'Serve with integrity:' Dr. Bruce Hall on leading BJC Healthcare

Bruce Hall, MD, took over as chief medical officer for St. Louis-based BJC Healthcare in November 2021. Since assuming the role, he has led the system through the pandemic with one of his core values: integrity. 

Dr. Hall sat down with Becker's Sept. 23 to discuss his roots, accomplishments and goals for BJC and the healthcare industry.

Question: What piqued your interest in healthcare?

Dr. Bruce Hall: My interest in healthcare probably started with a couple of very inspirational biology teachers in middle school and high school. But then from there, I think over time, I started to feel like I wanted a profession that combiÅned an intellectual and mental aspect and challenge to combine with a physical or technical aspect and then serving people. I just wanted to be with people and serve people. And so that combination of things led me into medicine and specifically into surgery, which is my clinical specialty.

Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment thus far? Whether it be in your career in general or at BJC?

BH: We always have to start by saying the fact that I have two amazing teenagers and a loving family. That's always the most important accomplishment, right? 

I would say that professionally, there are probably two things. One has been here at BJC and one has been outside of BJC. So starting outside of BJC, I had the privilege of being on a team for the American College of Surgeons, which is our professional organization out of Chicago. I had the privilege of being on a team for the American College that built a program called the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program over the last 20 plus years. That's a program that has measured and helped to improve quality in the surgical profession and also just changed the culture in our professional surgery toward quality improvement. So I've had the privilege of serving as a leader in that program for 20 plus years and that's really, that's the first thing that comes to mind. 

And the next thing that comes to mind is here at BJC. I've been here at BJC and WashU for 20 plus years as well. We've really built an entire community around the obligation of really being good stewards of resources on behalf of our communities and on behalf of our patients. We've built that effort over the last 10 years or so. And I think we have really created an ethic of being thoughtful about resources on behalf of the communities we serve, and I'm really proud of that as well.

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

BH: That's a very difficult question. And so, as I thought about that, I would choose to eliminate fragmentation, or a lack of coordination, across our industry. And so to expand on that, I think really often we have a pretty good idea of what care we're trying to deliver. But what we haven't solved is all the disconnects that exist in terms of communicating with patients, with families, communicating across clinical providers and then coordinating care across different specialties and across different geographies and over time. So it's all that fragmentation I think that keeps us from really being as efficient and as good at caring for people as we really could be. I think that's on us as a profession to really collaborate better, communicate better and really coordinate more effectively across ourselves. 

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

BH: I'll preface by saying the story here for BJC and WashU is not really a story about me. We have an amazing group of CMOs across our system already, and they will continue to be a powerful force for change, as well as all of our clinicians. I would really like to drive more standardization and protocol development where it makes sense because that really leads to better safety, better resource utilization, better experience and better care quality. I would really like to drive better resource stewardship. Again, because I think this also has a big impact on our environment. And our environment has a big impact on the underprivileged and under-resourced communities that we serve. So resource stewardship continues to be a highlight. 

Then, really again going back to that notion of fragmentation, I would really hope that in the next six and 12 months, we can really continue to improve collaboration and coordination across our system. And we have to do that because we're facing huge financial challenges. We're facing huge workforce challenges, in [the] nursing and physician realms. And we've really got to do that strengthening of our core in order to face the challenges that are coming at us and in order to design new models of care. 

So to summarize, standardization and protocols where we can, resource stewardship, doubling down on that, and then collaboration and coordination across everything we do.

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

BH: So I don't know if anyone actually ever sort of sat me down and said this to me, or whether it's something that it just internalized in my mind over time. And it's certainly not a simple concept because it kind of reaches out in a variety of different ways, but I think it would be the guidance: just to act with integrity. There's an old saying, 'Say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you say you’re going to do,' and that's one version of integrity that I think is important. But integrity to me also means respecting people, committing to be a rational thinker and to being thoughtful, doing your homework, staying grounded, being kind to people. That's all integrity to me. And so, you know, if I only had one phrase, I would say serve with integrity.

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