The corner office: Dr. Rod Hochman of Providence Health & Services on preserving humility in leadership

When it comes to exceptional leadership, there are a few key ingredients. In healthcare, business savvy and administrative experience combined with clinical expertise lends people the capacity to lead with influence and intelligence. Rod Hochman, MD, president and CEO of Providence Health & Services, notes that humility is a fourth and indispensable leadership trait.

At the helm of the Renton, Wash.-based system since 2013, Dr. Hochman oversees a system of more than 76,000 employees and 3,500 Dr. Rod Hochmanphysicians serving communities across five states — Alaska, California, Oregon, Montana and Washington. The system includes 34 hospitals, roughly 475 physician clinics, 19 home health and hospice programs, 22 assisted living and long-term care facilities and 14 sites of supportive housing. Despite the large size of Providence Health & Services, Dr. Hochman emphasizes the importance of getting out of the office and being a familiar face to as many employees as possible.

A champion of innovation, Dr. Hochman continually encourages employees to think creatively and refine and optimize what they do on a daily basis. In 2014, Providence Health & Services rolled out a plan to invest $150 million over 5 to 7 years in innovative companies that aim to improve patient care. The health system's funds target mid-stage companies focused on online primary care access, care coordination and patient alignment, chronic disease management, clinician experience, data analytics or consumer health wellness. Dr. Hochman and his team also brought in former executives from Amazon to lead the venture fund and oversee digital innovation. He says their skill sets and backgrounds have energized the system to think differently.

Dr. Hochman has worked in the healthcare industry — both as a clinician and an administrator — for more than 30 years. Prior to his current role, Dr. Hochman was president and CEO of Swedish Health Services in Seattle when the system finalized an affiliation agreement with Providence. He previously held administrative positions with Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Healthcare, the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati and Guthrie Healthcare System in Sayre, Pa. His medical background is in rheumatology and internal medicine, and he has served as a clinical fellow in internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Dartmouth Medical School.

Here, Dr. Hochman took the time to answer Becker's Hospital Review's seven questions. 

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare? 

Dr. Rod Hochman: When I was 16, I entered a program called Doctors of Tomorrow in Suffolk on Long Island, where I grew up. I spent a summer with an orthopedic surgeon and that sealed my fate forever. I knew I was going into medical school after that. There was nothing else I wanted to do. After high school, I was accepted to a six-year medical program at Boston University. I never took the MCATs.

Thirty-six years after I graduated, I'm as enthusiastic about healthcare as I've ever been.

What do you enjoy most about Renton, Wash.? 

RH: I love the Puget Sound region because it's an area of innovation. If you think about the Seattle area and Puget Sound and the organizations here — like Amazon, Nordstrom, Starbucks, Costco and Expedia — they have all taken a bit of a different angle on their industries. It's incredible to live and work in that environment. The technological explosion occurred in Silicon Valley, but Puget Sound matches it in a lot of ways in terms of technology and digital services. It's wonderful living in an environment like that. It's also one of the most beautiful places in the U.S.

If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

RH: Most of us would start with the complexity of the payer system that we have to work with. I think, universally, it's a big frustration for all of us healthcare leaders to manage payer systems instead of patients and families. That's a big one for all of us. I would love to simplify that, because it gets in the way of what we do every day. Also, I would simplify the regulatory process. It's very complicated to understand. Healthcare is probably one of the most regulated industries in the country, which makes it hard for us to do the work we want to do for the patients and their families so we can do the best for them.

What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

RH: Outside of the C-suite, it's my ability to establish interpersonal relationships, work with people and understand how to get things done when you have to work with and for people. That's what I enjoy and what makes me a better leader. I spend a lot of time trying to understand what our people's issues are — we have nearly 77,000 people working with us — and spend time being sensitive to them. You're a much more valuable leader if you spend time out in the field, not just in the office.

More tangibly, I have been spending more time on our mission work. In Guatemala last year, we did a lot of work with the native population to help them improve their health and social status. It's incredibly rewarding and I think it means a lot to the people of Providence. Volunteer work is a big part of who we are.

How do you revitalize yourself? 

RH: I run as much as I can, usually in the morning. Exercise is a great way to clear your head and think about what you have to do. I try to make that part of my routine. My claim to fame as a runner is in 1995 I ran the Chicago marathon and qualified for the 100th anniversary running of the Boston marathon. My time in the Chicago marathon was 3:16, but I didn't run in the Boston marathon because I didn't have time. I think given the opportunity again, I might make time for that. 

What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly? 

RH: There are two: "Don't take yourself too seriously," and "It's not about you, it's about the organization." It's about staying humble and enjoying the people that you're working with. We have three words that our founders, the Sisters of Providence, used to build our health system: humility, charity and simplicity. Those are three really good words for a CEO to keep in mind. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement at Providence Health & Services so far?

RH: Bringing innovation to the forefront. We brought a whole team of folks from Amazon to join Providence, which has really energized our organization to think differently — talk about bringing a different culture into our own.

I stay optimistic about the future of healthcare. We enjoy coming to work every day and doing what we do. It's an exciting time to be in healthcare.  

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