Leadership Lessons Healthcare Execs Wish They Would Have Learned in School

January 5, 2020

Here are the top life skills health executives wish they would have been taught in school.

"Engage frequently with patients and their families." That's the best advice Ellen Feinstein, RD, MHA, FACHE, vice president, cancer services, UChicago Medicine, has learned from her colleagues.

"As we make daily strategic and operational decisions that have the potential to impact [patients and their families'] experience while in our care, I've learned to ask for their perspective, to ensure that we're always guided to answer the most important question: 'What is in the best interest of the patient?'" she says.

What follows is more advice from healthcare executives that they wish they would have learned in school.

Pursue continuous learning opportunities.

Always take the opportunity to enhance your self-education-including "stepping outside your 'comfort zone,'" recommends Louis G. Jenis, MD, MHCDS, senior vice president and chief medical and innovation officer, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, a suburban hospital that's part of Boston's Partners HealthCare.

Seek out supporters and coaches.

"For people early in their careers, it's important to focus less on a position’s pay or industry, but whether you will have a strong supporter or coach within the organization," says Philip Kaufman, MHCDS, chief operations officer, UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual, a unit of Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group, Inc.

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"Any job worth taking requires a great teacher, usually one with whom you can really connect with. In my experience, organizational advancement follows that formula more closely than any other factor," he says.

Understand the complexities and challenges faced by colleagues.

“Because of their focus on caring for patients, physicians can have ‘blind spots’ regarding how complex healthcare delivery is for their colleagues," says Adam Levy, MD, vice chair of network and strategic planning, Children's Hospital at Montefiore, which is part of the Bronx, New York-based Montefiore Health System.

"Especially as a physician leader, it's vital to appreciate what makes everyone else’s job difficult-and rewarding, for that matter. It can be easy to comment on inefficiencies and imperfections in our practice settings, but solutions are derived from understanding what others face in their day-to-day responsibilities," adds Levy, who says he didn't gain this insight until years after medical school.

Write down stories that have impact.

"Looking back, I wish someone had told me to be diligent about taking a little bit of time to write down the stories that had an impact on me," says Nancy W. Gaden, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, senior vice president and chief nursing officer, Boston Medical Center.

Aine Cryts is a writer based in Boston.

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