13 healthcare CEOs share the hardest part of their days

Becker's Hospital Review's "Living Like a Leader" series provides a platform for some of the brightest executives in the healthcare industry to share how they manage their energy, team and time to be successful.

For each series interview, executives are asked a series of questions about their daily routine. One of the questions asks hospital and health system executives to share what they consider to be the hardest part of their day:

Here's what a dozen CEOs had to say:

1. Andrew Agwunobi, MD,  CEO UConn Health (Farmington, Conn.) "The hardest part of my day occurs when we lose, or are facing the possible loss of good talent. For example, when nurses, physicians or talented executives leave or are considering leaving for positions in other health systems. It is particularly hard when this occurs for preventable reasons such as poor management or not adequately responding to their needs. The loss of talent is one of the most damaging occurrences that can happen to an organization. It goes without saying that I spend a lot of my time trying to anticipate employees' needs, developing our leaders and working to ensure we retain our staff. It is one of the reasons I am so passionate about driving employee and physician engagement, as well as combating physician burnout."

2. Wael Barsoum, MD, CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida (Weston) "I think the hardest part is if I hear about an issue that came up with a patient where they felt like we could've done better. It is hard to read letters that said we didn't do something up to their expectations. Those weigh on you as a CEO. Whenever I get those complaints, we will follow up on them in an excruciating amount of detail. All of us want to relieve suffering, and unfortunately we aren't always successful. The good thing is that those reports and issues are very rare.

3. David Dill, CEO of LifePoint Health (Brentwood, Tenn.) "In my previous role, I had a list of tasks, and I was able to cross out items on the list as they got done. What I do now in the CEO role is more long-term in nature. So, the hardest part of my day is shaking the nagging feeling that I didn't get everything done that I need to, mainly because I didn't mark 10 things off a list like I used to. I think it's just an adjustment."

4. Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO of University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (Iowa City) "We hold ourselves to a very high standard at UI Hospitals & Clinics, and sometimes, very rarely, we don't hit that standard. Rarely are setbacks the result of staff not doing a good job; instead they are related to not having the right processes and systems in place to support our staff or patients. I take a lot of personal responsibility for those failures, and I think that's probably the hardest part."

5. Tom Jackiewicz, CEO of Keck Medicine (Los Angeles) "Since it takes awhile to get on my calendar, I need to ensure I am managing my own emotions to maintain my focus so everyone gets the attention they deserve. I owe my full attention to the people who waited to meet with me, no matter what happened during the previous part of the day or in the meeting before. All of us are impacted by our days, but one of my main responsibilities is to minimize that impact so others get the best, even-tempered, focused leader."

6. Dr. Divya Joshi, CEO of OSF HealthCare's Children's Service Line (Peoria, Ill.)  "I think it's when an initiative gets stuck and is unable to move forward because there are so many people involved or options to pursue. Sometimes it's very hard to get people and ideas together. Beyond that, I would say when I don't have the answer to something. I'm not the most patient of people, and sometimes I would like things to happen immediately."

7. Ketul Patel, CEO of CHI Franciscan (Tacoma, Wash.) "Many of us have days full of meetings that are back-to-back, and I think that becomes challenging because sometimes I don't have the ability to have 'heads-up' time to truly think through important issues without interruptions. For me, that's probably the hardest part of any day."

8. Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health (San Diego). "Running a big organization like Scripps is like running a city. There are great things that are happening all the time, and there are bad things that happen occasionally. That burden falls on me, and that's probably the worst part of the job. Fortunately, those bad things don't happen often, but when something happens to a patient that shouldn't have happened or if one of my employees is attacked by a patient, those days are difficult. At Scripps, we're trying to push forward legislation on workplace violence, because I'm very concerned that workplace violence is on the rise in hospitals. CMS has very strict rules about what we're allowed to do to protect our staff, because they're looking out for the well-being of the patients, as are we, but we have an obligation to protect both. That's a very difficult thing to do."

9. Prathibha Varkey, CEO of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health's Northeast Medical Group. "The hardest part is driving between the different practices, [we have 120 outpatient sites and five hospitals], because driving can be physically exhausting.  However, I wouldn't trade it, because it's also the most rewarding part of my day."

10. Kevin Vermeer, CEO of UnityPoint Health (West Des Moines, Iowa) "The hardest part of my day is when I must make tough decisions that impact people's lives. Aside from those tough decisions, I'd say figuring out how to prioritize best when a million plates are spinning and I'm trying to be everywhere to everyone at once."

11. Andrea Walsh, CEO of HealthPartners (Bloomington, Minn.). "Well, there's never enough time. Time is a precious commodity, so I think the hardest part of the day is juggling priorities on my calendar. I'm lucky to have a really great administrative assistant who basically is my partner in making sure my priorities each day match with what the calendar looks like."

12. Jeff Welch, CEO of Florida Medical Center and Tenet's Miami-Dade Group (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). "There aren't many difficult aspects because I love what I do. But if I had to choose, what's difficult for me is making sure that everything our organization does is for the betterment of the patient and the community. I need to make sure every single decision we make is for them, and sometimes that stress can be heavy."

13. Albert Wright, PharmD, CEO of WVU Hospitals and WVU Health System (Morgantown, W.Va.). "That's a tough one. I think it's just keeping everybody rowing in the same direction. The other challenge is that we've been on this huge growth boom over the last few years, where we're seeing major consolidation, mergers and acquisitions around here. There are a lot of failing hospitals and physician groups around the state of West Virginia, and they're all good options for us to partner with. Trying to keep up with the growth has been a challenge because you want to help others and save some of these challenged hospitals, but you have to grow at a pace that is safe and people can keep up with. When you look at the growth of WVU Medicine in the last five years it's been remarkable, but sometimes keeping up with that growth can be a challenge."

To read all of Becker's Living Like a Leader interviews, click here. 

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