6 healthcare leaders share the most difficult aspect of their job

Healthcare leaders have many things demanding their attention each day. Not only do they have to take care of their own tasks, but they must also ensure employees under them are getting their jobs done as well.

Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare leaders to share the most difficult aspect of their job. Read their responses below.

Jeanne Armentrout
Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Carilion Clinic (Roanoke, Va.)

"The most complex part of my job — or any leadership job — is people. Employees have unique needs and real-life issues, and they want to grow and develop and do a good job. Leaders need the necessary skills to handle those needs. One of the most difficult, yet most rewarding, is providing specific feedback.

"It's a skill that must be developed and practiced. There is a lot of art to it. It's always hard to tell an employee something that they need to improve or do differently. However, that type of engagement is also a gift. Given with the right intent and in a trusted environment, feedback can be received as though it's a pretty package. Done well, it can truly change an employee's path. As difficult as giving feedback is, it can also be very rewarding when the employee takes that feedback to heart and succeeds.

"Many expect leaders to become completely comfortable with giving feedback, yet I find that it is never easy."

Dawn Bulgarella
CFO of UAB Health System (Birmingham, Ala.)

"Hands down the most difficult aspect of my job is managing email communication. We're all accessible now 24/7, 365 days a year and this means easy access by colleagues, staff, vendors, recruits, family and friends. On the positive side, this helps keep us informed and allows us to inform others about relevant activity, news, concerns, etc. Unfortunately, this often leads to a constantly overflowing email inbox. In order to be an effective communicator, you've got to come up with an email management strategy that works for you and be prepared to modify as necessary. I have colleagues that use color coding, 'skimming' or reading the top few lines of emails only, or not ending the day until the inbox is empty. I use a combination of all of the above, but I am still a work in progress. One thing I have learned is that you have to give yourself some down time from emails in order to refresh your brain — and your eyes!" 

Mikki Clancy
COO of Miami Valley Hospital (Dayton, Ohio)

"There is so much change going on in healthcare, so being able to manage that change well and engage with our leaders and our employees to make sure they understand … why we're changing is sometimes the most difficult part of my job, but [it] is often the most rewarding part as well. To be able to implement change seamlessly and to be able to change quickly, it's … important that all members of the care team and the staff that are supporting the care team … understand why we're making the change. It can't just be because we said so. Connecting with their hearts and their minds for improving the patient care by making the change is again the most difficult part of my job and also … sometimes the most fun part of my job."

Thea James, MD
Vice President of Mission and emergency medicine physician at Boston Medical Center

"The hardest part of my job is seeing the health impacts on families and individuals that result from a lack of equity and opportunity for generations. But it’s also the most rewarding part of my job. Through upstream, root case equitable approaches, such as BMC’s recent investment in community housing, we can eliminate gaps in the lives of our patients. Eliminating gaps creates a path to alter their quality of life trajectory. By not constraining ourselves with 'What's possible,' we can disrupt barriers to independence and thriving for our patients and their families."

Roberta Schwartz
Executive Vice President of Houston Methodist Hospital

"Without a doubt, the hardest thing is being 'in the moment' on so many different topics in a day. Today for example, I am 30 minutes into my morning so far and I have the following topics: deciding on whether a strategy session for innovation is well designed; an employee concerned about the new Epic upgrade; a philanthropic event that needs attendees; a faculty member who feels undervalued; a patient who is missing from the lobby and deciding what to write for the most difficult aspect of my job.

"Everyone who calls or writes deserves full attention and wants me to give them 100 percent of my attention and effort. When you tackle more than 100 completely different issues in a day, that is tough. While there are all the tools of delegation, trusting your people, and leaving time to just close the door and plan, I find that there are enough decisions that rise to the executive level, that you have no choice but to deal with the 100 issues a day. And that's, by the way, also the fun part of the job!"

Shawn Sheffield
Chief Strategy Officer of Keck Medicine of USC (Los Angeles)

"One of the most challenging aspects of my job is not only managing the exponential growth we have experienced at Keck Medicine of USC but charting the next 10 years of growth. Patient revenue has almost tripled in over a 10-year period. Inpatient volumes are up and outpatient volumes are growing even more. Los Angeles is still one of the most fragmented urban healthcare markets in the country, so acquisition and consolidation is occurring at a rapid pace. Establishing partnerships and overseeing acquisitions in a market of more than 12 million people requires micro-market strategies. At Keck Medicine of USC, health system expansion will be fueled by our ability to execute multiple strategies simultaneously. I'm looking very closely at our execution risk and the ability to scale our existing system."   

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