Hospital healthcare is a 'team sport.' As a leader, are you on track for MVP?

Depending on who you ask, there are plenty of skills a great hospital leader needs in their toolbox to be successful. To be a leader others respect and look to in good times and bad, it helps to focus on the finish line, but also know your raison d'etre: "Patients always come first." 

In fact, without patients, where would hospitals be? Similarly, without high patient satisfaction scores, healthcare systems would be always trying to get ahead of bad reputation-busting online reviews — and, worse, poor Press Ganey results.

Becker's spoke with two executive leaders at Morristown, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System. Trish O'Keefe, PhD, RN, is the senior vice president and chief nurse executive at the health system. She also serves as president of the system's Morristown Medical Center.

Stephanie Schwartz is senior vice president of Atlantic Health and president of Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J.

Dr. O'Keefe said she learned her lessons from Day One, starting out as a bedside nurse and then working her way to a leadership position. She said leaders who fail to focus on patients' needs and expectations when setting strategic policies are also setting themselves up for a bumpy road ahead.

Ms. Schwartz agreed, adding that the easiest way to reach hospital leadership goals is through team collaboration with patients in mind.

Question: What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Trish O'Keefe: The patient always comes first. I do my best to keep the patient top-of-mind when making decisions — big or small. Starting out as a bedside nurse more than 40 years ago, that advice has stayed with me and very much reflects in my leadership style. It is the foundation of our culture at Morristown Medical Center.

I believe the ability to listen — to your patients and to your team members, clinical and nonclinical — is extremely important. Then, encourage active sharing of ideas and collaboration across the board. Healthcare is a team sport. It takes everyone's input, skills and abilities to provide extraordinary patient care.

Stephanie Schwartz: The guiding principle of the patient always at the center of every decision continues to be ever more true, especially as health care becomes both more data-driven and as the role of patients and caregivers has grown. 

I've also found the following to be extremely valuable advice: "If you get to the end of the race as a leader and you are by yourself, all you have accomplished is getting to the finish line. If instead, you pace and bring with you your team, when you get to the finish line, you have won."

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