That’s a wrap on our latest Moments Move Us season! Tune in and reflect on key learnings.
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New Podcast Episode: Reflecting on Lessons in Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Curiosity from Healthcare Leaders with Rebecca Coren
What you’ll learn:
Regardless of role, every healthcare professional contributes to an overall mission of providing care and improving patient outcomes.
A large part of making sure their goals are reached is by making sure there’s a positive and collaborative environment.
In this episode, Dennis R. Delisle, Executive Director of University Hospital, Brain and Spine Hospital, and Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, dives deep into how building relationships, valuing diverse perspectives, and prioritizing the wellbeing of both patients and employees helps accomplish this.
“As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a physician. I went to undergrad as pre-med, and I like to say my midlife crisis was when I was about 20 to 21, when I realized I didn’t want to be a doctor and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was in that moment where I started to talk with different people. I had one professor in particular who really challenged me to think about, ‘Why do you like healthcare? What is it about helping people? What is it about the science of medicine? And what are the skills that you might be able to leverage where you can still contribute, but it’s going to look and feel different?’ I didn’t really know what that meant. So I started doing research, started to understand that there’s a whole business around managing health systems, being a part of that work, being part of that team, but not necessarily a clinician. So I pursued a graduate degree in hospital administration, and what I found within the first three to six months: it was my calling. There was something about the work, the environment, that just really spoke to who I am as a person and the skill set that I bring as a leader. And I never knew that until I started going through that graduate program and working at a community hospital.”
“I think as I had an opportunity over time to work in [operational excellence], process improvement, quality improvement, it gave me a really great appreciation for those at the front line. The hard work that people do every single day, the challenges that they face that sometimes are very menial and simple and yet day after day become death by a thousand cuts. That was really important for me to reflect on as I continued to advance in my career. And I had several other opportunities; for example, leading an EHR implementation across a system, both our ambulatory and inpatient settings. And when you talk about the interconnectedness of what we do, the EHR is a great example of the decisions we make in one area and the implications and the unknown consequences it may have in others. And I’ve been able to leverage that experience over time in my operational capacity to think more broadly and holistically about problems, about opportunities. And I think as a result, it’s made me very inclusive in terms of how I think about the teams that need to be part of solutions and, importantly as well, connecting with staff who ultimately are the ones that are doing the work.”
“Growing up, my mother was a nurse and she worked in a Neuro-ICU, she worked in an outpatient OBGYN clinic, she worked at a fertility clinic. She had such a wealth of experience. And when you’re raised by a nurse, the caring—also the straight talk that you get when you engage with nursing—I think I always was connected to serving and helping others, and I definitely take that from my mother. So, I always had this innate ability and interest in ‘whatever I can do to help people,’ [and that’s] what I tended to do. My father was a very successful construction management executive over the course of his career, and there were a lot of elements of the engineering background that he has that I think I really have a good mix of—the caring and compassion of a nurse and the engineering mind of somebody who can help organize systems and structures.”
“Jobs like mine can be a trap because we spend a lot of our time in meetings, reviewing presentations, reviewing financials, and we start to create an abstract view of the work that we do. We forget when we look at the mortality index, when we look at the hospital-acquired conditions per one thousand patient days, we begin to make these abstract numbers that we evaluate performance, but we forget that the mortality index is an individual who passed away. And to the staff at the bedside, it’s the individual and their family that impacts them. So the trap really becomes [that] you can lose sight of the mission, of why we’re here. And if you don’t spend time at the bedside with the clinicians and the support staff, it’s very easy for that to happen. So, I find the only way for me to ensure that does not happen to me is that every single month, I am taking time, I’m taking hours of my day to learn and to experience and feel what happens every single day across the incredible teams that we have. I think that is so important, because then when I’m in the room and we’re making those important decisions about resources, about priorities, I feel much better connected to people’s reality than what I perceive to be the reality based on reports or meetings that I might be in.”
“The way I think about football is, you have offense, you have defense, you have special teams. You’re on the field at different times, your objectives are different. Offense to score, defense to prevent the team from scoring, special teams might be about field position. You also have the head coach, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators. You have a strength and conditioning coach. Some stand on the field, some are up in the stands and they’re looking at the whole picture of what’s happening. And the idea there is, the name on the back of the shirt is going to be different, but the name on the front is always the same. We’re part of the same team. And if you think of when you have the offense on the field, you have a quarterback and you tend to think of the football team as the quarterback. But the quarterback is not effective if those big guys in the front line don’t block the big guys on the other side trying to tackle them. And if those big guys on the front line don’t understand what is the person to my right and left doing? What are they responsible for? And what am I responsible for? If we don’t understand how that works, it’s difficult to coordinate a play.
And I think it’s important when you use it as an analogy and you think of the role of a physician. The physician might be the quarterback, but again, without the housekeeper, without the patient transportation aide, without a respiratory therapist, without a rehab therapist, without an imaging technologist—there are all these other roles. It’s a village of people that it really takes to make everything work.”
“People started to realize the power of these shadowing experiences and moments. And importantly, it was, ‘I’m going to get a nursing leader to shadow in the production kitchen.’ Because when you have an issue with a patient and food, the response might be, ‘Why can’t these people get it right?’ If you spend three hours in the production kitchen where we make three thousand meals per day, what you will say is, ‘I can’t believe how seldom they get it wrong.’ And you shift people’s minds from this orientation around judgment, ‘Why can’t you do this?’ to appreciation, ‘How can I help you?’ And I never really understood what are the things that my team might be doing that makes your job more difficult? You don’t appreciate that unless you have to physically take yourself out of your role, wear the clothes of another role and work alongside somebody with the intention to learn and to connect.”
“We have a monthly forum for leader development where we talk about the language of leadership, how we resolve conflict, how we communicate—not about our priorities, our metrics, finances. It’s really about, ‘How do we work together as a team?’ And part of it was, we can’t be transactional. I can’t just work with you because my department function relates to your department function. It has to be relational. But for it to be relational, we have to get to know who we are. So one of the things that we tried was, we do what’s called an ‘Appreciative Inquiry Interview.’ I randomly assign our leaders, and they get randomly assigned each month another individual and they meet for forty-five minutes. And the questions are: ‘What do you do outside of work? What talents are you really proud of? What are the things you wish people knew about you or that people misunderstand that you wish they did know? Now tell me about your family. Tell me about your hobbies and where you like to travel.’ Because what you find is—I had this great experience where somebody came to me and said, ‘You assigned me this person. And I think it was random, but I’m not sure. But I didn’t like this person. So when I met with them, I was a little resistant. What I learned was our parents are in the same phase of life, which they’re dealing with some challenges with care. We have the same hobby. We’re actually going to have a monthly coffee to connect, and now we’re friends.’ I couldn’t believe it. And I heard that many times over, and all of a sudden, you start to see problems dissipate, because I want to help you as a person—not ‘Why would my department service your department?’ as a transaction. That has been a fundamental shift for the leaders in our group, and that becomes an enabler for our teams then to have frictionless interactions and collaboration, because our leaders go first. And that has been a really impactful and a very simple thing to do.”
“When I moved to Ohio State, I moved from Philadelphia. I started in May of 2020, which was as the pandemic was really ramping up. A month prior, my wife gave birth to our second daughter, so I had a newborn. We’re moving to a new state. We don’t have any connection with people, with where we’re moving. It was very challenging. And when I thought about my own experience, and there’s people I work with that don’t know, don’t appreciate what’s happening in my life outside of work, and if I apply that to others—for me personally, I used to be a very kind of regimented, structured, here’s the plan, here’s the timeline, we’re going to execute and really focus on the blocking, tackling, and not as concerned around the emotional impact and connection with people. And through a lot of really great and deep conversations with my wife over time and then with people that I work with, I started to really lean into that side of leadership and really lean into emphasizing the need to connect—not just for me, but for others to connect with each other—and create some forums, create some structure where we can enable that to happen.”
“COVID, as an example, has impacted all of us in so many different ways and it has been so difficult, I think, for all of us. And if you lose sight of that, you can rush to judgment about people, about how they show up. . . . There’s a lot of things that might weigh on [people] as they show up in the day. If you can at least provide some grace for them to get through that and to support them . . . You can make bad decisions or you can really disengage people or disenfranchise them because you’re not treating them as a whole person. You’re focused on the employee and the task, not the person. I always like to say, ‘You’re a person first, you’re an employee second.’ So make sure you’re caring for the person first, and then you can start talking about, ‘What do we need to do as an employee to make sure that the job gets done?’ But if I don’t think about you as a person, I’m not going to put you in a position to be successful and realize your potential, because I’m not thinking about the bigger picture.”
“It’s those tiny little wins over time that start to build trust between staff and leadership. It’s not the big stuff. It’s the little things to just demonstrate, one, I’ve asked and engaged; two, I heard and reflected back what we talked through what you’re sharing; three, we’re making a change, and importantly, closing the feedback loop as a result of what we’ve changed. From what you told us, is it making things better? The piece that we tend to miss is, we introduce a change and assume it fixed the problem. We walk away versus saying, ‘How is your experience now? Is it better? Did it work? Do we need to modify things?’ Over time, that consistency really builds the strength and relationship and really fundamentally, the trust between those at the front line and the decision makers, the leaders of the different teams.”
“I had this experience with one of our housekeepers recently, I was doing a shadow day. The level of professionalism of the job, like really owning the role of the housekeeper in our environmental service team—my responsibility is to, one, create a comfortable and healing environment for my patient; two, ensure that I’m keeping it safe from infection, from dirtiness, from other things in the environment. And that initially was interesting to me, to see that level of commitment to professionalism, but it wasn’t special, necessarily. Her name was Masan and she is from Togo in Africa and a very spiritual, very empathetic, compassionate person. And on a Thursday morning, we’re shadowing, and she pulls out the list of her patients who are in the rooms that she’s covering, and she asked the charge nurse, ‘Can you write their first name, like their preferred name, on my list?’ And she pulls out a ‘get well soon’ card that she bought at Hallmark, and she writes the patient’s first name, and she wrote a personalized note on the inside of the card, put the card in the envelope, sealed the envelope, put the patient’s name on the outside of the envelope. And then she walked into the room and said, ‘I’m your housekeeper for today. I’m so sorry that you’re in the hospital, and I’m here to take good care of you, and I want you to know that we care about you, and we hope that you get better soon.’ And she left the card with the patient, and he was shocked. It was the only card on his table. This was a patient who’s been here for about a week. And when I asked her afterwards, ‘I’m like, why do you do that?’ And she said, ‘There are a lot of people who come here, and we get people from all over the state, we get people from all over the country.’ She said, ‘Sometimes they don’t have family, and I don’t need to be part of their family for them to know that I’m here for them.’ And I was telling this to some of our leaders, and I’m like, for a Thursday morning, it is too early to cry—just thinking about this, it was so moving.
It was such a powerful experience that really, for me, solidified the importance of what we do, the mission orientation that we have, and that every job matters. Again, we tend to think about it. It’s the surgeon, it’s the nurse at the bedside, it’s everybody—it’s the greeter, it’s the security officer, it’s the housekeeper. All of those roles matter. And when people can understand what I do today and how that helps in creating the healing environment, how it helps improve our outcomes, how it helps improve the patient experience, I’m going to show up better each day, because I know how I make this place a better place.
We’re going to make sure that she’s no longer buying those cards out of her own pocket, now that we know that. And we’re also going to be offering that to others to say, if you want to do this as well, what a wonderful way to just share support and appreciation for the patients that we care for. It was just remarkable.”
“When you can understand from the board perspective down to the frontline staff employee, how decisions get made, how resources are allocated, the next role that you go into, whether it’s a middle management role, something like that, you have a better sense of where you fit in that system. What are those teams you have to interrelate with? What are those dependencies or things that you have to consider as you make decisions, as you plan your work?”
“I will take time to put on scrubs, and I spend time with staff at the front line. And that could be a housekeeper, a surgeon, a nurse, a respiratory therapist, and I vary who I round with, who I shadow, and I spend several hours with staff. As a non-clinician, I always find it so important.”
“The majority of the time, we’re employees, but there are times where we are the patient, or we are the family member of a patient. So, what a unique opportunity to view things from a very different lens, and then go back into the hospital with your suit back on or your scrubs back on as an employee. And if you pay attention and if you’re present, you really get to understand the connection between the work that we do and the lives that we impact, both from an employee perspective and from a patient and family perspective.”
“I think it’s really important to not just say. I think you have to be at first, and then you can emphasize through words, you can articulate and communicate to people what those priorities are. But if I don’t lead first, and if I don’t do this consistently, it’s a ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ If it’s a priority, I also need to prioritize it, because it makes it a lot harder for people then to say ‘It’s not a priority for me, then.’”
“Oftentimes you have to leave the ego at the door. You have to check it, because there are times where I know I’m right, but being right is not the correct path to move forward. It’s not about me being right and someone being wrong.”
“What I do is a combination of: what I do and how I do it. The ‘what’ really is from a tactical improvement, planning, strategy, execution; the ‘how’ is about building influence, relationship, connection.”
“Healthcare is a very special industry. When we put people first—not just the patients we care for, but the employees who we serve as leaders—wonderful things happen. And it’s so meaningful, because we are patients, we are family members ourselves. We have friends who need care. The work we do matters, and the people we work with matter.”
Explore transformative stories from healthcare executives as they share impactful moments of human connection from their professional journeys.