'I look forward to the day my gender is no longer notable': UNC Health president on mentorship, health equity

UNC Health President Janet Hadar, MSN, has been working in healthcare for more than 30 years — 18 of which she has spent with the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based system. Here she discusses how the safety-net health system prioritizes team spirit, the importance of visibility in women's leadership and more.

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

Question: You are the first female president of UNC Hospitals. What advice do you have for other women who aspire to work in hospital leadership?
Janet Hadar: I think it's important to be vocal and visible and not be afraid to take some risks knowing that you'll fail at times. We all fail. View it as a temporary setback and spend more time thinking less about the failure and more about the next right move. I look forward to the day when my gender as a leader is no longer notable. I think the more vocal we are as leaders now, the sooner that day will come.

Q: What skills have you learned from nursing that have helped you as a leader?
JH: I gained tremendous perspective — witnessing trauma, the delivery of a horrific diagnosis and the suffering of others up close reminded me that I have to be thankful. I learned how to interact and develop relationships with individuals of all walks of life. I think I've learned to be an effective member of a team and possibly one of the most impactful has been learning that compassion can really be a catalyst for healing. I believe all these traits — perspective, relationships, teamwork and compassion — are necessary to address the unprecedented challenges our industry is facing.

Q: What is the most difficult thing you faced as a new president?
JH: COVID-19 is the most obvious answer. I stepped into leadership in October 2019. I was less than six months in this role before COVID-19 began to appear in our community. And despite being in the industry for many years, I don't believe any prior experience prepared me for the upheaval that COVID-19 created. There were so many details that needed to be attended to and so many questions to be answered. Our team at UNC is amazing. We established three goals very early on: We keep our patients safe, we keep our workers safe and despite the financial challenges, everyone stays employed. These three priorities really served as a framework for decisions that quickly needed to be made. And looking back now, I'm extremely proud to say that we've accomplished all right. 

Q: You have worked with your health system for 18 years; what is your favorite thing about UNC Health?
JH: Without question I enjoy and appreciate the culture here. We're a very mission-minded organization. And I know that may sound cliche, but we take great pride in serving all North Carolinians. We are a safety-net health system. We attract terrific talent here and and we're all about continuous improvement, and I can honestly say there's a real team spirit here that you can feel when you're walking in the clinical units down the hall, and it's really just wonderful to be a part of that. 

Q: What do you think helps build that team spirit? 
JH: It's about the mission. People who work here really get excited about being part of a large safety-net health system and do it successfully. It's not an easy accomplishment. I think people get really excited that we do provide a tremendous amount of uncompensated care and everyone is treated the same regardless of their racial background and ability to pay. The people who work here take great pride.

Q: What project are you working on with UNC Health that you're most excited about?
JH: The momentum around addressing health inequities is pretty exciting. UNC Health has intensified its efforts to provide health in a more equitable way. We're leveraging many of the relationships we made with community and faith organizations to overcome some of these gaps, and we're getting into communities that historically have been underserved. I believe community partnerships have been the most effective tools toward health equity, working with community leaders and organizations that individuals trust. Early, early last spring, we began to send out mobile COVID-19 testing units to bring care to certain communities. Then we pivoted when vaccines became available. We made sure that we staffed the mobile clinic with bilingual providers and made sure that all of our patient education materials were available in English and Spanish to ensure language wasn't a barrier. So really challenging work. But you know, this past year has really given us a lot of new tools for providing more equitable care.

Q: Looking back at your 30 years working in healthcare, what is your proudest accomplishment?
JH: I'm most proud of playing a small role in the successful careers of others. Mentorships have been incredibly satisfying. I look around locally and nationally and I smile widely when I see colleagues progressing in that career, and now serving in significant leadership roles that I played a very small part in. I think it's great to see our up-and-comers do that. I don't think I was as strategic and thoughtful early in my career.

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