Take the vacation, says Children's National CEO

Michelle Riley-Brown is less than a year into her role as president and CEO of Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and she brings a passion for well-being and addressing today's healthcare challenges to the role.

Ms. Riley-Brown took the helm of Children's National in July 2023. She assumed the job of leading a team of more than 8,000 employees after serving as president of Texas Children's Hospital West Campus and Texas Children's Hospital The Woodlands, two locations in the Houston area. 

"The transition's been great," Ms. Riley-Brown told Becker's. "Since day one, this has felt like home for me. The organization has welcomed me with open arms. The community has been very gracious in welcoming me."

Since joining Children's National, she has prioritized listening and learning to understand the organization's strengths and challenges and needs of the community, she said.

"To me, I've taken the approach as the new CEO to take this time for this foundational work … Gaining that trust of the organization as the new president and CEO, but taking that time to look, listen and learn," said Ms. Riley-Brown.

Among her key areas of focus are people, engagement, recruitment and retention, and also process within the organization, strategic prioritization, and solidifying priorities and projects that will most benefit Children's National. She said she's also focused on technology and transforming information services to create an improved foundation for other work around data, analytics and artificial intelligence. Additionally, she said she's focused on improving access through a customer-focused lens. 

To focus best on all of these priorities, she believes in taking time to take care of her health and well-being. 

"To me, it's about more than traditional vacation. Rather, it's finding opportunities every week to rejuvenate and reconnect," she said. "So I must be intentional in finding mini-respite opportunities. It's during these moments that I find clarity, inspiration and the energy to lead effectively."

These mini-respite opportunities could be a walk, calling a family member or spending other time with family. She aims to take advantage of a mini-respite opportunity three or four times a week. 

She also aims to take one or two traditional vacations with family each year (she recently went to her hometown of New Orleans to visit family) and supports personal time off for her team.

"You have to, as a healthcare professional, rejuvenate and reinvigorate and recharge," she said. "As hard as it is to step away, when my team's on vacation, I encourage them to put their phones down, enjoy their vacations, and spend time with family. 

"And the team does a good job of covering each other so we can all have that personal time off and that time to get that balance. So I encourage it because I want them to be the best version of themselves so they can pour into the organization positively and be effective at their roles."

Ms. Riley-Brown is not the only healthcare executive who values time off to recharge.  Several leaders defended vacation time in response to a LinkedIn post last year from Sachin Jain, MD, now CEO of SCAN Group and SCAN Health Plan, about the time his vacation was interrupted by a phone call from his boss, who recommended he take shorter vacations in the future.

"I always think about how often no one notices when you're grinding away for a company or cause," Dr. Jain wrote. "Take your vacations. Don't be a martyr. Almost no one notices your martyrdom."

Across industries, a July 2023 survey from executive search firm Korn Ferry cited by The Wall Street Journal found more than half of executives said they planned to take a longer vacation that summer than in the past. But half of the nearly 300 professionals polled indicated they connect with work at least once a day while on vacation.

Ms. Riley-Brown views working in healthcare as a calling and privilege, as well as a challenging job, so "it's important to nurture people and passions outside of our work lives. They not only enrich our personal lives, but also enhance our professional endeavors, giving us the energy we need for the job we've been entrusted to do." 

She said when she goes on vacation and is intentional about time off, she comes back to her role recharged and able to connect in a positive way.

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