4 clinical chiefs: This is what a high-performing medical team looks like

The COVID-19 pandemic has put unprecedented pressures on the resources and safety of the country's medical teams. Stories of immense challenges have been juxtaposed with stories of bravery, hope and camaraderie among front-line medical workers. 

For leaders of those workers, maintaining a highly engaged team has never been as challenging or rewarding as it is now. Hospital executives discussed this topic and more during a session on best practices for leading high-performing medical teams at the Becker's Clinical Leadership Virtual Event Sept. 9. The panel included: 

  • Sean Tedjarati, MD, chief clinical integration officer for Westchester Medical Center Health Network in Valhalla, N.Y., and chairman and clinical professor/director of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at New York Medical College in Valhalla and WMC Health Network 
  • Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, chief clinical transformation officer at the University Hospitals Health System in Cleveland
  • Mary Van de Kamp, chief clinical officer and senior vice president of administration at Louisville, Ky.-based Kindred Healthcare 
  • Ernest Wang, MD, chief of emergency medicine and assistant dean for medical education at the NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., and clinical professor of emergency medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine

Here is an excerpt from the conversation, lightly edited for clarity. To view the full session on demand, click here

Question: In your own words, how would you define a high-performing medical team? 

Mary Van de Kamp: One quality emanates from the highest-acting teams: trust. Trust between co-workers is needed to perform at one's highest level. And trust is an incredibly fragile expectation, because if it's broken at any time, teams struggle with building it back. Amazing teams come together with a full appreciation that their teammate is going to do what they're expected to do.

Dr. Ernest Wang: I would agree with that. A high-performing medical team is what keeps me afloat. I can't do my job without them. Every high-performing team has the three Hs: head, heart and hands. They have the clinical skills, the knowledge to take care of the situation and the attitude to go with it.

Dr. Peter Pronovost: Like Dr. Wang said, effective teams are critical. If I asked clinicians when they hummed as a team, it's often in the face of adversity. It's during a blizzard when you don't get to go home, or when a crisis comes in. It's not about resources. Teams that are effective spend enormous amounts of time reflecting on how they work together so that they are an expert team, not a team of experts. They align around a common purpose, and COVID-19 did that with laser focus.

Dr. Sean Tedjarati: Like Mary said, you build trust a drop at a time and you lose it a bucket at a time. In addition to that, when I think about teams, I think about culture. Culture pervades everything in a team. A shared mission needs to be beyond oneself. Ideas that are offered up should belong to the group, not an individual. Without culture, you don't have a team. The best feedback I get from staff is, "I feel like I'm doing something bigger than myself."

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