10 healthcare leaders share the best advice they received

Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare leaders to share the best piece of advice they've ever received. Below are some of the tips they've received about communication, forgiveness and integrity.

Suzanne Anderson
President of Virginia Mason Medical Center (Seattle)

"Once when I was struggling with something I was developing, my boss asked me, 'Do you think you're smart?' I responded, 'Yes.'  He then said, 'If you can't figure it out, then no one can.' That advice provided me with permission to be creative and the confidence that I could do things that others might not might be able to do. This also reinforced assurances from my dad that made me believe I could do anything I wanted to do.  To this day, I am reminded of all those encouraging words whenever I'm in a difficult situation."

Thomas Bauer, MD
Clinical Medical Director of Oncology Services at Hackensack Meridian Health (Edison N.J.)

"Probably the best piece [of advice] was to work harder on myself than I do on my job because most people infuse a lot of time in their job and perfecting whatever it is that's their job, but they neglect themselves. And the reality is if you work on making yourself more understanding, more compassionate, you end up actually making yourself better which makes you better at your job as well. I think that's where a lot of people fall short, and as a manager, most of the problems we end up having to address are people not doing the right thing. The more you've worked on yourself, the better you're able to handle those situations, but if more people did it, being a manager of people would be a lot easier."

Gregg Gentry
Chief Administrative Officer of Erlanger Health System (Chattanooga, Tenn.)

"I was given this advice early in my career and I've found it to be true: When you are dealing with a business issue, a vast majority of the time it is a lack of effective communication to blame. For example, a team comes to me and is insistent that we need a new piece of equipment, but when we look at the full issue, there is a communication breakdown on either maintenance or scheduling or another aspect, but that piece of equipment would not solve that actual issue. There are many facets and benefits to being an effective communicator. To be a truly effective communicator you must be open to and seek change, constantly learning, maintain your character and ethics, and not focus on perfection. In communication, simplicity wins at the end of the day. It is always important to communicate with clarity, conciseness and to speak for your audience — not for yourself. Your communication should be able to influence and move those around you."

Jim Guyn, MD
Senior Vice President of Population Health at St. Charles Health System (Bend, Ore.)

"Many years ago, while I was new to my practice as a family practice physician, I was given a pearl of wisdom. It was: 'The patient always knows what is wrong with them, you just have to ask the right questions.' Initially I thought it was a bit flippant. But as I gained more experience I realized how wise it really was. The more time spent asking questions, understanding the patient, gathering history, the more cost-effective and accurately I could establish a diagnosis. I think this applies to many other lines of problem-solving as well."

Rod Hochman, MD
President and CEO of Providence St. Joseph Health (Renton, Wash.)

"I think the most important piece of advice is forgiveness. We need more of it in the working world today. People will make mistakes, and you have to forgive them. Bring out the best in people and forgive the mistakes. It makes everyone better as leaders. Another piece of advice, and the late Sen. [John] McCain is a great example of this, is to know how to respect your so-called competitors. When we challenge each other respectfully, we make each other better and make the world a better place."

Alan Kaplan, MD
CEO of UW Health (Madison, Wis.)

"Overall, life and leadership is so complex that there isn't really one piece of advice that stands out above the others, but rather a collection of advice from multiple individuals over the course of time that mold who we are. However, a piece of advice that stands out that I often remember is someone I worked for once said to me to always remember that integrity is your most important asset. I think what's most important about the advice is the realization that integrity transcends just being honest. It's about consistency, predictability. Yes, honest is the baseline, but then you have to be approachable. You have to be consistent. You have to proactively communicate. You can't put people in a position where they're blindsided, and so it's really not just a passive quality, but one you have to truly understand and actively make happen."

Ryan Kitchell
Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Indiana University Health (Indianapolis)

"The best leadership advice I've received is to be consistent. It sounds simple and its impact not that significant. However, a consistent leader enables a team to work autonomously and creatively toward a clear and consistent goal, to work efficiently, avoiding the distractions that inconsistency can create, and to work confidently, without fear of a surprise change in direction. Do what you say, say the same thing today that you said yesterday, and if something needs to change, be sure to explain clearly why the change in course [and do all you can to make these rare]."

Fred Kniffin, MD
President of University of Vermont Health Network Porter Medical Center (Middlebury)

"The best advice I ever received was in my first week as hospital president. I had never been a hospital president, had not planned on being a hospital president, and frankly, was trying to figure out exactly what a hospital president is supposed to do. The organization was under all kinds of stress, operational and financial. I was given a short list of people to reach out to, one of whom was Al Gobeille, chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board [our regulator]. We chatted, and at the end, I asked, Chairman Gobeille, 'Do you have any advice for me?' He responded: 'Take care of your people.' I had expected financial advice, like take care of your margin. I asked him — did he mean our employees or our patients? He responded 'yes.'

"I felt a huge sense of relief. Taking care of people, now this was something I could do. Anyone can do this, really. It was good advice to me back then and continues to be helpful advice to fall back on when times are tough. It aligns with our mission of caring for our community, one patient at a time."

Anthony Tedeschi, MD
CEO of Detroit Medical Center

"Best advice I was ever given came from my father, who shared, 'Do not ever compromise your integrity, ideals or your character. If you are wrong, admit it and learn from it. But if you are right, stand on it. Your word is sacred, always use it as such.'"

Cathy Townsend, RN, MSN-L
CNO of Banner-University Medical Center Tucson and South campuses (Tucson, Ariz.)

"The best advice I ever received is: 'Be genuine. Always show up with your best self, and people will want to collaborate and work with you.'"


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