How Dr. Tammy Lundstrom is working to solve Trinity Health's workforce shortages 

Tammy Lundstrom, MD, has always known she wanted to work in healthcare. Since joining Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health in April 2018 as senior vice president and chief medical officer, she has been able to continually meet two of her core professional goals: to help others and never stop learning.

Dr. Lundstrom sat down with Becker's Sept. 20 to discuss her accomplishments, the healthcare issue she would change overnight and goals for the future as the system navigates workforce challenges.

Question: What piqued your interest in healthcare?

Dr. Tammy Lundstrom: Since I was a little kid I was very, very interested in science. I wanted to have a career that would allow me to continually learn and grow. I also knew I wanted to be able to do something that would allow me to give back and help other people because that's where I get most of my satisfaction. So being a physician allowed me to do both and meet both of my goals. As an administrator working on quality and safety I can even touch more people by working on processes and quality improvement and safety than I could one on one as a physician. All of my goals continue to be met by healthcare; I still think it's the best career ever.

Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment thus far?

TL: Helping Trinity navigate all the ups and downs and challenges of the pandemic. I led our systemwide [response] that really helped us respond to all of the rapidly changing information, the supply chain shortages, providing safe care, rolling out the vaccine quickly including to our disadvantaged communities. So assembling that team that was really able to accomplish that huge chunk of work very quickly, with rapidly changing information would be how I'd answer it today.

Just [also] being a champion for quality and safety is very important to me. And whatever role I've been in in the various health systems I've always had responsibility in that area and makes me feel good when we can see our quality is improving.

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

TL: It would be the staffing challenges. The pandemic, like every other industry, [has] exacerbated some preexisting staffing challenges, early retirements, people leaving healthcare for various reasons. We're facing a shortage in almost every job category. We have to be able to solve that to support our communities in the way that our mission, vision and values call us to do so. 

Within Trinity Health, we're working as a team to develop new models of care, really actively working to address burnout through our colleague care program, taking the lead in many areas on developing our own internal training programs and career ladders. We really recruit and retain from within and also help people move from entry-level jobs to the next opportunity within Trinity because we're a large organization. We're trying to try to solve it, as [is] everybody else, but that is really the No. 1 challenge facing us today.

Q: What are your goals for the next six months as chief medical officer of Trinity? 

TL: We're trying to reduce unnecessary clinical variation that doesn't add value for the patient. That's a big part of my work, which I love working with all of our subject-matter experts across Trinity Health to address some of these issues. Continuing, as I noted on the workforce challenges, developing programs for the next generation of physician leaders. In my generation of physician leadership, we often kind of fell into things but it wasn't planned. So really planning development opportunities that will allow the next generation of physician leaders to step into leadership in a more determined way than I did. 

I'm also working with our medical groups; so many people deferred care during the pandemic and we've seen the result in the statistics with life expectancy. So really, ramping up to make sure we get back to the idea of not only providing sick care, but providing well care to keep people out of the hospital. We have a very large group of clinical experts that I get to work with and I'm very, very honored to be able to work with them.

Q: What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?

TL: One from my dad. When I was working in a very low-wage labor job, trying to save money for college and was was not treated very well by people above me, my dad told me just always remember how you've how you felt on this day, so that no matter how high you are, you never treat people below you with anything but the highest respect. So I think that has served me well. Somebody once told me, a wise boss of mine, know that as you travel up in leadership, you're going to make mistakes. But what you need to do is recognize them quickly, take ownership, own your issues, resolve them and don't make the same mistake twice.

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