Choosing the Right Service Line Leader: Q&A With Renown Health EVP David Veillette

Hospital C-suite leaders cannot manage every detail of the organization; they need to hire and enable strong leaders to take charge of areas such as service lines. A service line leader is not unlike the CEO of the hospital — he or she has to communicate and motivate employees around a shared vision; focus on patient care first and finances second; and be customer-service oriented. David Veillette, executive vice president of specialty hospitals at Reno, Nev.-based Renown Health, describes some of the key characteristics of a strong service line leader and how the hospital C-suite can ensure the success of a service line through recruitment and support of this leader.

Renown executive vice president David Veillette describes a strong service line leader. Q: What are the characteristics and/or skills of strong leaders for hospital service lines such as cardiology, oncology, neurology, orthopedics/spine and radiology?

David Veillette: First and foremost, leaders in these critical service lines must be passionate about their work. Passion is a central component of success, and, unfortunately, we've seen passion take a back seat to profits in today's healthcare system. Leaders must also be innovative and creative and have a demonstrated ability to collaborate, listen and adapt. To create a high performing system of care, leaders must also empower their teams for success, which often means loosening their grip and enabling their line staff to earn their trust.

Q: What is the greatest challenge of leading a hospital service line?

DV: The greatest challenge of leading these service lines is developing and nurturing a strong culture of customer service that is grounded in a clear vision. Our patients must always be at the center of everything we do, and compassion must never be eclipsed by capital. If your vision is authentically based on quality and care, the service line teams will effectively represent that culture.  

Q: How can service line leaders overcome this challenge?

DV: Simply said, they have to walk the talk. They must effectively manage by being visible and approachable. No great leaders have ever managed from an office. Instead, they should become a personal manifestation of the organization itself, seeing first-hand where and how changes need to occur to inspire a shared vision of success for their teams.

Q: What strategies should hospitals use to recruit and retain these leaders?

DV: Hospitals should look for individuals who have outstanding customer service skills. It's one thing to have the highest level of industry credential, and I don't mean to minimize the value of that, but the ability to truly understand the concept of human need, and lead a team to creatively serve that need, is what will make a successful service line leader. During the interview process, listen for how often the human — the patient, the customer, the family — is at the center of the conversation. It's important that a candidate's discussion focus on the culture and vision that is built around the customer, not around the finances. In this case, I really believe that attitude is just as important as aptitude.

Q: What service lines are the most difficult to recruit leaders for, and why?

DV: Frankly, none should be difficult for any great leader. Genuine leadership strength is not about the specific clinical or financial knowledge of a service line. Simply said, it is the ability to lead people. It's about building and nurturing relationships and continually seeking consensus. The service line will succeed through a shared vision, a vision that is collectively developed, articulated and driven by passion.

Q: How can a hospital's C-suite leaders support a service line leader to drive quality and cost-efficiency?

DV: To be blunt, if someone from the C-suite needs to drive the service line leader to create quality and cost efficiency, they have hired the wrong service line leader! If the right service line leaders are on the team, all the C-suite needs to do is work with them on the goals, mutual expectations and timeline for accomplishment. Then it's just a matter of stepping back and enabling the leaders to implement their systems for success. If the service line leaders need help or support on issues, the C-suite surely must be available and, if necessary, take action to address any road blocks that may be in the service line leaders' way. If the C-suite feels the need to micro-manage, either the service line or the C-suite itself — or both — needs to be overhauled.

More Articles on Hospital Service Lines:

Herding Bengal Tigers: How to Manage a Hospital Orthopedic Service Line
Structuring Hospital Service Line Management for Success

Developing a Cardiovascular Service Line: Shifting From a Vertical to Horizontal Mindset

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