7 health system CFOs share advice for peers

Seven finance chiefs from top health systems across the U.S. recently spoke with Becker's Hospital Review about the advice they would pass along to other CFOs. 

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Kevin Burns. Executive Vice President, CFO and Chief Business Officer of Houston Methodist: Whether you're an experienced CFO or a younger, less experienced CFO, strive to understand operations and listen very carefully to your peers. Get to know your CMOs and CNOs. Also, listen to your patients. We have an obligation to listen to them and help improve their access to care.

Mike Coggin. Executive Vice President and CFO of LifePoint Health (Brentwood, Tenn.): I think navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has further proven how important it is to be able to manage through the noise and stay focused on your long-term vision. This requires a fair amount of patience, determination and grit when things are tough, but keeping your mission clearly in focus is the key to keeping your organization moving in the right direction. 

Michele Cusack. Senior Vice President and CFO of Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.): It's important to maintain the partnership with your C-suite cohorts. This way the system is able to deliver on the organization's strategy by focusing on the financial levers within the organization.

Dennis Dahlen. CFO of Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.): Be more than what your organization expects of you as CFO. Be the problem-solver, the solution-provider, the advance planner, the grower of new talent. Do favors for others, invest time with younger associates and network with peers. Your team and your organization will appreciate having someone in the CFO seat who is genuinely interested in understanding and addressing their challenges. For me, the variety of challenges that come with this expanded understanding of my job is deeply rewarding.

Lori Donaldson. CFO of University of California San Diego Health: I am extremely fortunate to have worked for UC San Diego Health for 30 years, of which the past 11 have been in the CFO role. Throughout my career, the scope of the CFO role has expanded significantly. Today's CFOs are responsible for leading an interdisciplinary team that covers essential business functions that are very different in nature as well as being a strategic partner to the CEO. Revenue cycle, supply chain, accounting, budgeting, contracting and business analytics are all very different, complex functions that require deep expertise in both the relevant subject matter and the regulations that are unique to healthcare. In order to succeed as a healthcare CFO, you need to build a strong team of experts who have the depth of knowledge to successfully manage these functions and be nimble, strategic thinkers who can adapt to the constantly changing academic healthcare environment. Building such a team requires strong collaboration with human resources to recruit talent; however, that is not enough. Health finance professionals are eager to learn and add value to their organization, so the CFO must ensure the team has access to tools, training, coaching and mentorship to enable professional growth. The CFO must also provide a working environment that promotes trust and values individual contribution. 

Edward Karlovich. Executive Vice President and CFO of UPMC (Pittsburgh): I'd say, look beyond the challenges of today. It's not just about what you can actually see and envision in front of you. Try to look at the implications that are not necessarily top of mind. What the future holds is uncertain for all of us in healthcare now. You need to be thinking about what things might be coming down the road that will change our business and commitment to our communities dramatically. Try to brainstorm around that. Trying to think forward and speculate about what might happen is very valuable.

Dominic Nakis. CFO of Advocate Aurora Health (Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill.): Embrace the challenges of complexity. As our job responsibilities expand, so do the opportunities. We need to constantly look forward to finding new ways to generate revenue, evaluate new delivery models and partnerships, and leverage technology and automation. 

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