Living like a leader: A day with Yale New Haven Health's Northeast Medical Group CEO Dr. Prathibha Varkey


Varkey photo feb 2017.jpg"I prefer to be at the practices where I believe the magic happens instead of in meeting rooms."

 Between driving growth, meeting clinical objectives and navigating complex payer dynamics, there don't seem to be enough hours in the day for healthcare executives.

Leaders succeed despite these challenges, each with their own habits, hacks, styles and methods — and Prathibha Varkey, MBBS, MPH, MHPE, MBA, CEO of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health’s Northeast Medical Group, is no exception. 

In her role as CEO, Dr. Varkey oversees the medical group, which has more than 2,000 staff members, including 1,000 clinicians who serve five hospitals and 120 outpatient sites. The sites are located across Connecticut, southern New York and Rhode Island. Dr. Varkey assumed her role in May 2016.

Dr. Varkey also serves as a professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and a professor of health policy and management at the Yale School of Public Health.

Prior to joining Yale New Haven Health, Dr. Varkey worked at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in several leadership roles including associate chair of the department of medicine, program director of the preventive medicine fellowship and medical director of a value-based center. 

Dr. Varkey recently spoke with Becker's Hospital Review for our "Living like a leader" series, which examines influential decision-makers' daily routines to offer readers an idea of how they manage their energy, teams and time.

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

Question: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

Dr. Prathibha Varkey: I look at my phone and scroll through updates. Within an hour of waking up, I will check my email and respond to inquiries or emails that came in throughout the night. I make a point to respond to each email, I want to always be respectful of those asking questions or working to solve an issue. I'm also a big planner – I will always look at my work and personal calendar to prioritize my day, the week ahead and readjust if necessary. 

Q: What is the first thing you do when you arrive at work?

PV: I meet with my administrative assistant to plan and look at my calendar. She helps me move meetings around as needed. Then I will stop by and visit team members to get a pulse on what's going on for the day and ensure nothing needs my immediate attention.

Q: Is there anything that makes your office set-up unique?

PV: I am a very visual person, so I have a large whiteboard in my office that is used for problem solving, mapping out ideas and writing down solutions. Additionally, I have enough space in my office for my team to sit and brainstorm with me. I also have windows that look to the outside greenery and light, which always brightens the day.

Q: Do you have a before lunch or after lunch routine? 

PV: I don't have a specific routine because I am in meetings so often. I like to visit at least one or two physician practices every week to make sure I am present at patient care sites, talking to patients, physicians and staff. Traveling to the sites helps me understand what the local issues are and allows me to solve problems much faster. It also gives me a big picture view of what's going on across the medical group, which has 120 sites in three states.

Q: While you are visiting the facilities, are you performing rounds?

PV: Yes. I start at the reception desk and I work my way through the facility ending with talking with physicians. I try to meet with almost every single person who is there, whether it's the patients, leadership, physicians, nurses or other staff.  

Q: How much time do you spend with your direct reports?

PV: In May I celebrated the start of my fourth year with Yale New Haven Health. The first 2.5 years I was meeting with each direct report once a week for an hour. During those meetings I was not only helping them problem solve, but I also spent time coaching them. Now I meet with them one-on-one every two weeks. I also have team meetings each week with all of them.

Q: How does your routine differ from that of other healthcare executives?

PV: I prefer to be at the practices where I believe the magic happens instead of in meeting rooms. Also, because I am a professor, I'm actively involved in academia. My third textbook is in the process of being completed and I enjoy mentoring future leaders. I love meeting with students and inspiring them, but also getting inspired by them. I also participate in several academic conferences and meetings both nationally and locally.

Q: What is the hardest part of your day?

PV: The hardest part is driving between the different practices, because driving can be physically exhausting.  However, I wouldn't trade it because it's also the most rewarding part of my day.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your day?

PV: Meeting with my physicians, clinicians and staff, and being where the patients are. That's the most rewarding part of the day, no question. Another rewarding aspect is when we solve a problem.

Q: What's the last thing you do before you leave your office?

PV: I answer as many emails as possible, file any reports and clean up my desk. Then I spend a few minutes planning for the next day.

Q: Do you do work at home? Why or why not?

PV: I usually just check my emails and make sure everything is responded to, and if there are problems to solve, I do that.

As leaders we are all trying to make a difference and inspire others to do the best they can. Taking care of ourselves then becomes very critical. I believe a well-rounded person who spends time in the community, who volunteers, and takes time to unwind, makes a better leader. Taking time for yourself allows you get ideas, get inspired and be relaxed enough to think critically.

Q: How do you unwind?

PV: When I'm at work, it's intense and I'm "on" 100 percent of the time. When I come home, I spend time either relaxing with friends and family, watching movies or exercising. I try to get in three to four hours of exercise each week. On the weekend some typical activities to unwind for me are hiking, listening to music, cooking, catching up with friends and family and focusing on wellness.


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