Corner office: Temple University Hospital CEO Dr. Verdi DiSesa on fatherhood and health system leadership

Despite the years of higher education and clinical training, many of the most important lessons Verdi DiSesa, MD, has learned come from his family.

Dr. DiSesa has kept advice from his father close to heart throughout his education and career. And as a father of four sons himself, he has realized many of the lessons he's learned as a parent are applicable while leading others in his roles at Temple University.

Dr. DiSesa serves as senior vice dean for clinical affairs at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, president and CEO of Temple verdi disesaUniversity Hospital and COO of Temple University Health System in Philadelphia. He is also a professor of surgery at the medical school. He was named CEO of the hospital in January 2016 and has held his other roles at the institution since April 2011.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Dr. DiSesa trained in internal medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He then went on to complete his internship and residency in general surgery and a fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Children's Hospital of Boston and Harvard Medical School in Boston. A board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. DiSesa also earned his MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

An established researcher and author, Dr. DiSesa's research and clinical interests include postoperative cardiac surgical management, including the use of inotropic agents, and clinical and experimental heart transplantation. He has authored and co-authored multiple book chapters, as well as nearly 150 original papers. He is a current or past editorial board member of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, the Journal of Cardiac Surgery and the European Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery

Here, Dr. DiSesa took the time to answer Becker's seven questions. Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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

My uncle and great uncle were surgeons and my family heritage inclined me toward medicine. Additionally, in college I helped a friend who had a sprained ankle. I knew how to wrap ankles from playing sports, but there was something about laying strong but gentle hands on someone to help them heal that appealed to me. That small incident was a big contributor of my interest in medicine on top of my family in the background telling me this is a worthwhile thing to do.

From taking care of one patient at a time to running systems, I've been fortunate to leverage my knowledge and have the chance to affect so many people. I do miss treating patients. I stopped practicing about eight years ago because cardiac surgical patients require a doctor who has the ability to respond to them any time, day or night, and my administrative duties wouldn't allow that. But by helping to run a health system, I have the opportunity to make a positive contribution beyond a single patient at a time.

What do you enjoy most about Philadelphia?

There is a lot to like. I've lived in the Northeast most of my life. New York City and Washington, D.C., aren't far away. I like the climate and geography. It's pretty — we have four real seasons. There's also a fair amount of diversity, both culturally and otherwise. I've raised four sons in Philadelphia. There are great educational opportunities, both in public and private schools.

If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems over night, which would it be?

There are obviously a lot of problems. If I had to pick, I would say to standardize credentialing for providers and standardize the metrics that determine how we're paid, rather than every payer saying here's what you have to do to be credentialed or here is the idiosyncratic way we want to be billed or paid. If the requirements could be streamlined and standardized, it would be easier for everyone and save a lot of money because all of that work requires a lot of infrastructure.

What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite? 

Fatherhood. Some of the skills I've learned as a parent are helpful in what I do now — like how to help folks work together, grow and develop. How to give them enough rope so they can come up with their own solutions but not so much as they hang themselves. This is how I approached being a father to four sons. They're nice kids — young adults now. I'm proud of the results so far.

How do you revitalize yourself? 

I exercise pretty regularly. I also like to read, especially history and biographies. I've gotten into cycling in this phase of my life. I have a sore knee so I can't run on the road anymore, but I can cycle, which allows me to travel and to see the world at a human rate of speed. It's also very important to me to stay involved in our kids' lives. One is married now and another is getting married, and one is in law school and another in medical school.

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

I have two, and both came from my dad, who died a while ago when he was too young. The first is the importance of giving an extra effort. This is what separates the good from the outstanding. He taught me this when I was in school and I think that it still applies today.

The other is if you're doing something, don't think nobody ever saw. Someone always sees. Not only does someone always see, but nowadays, someone always records it.

Another piece of advice I would offer others is don't write an email you're not prepared to see on the front page of The New York Times tomorrow.

What do you consider your greatest achievement at Temple University Hospital so far? 

I think we've done a good job in the past year of improving engagement of our medical staff and employees. Since I'm a physician, I think we've been able to bridge the connection between the hospital administration and medical staff. We've held focus groups as well as periodic town hall types of meetings, and our employee engagement scores have improved significantly — they're up 10 percentage points from a couple of years ago.

We also implemented Epic last August and we're going to survive that, I think. We haven't had any big catastrophes. The Epic team said it was one of the better go-lives that they've done. Now with the EMR we are starting to take advantage of new capabilities, such as data collection and analysis and process improvement.

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