How a Michigan chief medical officer improved clinician opinions of leadership from 16% to 25% in 1 year

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals were in an all-hands-on-deck mode 24/7. Physicians focused on patients, and there was little to no time for anything else.

As pressures began to lift slightly in the spring of 2021, J. Summer Liston-Crandall, MD, chief medical officer at Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall, Mich., discovered her "colleagues were clamoring for physician representation at the leadership table," she told Becker's.

As the newly appointed CMO, Dr. Liston-Crandall sprung into action, creating a plan to improve provider engagement and their views on hospital leadership.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Question: Tell me about an initiative you have championed that you believe has made a real difference at your hospital?

Dr. Liston-Crandall: When I came here in May 2021, the position had been vacant for more than six months while the pandemic raged on. My provider colleagues were clamoring for physician representation at the leadership table.  

To build their engagement, I instituted twice-monthly emails called "CMO Updates," once-monthly virtual CMO rounds and once-monthly provider get-togethers at a local restaurant with outdoor seating.  

We received our provider engagement survey results last month, in which the perception of "administration is excellent" increased to 25.2 percent up from 16.4 percent in 2021. I believe this increase was driven primarily by our responsiveness to providers' concerns or complaints.

Q: How can CMOs best divide their time between administrative burdens and time with patients?

JSLD: Combining patient care with administrative work offers both challenges and rewards. It allows me to maintain the connections with my patients and my clinical teammates. It also gives legitimacy to me in my administrative role, because I truly experience the same struggles and demands in my clinical practice that my colleagues do. 

At the same time, I constantly feel I should spend more time in each role. I have learned to limit my clinical involvement during my administration time by relying on my nurse practitioner teammate. I also sign out of my email during my clinical time to limit distractions. 

Having a set schedule weekly in which my mornings (when most meetings occur) are administrative and my afternoons are clinical is helpful, too.

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