Meet new Woman's Hospital CEO Dr. Barbara Griffith: 7 questions on strategy & leadership

Barbara Griffith, MD, is just over 90 days into her tenure as CEO of Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, La.

Dr. Griffith has 20 years of clinical experience as an emergency medicine physician and over 15 years of leadership experience. Most recently, she was CMO and chief of business operations at Durham, N.C.-based Duke Regional Hospital. Dr. Griffith also previously served as medical staff president of Duke Regional Hospital and CFO of its physician practice.

Becker's caught up with Dr. Griffith to discuss the transition into her new role at Woman's and her vision for the future.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for length and style.

Question: What are you most excited for in this role?

Dr. Barbara Griffith: I am so excited about the opportunity here to have impact. Woman's is one of the largest birthing centers in the nation. We deliver over 8,000 babies here annually — but it's so much more than that. We provide cutting-edge cancer treatment; we support extremely high-risk pregnancies; we have an 85-bed NICU that provides incredibly high-quality care for critically ill infants and premature babies. All that means we are very well-positioned to make a significant contribution, not just to the health of Louisianans, but also to be a national leader in improving health outcomes.  

Q: What attracted you to Woman's Hospital?

BG: Woman's has this unique mix of a specialized focus, yet high acuity of care and a tremendous breadth of services. That combination is not common, and that was a big part of what drew me here. The hospital is very well-poised for growth and strategic development, so I am thrilled to have this opportunity to lead in the next chapter of the story.

Q: What are your top areas of strategic focus?

BG: First, maintaining our role in servicing the needs of the community, the region and state, maintaining our brand strength and really continuing to be the hospital of choice for women and infants, is a top priority. In addition to that, we are going to be enhancing clinical services, so we can continue to meet the needs of the community and provide the absolute highest quality of care possible. Finally, I'd like to mention that we are embarking on further development of our programs to improve the health of the underserved. Some examples of that: We do mobile mammography coaches that support cancer detection in women in rural areas across the state; we have a phenomenal HIV program that supports moms with HIV and also prevents mother-to-infant transmission; and then finally, we have a groundbreaking program that supports moms who are addicted to opioids. It's been shown to have a huge impact on premature births.

Q: You've held many other C-level roles — CFO, CMO, chief of business operations — how will those experiences inform your approach to being a CEO?

BG: Each one of those roles helped me learn something that I bring to this role today; some of it is operational, some financial, but most of it is more relational. Specifically, understanding how to tap into the strengths of people. Every role in some way has taught me to value the individuals at my organization, and that means at every level and at every role. I'm hoping my focus on development and growth of the leaders and the caregivers at Woman's will strengthen where we are today and hopefully prepare us for successfully navigating the challenges that healthcare will bring us in the future.  

Q: In a statement about taking on this role, you said, "I am prepared to lead, but also to listen." Can you tell me more about your philosophy there and how you gather feedback from staff and patients?    

BG: Leadership requires a deep understanding of your organization. That means I have to listen and to learn. I've always found that once others recognize I'm willing to listen, the door opens, and then I have an accurate line of sight into both our successes and challenges. I need that knowledge to make good decisions and create strategy around how to help us grow.

It's about building trust. If you are a good listener and a good steward of the information that's shared, you use it in a way that's productive and promotes the well-being of others in the organization, that builds the trust needed such that others will share.

Q: Looking at the industry more broadly here, what's one thing you hope to see change in women's healthcare?

BG: We need to prioritize health outcomes in women and create more visibility around the challenges that we have across the country. The U.S. should have maternal death rates similar to other developed nations, yet we don't. There is a lot of work to be done to provide access and coordinated care, particularly for women in underserved areas. That work can make real differences in outcomes in women's health. The need to support that work really needs to be part of the conversation in all realms of healthcare, not just in women's organizations like mine.

Q: As a female leader, what do you recommend hospitals do to help promote women in their organizations?

BG: Coach your female leaders to mentor and grow other women. As someone who has been fortunate to have achieved high-level positions, I see it as my responsibility to serve as a role model to other women leaders to be continually supporting and encouraging others.

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