Corner Office: Dr. Ed Sabanegh, president of main campus and regional hospitals for Cleveland Clinic, on the north star for all healthcare leaders

Though healthcare presents clinical and administrative leaders with many complex problems, Ed Sabanegh, MD, believes one simple question can provide the answers.

Dr. Sabanegh is president of the main campus and regional hospitals for the Cleveland Clinic. He previously served in the U.S. Air Force, including time as chief of staff and COO at the nation's largest Air Force hospital. In 2006 he returned to the Cleveland Clinic, where he completed an infertility/microsurgery fellowship in 1994, to take up his current position.

Dr. Sabanegh received his medical degree from Charlottesville-based University of Virginia College of Medicine. He recently spoke with Becker's and answered our seven "Corner Office" questions.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for length and style

Question: What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

Dr. Ed Sabanegh: During college I volunteered as an orderly at our local community hospital, and I found the interactions with the patients and caregivers were inspirational. I felt a purity of that mission in those interactions that you just don't get in other forms. It really got me thinking about where I wanted to go with my life, and I never really looked back.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Cleveland?

ES: Well, there are many things. Cleveland is a fantastic town that lets you bring up a family in an amazing fashion. There are so many opportunities here. We do get a little snow, but at the end of the day we have an amazing spring, summer and fall. We're an outdoor family and like to do stuff around the parks here. We have something called The Emerald Necklace, which is a park system that completely circles the city, which is amazing. We've had amazing cultural events here. We've got great playhouses, sporting events and college communities, so it's been a great all-around experience. I mean, this town is a gem, and I invite everybody to come check it out.

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

ES: You know, I think I'm most concerned about access. It shouldn't be hard to get to see a physician, it shouldn't be hard to get the kind of information you need to both take care of your health and remain well. It breaks my heart when you hear situations where a person in need couldn't get to where they needed to be or get the information they needed. I think if I could eliminate anything, it would be the barriers to getting what you need.

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

ES: I would say I really, really like people. I like speaking with people, I like understanding what they're going through. I think I'm a pretty empathetic individual and can genuinely listen and enjoy being with people. That's what I've loved my whole career, in and outside of healthcare. I do a fair amount of volunteering, and I've had the privilege of getting to know a lot of people in a lot of different walks of life. That's what gives me joy.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

ES: Well, you know, I think it's time with my wife, Amy, and my kids, Emily and Ned. We spend a lot of time together. We're empty nesters now, but we're a pretty tight-knit family, so we still vacation a lot together. We love to travel. My wife and I travel all over. We love immersion travel, where you really get to see a community and spend a little time in it.

I've also loved water sports all my life. I'm an avid water skier, and have done that since I was probably 10 years old. I love to laugh, so I search for opportunities to do so, which I think is a key to revitalizing yourself. I'm usually humming a song when I come into work, and I usually am doing the same on my way out. These are the things that help me.

Q: What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

ES: Early in my career I had the privilege of serving in the U.S. Air Force, and as I was starting my leadership journey I had the privilege of getting some advice from a senior officer. I asked, "How do you know you're ready for leadership? What are the things you need to remember about leadership?" He said something to me that I will never forget. He said, "When you don't know what to do, do the right thing." It sounds so trite, but when you face everyday dilemmas there are often multiple very good ways to go. However, when you get to your core, your north star, the right thing to do usually becomes clear pretty quickly.

In healthcare, we place the patient first. When I'm facing a day-to-day quandary, I step away from that particular question and ask myself, "Well, as a patient, what would you want? What's the right thing for her or him?"

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at the Cleveland Clinic so far?

ES: I think I've been very privileged and fortunate to build a team of teams. We have a high performance team. We seek to have a transparent environment. We try to look at things from all different perspectives and get opinions from all the team members, and really work to value everyone. We are doing a great deal of community outreach, expansion of access for our patients, and deployment of needed services in the community. It's really been this team that's taken a fresh look at things to get a new perspective.

I've watched us improve access dramatically. We're getting care to far more patients than we've ever seen before at the Cleveland Clinic, and I really think the team has been the unifying factor for what we've been able to accomplish today.


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