Corner Office: ChristianaCare CEO Dr. Janice Nevin on 'love' as a professional value

When Janice Nevin, MD, first interviewed at ChristianaCare 17 years ago, she was floored by its mission to serve the community. Now, as CEO of the Wilmington, Del.-based health system, Dr. Nevin is leading a new iteration of that mission that focuses on a slightly unusual professional value.

"I remember coming home the day that I interviewed and telling my husband … I've never encountered an organization that was so committed to its mission," she told Becker's in an interview.

"I will tell you, having been here now for 17 years and having served in a variety of leadership roles, I've never looked back once and been disappointed that we as an organization didn't live our mission," she said. "Even when things don't go well, we reach into our commitment to caring for our community and that translates into making the kinds of changes we need to make in order to better serve."

Dr. Nevin was named president and CEO of ChristianaCare in 2014 after serving at the system for 12 years. She is a family medicine physician, and completed her residency and training at Sidney Kimmel Medical College and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. She also earned a master's in public health from the University of Pittsburgh.    

Here, Dr. Nevin talks about the system's surprising new mission statement and what makes her tick as a leader.

Editor's note: Responses are edited lightly for length and style.  

Question: What is one thing that piqued your interest in healthcare?

Dr. Janice Nevin: I was one of those young folks who wanted to be a physician from the very beginning. My best friend growing up, her father was a family physician, and I was just fascinated by the work that he did. My inspiration for healthcare really goes back to those early days of my childhood. As I evolved, I became interested in how healthcare can be part of a larger system that truly impacts health.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Delaware?  

JN: Delaware is a great state. It's a small state, which means it provides the opportunity to create relationships, not only among all the healthcare providers, but also among the various industries, state government and county government. As a result, you can bring people together around important issues and have meaningful conversation. I've always appreciated the opportunity to be part of a larger community that is really committed to making Delaware a great place for Delawareans to live, work and play.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

JN: I would eliminate fee-for-service medicine and replace it solely with value-based reimbursement. Being paid for the value and the outcomes we provide would further accelerate the creation of a system of care that impacts health. It would allow us to be less transactional about the volume of care and more intentional about devoting resources where impact can happen.

Q: What is your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

JN: This may be the most difficult one to answer! I love to read. What I try to do is I'll read a couple of lighter books and then intersperse them with a business book. The book I'm reading right now is called The Light We Lost; it's a novel. I also just got a book I'm about to start called White Fragility, which is about how we talk about race in this country. I'm fascinated to read it.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

JN: I have been practicing yoga fairly regulary for about six years now. I love yoga; I love the movement but also the mindfulness. I try to make sure I practice at least twice a week, if not more.

Q: What is one piece of advice that you remember most clearly?

JN: I've had a lot of great advice over the course of my career, but as I was coming into the role of CEO, I had the opportunity to talk with some well-respected leaders inside and outside the industry. What I heard consistently, which is something I deeply believe in, is that as a leader you must be authentic and you must have courage.

Q:  What do you consider your greatest achievement at ChristianaCare so far?

JN: Three years ago, we were at a point where I believed we needed to revisit our core values. I wanted to engage all 12,000 of our caregivers in this work, so that it would truly be an organizationwide effort. I remember saying to our leadership team: "I want to walk around the organization at the end of this process and go to any site, talk to any caregiver, and they can tell me how they participated." And we did that.

The phrase that surfaced from this process was not what I expected. It resulted in a value statement of, "We serve together, guided by our values of love and excellence." We serve together was an expression of the importance of teamwork, about celebrating your team and understanding that teams must work together across the organization. Excellence was not a surprise; I believe it's in our DNA. But when the word love surfaced, that was as surprise.

I would say our ability as an organization to talk about what love means in healthcare has been transformational and extraordinarily powerful. When we started, we thought that when we talked about love it was about anticipating the needs of others and caring with compassion and generosity. But what we've learned is when we lead with love, excellence is inevitable. It's love that allows you to have hard conversations, make harder decisions and make the changes that are hard to make in order to impact the health of the people we serve.

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