Frenemies' prevalence in healthcare

"Frenemies" are more than a middle school menace. When friends are also competitors, how can healthcare leaders navigate their relationships with a level head? 

A March 16 LinkedIn post from Sachin Jain, MD, president and CEO of SCAN Group and SCAN Health Plan, sparked a discussion of the topic among healthcare executives. Dr. Jain said the question came to mind after he counseled a friend on frenemy relationships in her life: "We all have them," he wrote. 

Dr. Jain defines frenemies as, quote, "friends" who also see themselves as competitors. They keep up with their industry colleagues' successes but "revel quietly in our missteps and failures," he said. 

Gossip and jealousy also mark a frenemy's sinister motivations, Dr. Jain said. However, they can be hard to identify and distance oneself from. Nostalgia from the past state of a friendship can keep a friend-turned-frenemy in orbit, or they might run in a similar circle that is impossible to cut ties with. 

"As with everything, what's most important is that we are unconfused and see others *clearly* as we navigate our interactions with them," Dr. Jain said. 

The post has 123 reactions and 38 comments, many from leaders in the healthcare industry. Amaka Eneanya, MD, chief transformation officer at Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare, called Dr. Jain's post "spot on." 

"Just as we prune plants to allow for robust growth, we need to constantly prune our networks for personal and professional growth," Dr. Eneanya wrote. "There doesn't always need to be direct confrontation. Often times it's enforcing healthy boundaries and accepting newfound physical and emotional distance."

Sonia Nagda Ashok, MD — a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy consultant at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford University School of Medicine, and founder and CEO of Connective Coalition, a career and leadership coaching company — wrote that frenemy behavior is rooted in "jealousy and narcissism." When interacting with a frenemy in her own life, Dr. Ashok began asking herself if she, too, would benefit from their interactions; when she realized the relationship had nothing to offer her, she began to distance herself. 

Adam Schilling, vice president of sales at Medical Review Institute of America, suggested that competition helps develop healthcare frenemies, and also recommended boundary-setting. 

"I've found that working for competing companies can strain friendships with former colleagues," Mr. Schilling wrote. "To preserve these relationships, it's crucial to have an open conversation about setting clear boundaries, particularly by mutually agreeing to refrain from discussing work matters." 

One executive — Soujanya Pulluru, MD, former chief clinical officer at Walmart — offered a simple piece of advice to industry peers. 

"Fail fast … keep them at arm's length," Dr. Pulluru wrote. "And keep your eyes wide open."

Read Dr. Jain's full post and the ensuing conversation here

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