'Embrace reality' and other words of wisdom from Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling

Life in healthcare depends on perspective. You can take a negative approach and see all the challenges in front of you. Or, you can look at things differently and see plenty of opportunities, Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y., told Becker's when asked about the importance of optimism and his thoughts about the future of healthcare.

Editor's note: This response was edited for clarity and brevity.

Michael Dowling: I often get asked by staff about the major challenges we have going forward, and my answer is that we do not have any challenges. We have opportunities, which is a different way of looking at it. If you look at it through the lens of challenges, you are looking at it pessimistically. If you look at challenges as opportunities, then you are being optimistic. It reminds me of when I was on 60 Minutes during COVID and was asked about the future. I said that we were going to beat COVID and that there was no retreat.

These days, very little about healthcare is easy, and progress is hardly moving in a straight line. New policies can intensify political partisanship. Innovations can solve problems while causing new complications. Even diseases that we all but eliminated as a nation have returned.

Healthcare takes steps forward, backward and sideways. As a leader, you must embrace the reality today and help people see that while backward and sideways steps occur, healthcare is still moving forward in its collective dance. 

Keep your head up, look forward. You have the ability to do something special. You have influence. You can inspire. You can go to work today and either inspire people or deflate people. If you don't get anything wrong, you'll never get anything right. Manage toughness today and have optimism for tomorrow. 

When you get up in the morning, ask yourself, "How can I make a bigger difference today than yesterday?"

Come to work every day to improve people's lives and the health of the community at large. You have a wonderful and unique opportunity to make a difference in people's lives every day.

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