Corner Office: The childhood experience that led Dr. Jim Shmerling to become Connecticut Children's CEO

If not for an eye injury Jim Shmerling, DHA, suffered as a child —serious enough to send him to the hospital — his career could have veered in a different direction. Instead, the experience sparked his passion and guides his leadership today.

Dr. Shmerling has served as president and CEO of Hartford-based Connecticut Children's Medical Center since 2015. Before that, he was CEO of Aurora-based Children's Hospital Colorado. He also previously held roles at facilities including Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., and Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn.

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

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

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

Jim Shmerling: I was a patient at Vanderbilt University hospital as a child with an eye injury. I vividly remember being a kid in an adult hospital. That experience really changed me and inspired me to find a career where I could impact and influence how children were treated in healthcare. I knew early on that I wanted to help children and make a difference in as many lives as possible. I debated being a teacher or pediatrician, but I really wanted to have more of a global impact on their health. At the age of 19, I started to put in the work to become a pediatric healthcare administrator. My first job in the field was an OR technician. I trained on the job and learned how to assist in surgery. Being in the operating room confirmed my decision to work in the healthcare profession but that management would be a better fit for me.  

Q: What do you enjoy most about Connecticut?

JS: The people and communities in Connecticut are exceptional. I think this state is much more progressive than some of the other states in the country, particularly around social issues. I think it's more conducive to enhancing and celebrating diversity when you have policies [in] both the public and private sectors that put diversity, equity and inclusion efforts front and center. It makes this state a wonderful place to live.

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

JS: There are so many things that come top of mind, especially with mental health concerns impacting so many of our children. But I think the payment system is where I would start. The system as it currently stands disincentivizes preventive and proactive interventions but rather rewards costly treatments and therapies that are needed after someone is ill or injured. We don't invest proactively enough in the social determinants that are the main drivers of health. I would change where and how our health dollars are spent. 

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

JS: Is there life outside of the C-suite? This is where I feel I can change lives and make a difference. I think I'm pretty good with children, particularly my own grandkids. They call me Popsicle and I love it! 

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

JS: I like to exercise. My favorites include high-intensity interval training programs coupled with my Peloton bike. I try to get that in every day. In addition, I love visiting my children and grandchildren. They really help to keep everything in perspective for me. I have nine grandchildren in three states, and four kids in four states. It allows me to travel and create memories. I'm recharged every time I see them.

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

JS: It's not what you say to people, it's how you make them feel. 

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Connecticut Children's so far?

JS: Great achievements are accomplished with a team. I happen to know I have one of the best teams in the industry. Connecticut Children's team members are passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of as many children and families as possible. Together we have improved access for children to our experts and broadened our footprint, so more children have access to our care and community health outreach. The number of licensed beds and size of the hospital isn't as important as the number of lives we touch. It's the single greatest achievement an organization can make. 


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