.”

Profiles in Leadership: Risk means reward for AAMC's Joanne Conroy

By | May 24 th,  2011 | AAMC, risk, chief healthcare officer, hospital, Modern Healthcare Top 25 Women, Morristown, policy issues, president, University of South Carolina, Blog, CEOs, chair, Joanne Conroy, American Association of Medical Colleges, anesthesiologist, conflicts of interest, physician leadership | Add A Comment

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


As long as she can remember, Joanne Conroy has been a risk taker.


But the biggest roll of the dice of her career may have come in 2008, when she resigned as a hospital president to become chief healthcare officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).


Three years later, it’s evident the risk paid off – she’s been honored as one of the top influencers in healthcare.


“I love running a hospital, walking the halls at 2 in the morning,” she says of the 700-bed Morristown Memorial Hospital, part of Atlantic Health, where she served. “Every single day, there are great miracles that happen. But I realized that I could only affect care in a very small area, and even then I could be hamstrung by external forces. I could stay there, or I could actually go where I could be part of change on a national level.”


At the AAMC, she leads CEOs, CMOs and others in discussing readiness for reform and other pressing policy issues.


“At our spring meeting, we had 100 deans and 100 CEOs in the same room talking about two big issues – financial sustainability, and quality and patient safety,” she says. “We spent time drilling it down into educational components we could use to achieve those goals. I had one CEO tell me, ‘The deans and I agree on far more than I thought we would.’ ”


But Conroy and the AAMC have not been afraid to tackle controversial issues head-on as well. Last year, the association concluded its work on conflicts of interest by focusing on clinical care in a 46-page study, “In the Interest of Patients.” It had previously addressed conflicts of interest in medical education and research.


“Let’s say a physician has invented a device,” Conroy says. “He or she receives royalties from sales of the device. What’s the infrastructure so that the physician and the academic medical center where the doctor works do not profit when this device is prescribed for patients there? How is that disclosed to patients? The Mayo Clinic, for example, has a strong policy in this area.”


As she considers her honor at being named one of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare, Conroy says one key attribute for up-and-coming female executives is to “lead through influence,” a quality that just about defines her current position. But she also says that being “very skilled at building teams” can be a career catalyst as well.


That’s something she’s done since the birth of her career at the Medical University of South Carolina, where the school recently established the Joanne M. Conroy, M.D. Endowed Chair for Education and Leadership Development. It was and is a testament to a career of firsts – Conroy was the first woman clinical chair, the first female president of the medical staff and the first female president of the state society of anesthesiologists.


When she started as a resident at MUSC, the written anesthesia board exam pass rate was only 50 percent. When Conroy became chief resident, she was determined to make a difference.


“I made my colleagues meet every Sunday for 3 hours to prepare for the written board exams. We had a 100 percent pass rate for written and orals from then on for at least 7 years.”


And the leaders she trained are now running the place.


“That,” Conroy says, “is the only real reward and acknowledgment I need to keep going.

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