Corner Office: From cardiology to C-suite, Yale New Haven Hospital president puts heart into work

Keith Churchwell, MD, began serving as president of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Hospital in October, and he brought with him years of experience at the organization. 

Before his current role, Dr. Churchwell was the hospital's COO and executive vice president, after spending five years as senior vice president leading the heart and vascular service line. 

Dr. Churchwell said he enjoys being president and has been able to use knowledge he gained as a practicing physician.  

Here, he answers Becker's Hospital Review's seven Corner Office questions.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

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

Dr. Keith Churchwell: When my siblings and I were growing up, my parents instilled in us a desire and a responsibility to help people. In school, I always enjoyed math and science, and in high school, the idea of becoming a physician began forming. I was also inspired by my older brother, eight years my senior, who was studying to become a doctor. We are both cardiologists, and I had the great pleasure of practicing with him for 20 years prior to my move to New Haven. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about Connecticut?

KC: It is as green as Tennessee in the spring and summers, and fall is beautiful, with the dramatic changes in color. My wife, who grew up in Louisiana, and I just smile at each other when our colleagues talk about how hot and humid the summer is to them, but she is not a big fan of the snow and ice in the winter. The proximity to New York and Boston also brings us very close to our interests in the arts and music. 

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

KC: Addressing and finding solutions for healthcare disparities definitely rises to the top of the list. Nationally, we could have predicted — because of the social determinants of health that fuel our nation’s healthcare inequities — that COVID-19 would disproportionately affect minority communities. The fact that we failed to address it sooner — and how unprepared we have been in this crisis — underscores just how much work needs to be done to address those inequities. COVID-19 laid bare an intrinsic problem, but it also created the opportunity to address that problem. We have the opportunity to develop partnerships to solve these inequities, to come together and invest in the educational, nutritional, transportation and economic needs that support health within our communities. If we are to prevent even greater suffering with the next pandemic, we have to take this opportunity to develop pathways of care and processes that will create greater and broader distribution of healthcare resources.  

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

KC: I love being a physician. Although I don't actively practice these days, I enjoyed the work and the evolution of the knowledge and skills necessary to take care of a patient as a cardiologist and learning the skills of a nuclear cardiologist. I think this has also helped me in developing skills that have served me well in the C-suite.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

KC: My father loved tennis, and he passed his passion for it along to his children. I still love to watch and play tennis — as does my daughter. I read as much as I can on topics I have little experience with or want to find more about. There is a tall stack of books lined up near the bed, waiting for me every night. Movies old and new are a passion; I appreciate the hard work, the artistry that goes into attempting to bring entertainment to all of us. Listening to music and frustratingly trying to improve my trumpet playing (and having my shower be my local singing venue) keeps me on my toes and makes the day and nights better. 

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

KC: Make sure you are working to be an expert in your profession and enjoy what you do. If you don't, you need to do something else. 

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Yale New Haven?

KC: The work is really a journey. I am not sure we have come to an end of any of the projects or goals we have set for ourselves to consider a "greatest achievement." I am excited every day to work with a great team of administrators, physicians, nurses and staff to make it better. We are on the road to becoming a true academic health system with our partners at Yale Medicine and the hospitals throughout our network, with YNHH being at the point of the spear. It is a great time to be in New Haven. 

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