Becker's Clinical Leadership Virtual Event: 5 Qs with Dr. Ernest Wang, chief of emergency medicine at NorthShore University HealthSystem

As part of an ongoing series, Becker's is talking to healthcare leaders who plan to speak at the first Becker's Healthcare Clinical Leadership Virtual Event Sept. 9-10.

Ernest Wang, MD, chief of the emergency medicine division and dean for medical education at Evanston, Ill.-based NorthShore University HealthSystem, will serve on the panel, "The Best Things Leaders Do To Foster Respect, Collegiality on High-Performing Medical Teams."

To learn more about the conference and Dr. Wang's session, click here.

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

Question: What clinical initiative is taking up the most of your time and attention right now?

Dr. Ernest Wang: Post-COVID-19 recovery. Emergency department volumes are not back to normal. We're planning for a potential recurrence of COVID-19 this winter. We're figuring out how to balance COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 operations, while trying to maintain throughput. There are also the added complexities of new COVID-19 workflows and the limitations of COVID-19 testing. We're also trying to keep morale high and maintain vigilance and ability to focus if conditions change.

Q: What is your biggest patient care concern amid the pandemic, and how are you working to address it?

EW: Balancing COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients in the ED. We're trying to keep non-COVID-19 patients and staff from being exposed to the virus. We have developed a triage mechanism to separate patients with influenza-like illnesses from those who present with other complaints. We segregate them in a separate designated waiting area. The staff and patients are all required to mask. Staff follows full personal protective equipment precautions. We have COVID-19 workflows for managing critical patients to prevent and mitigate aerosol-generating procedures. We have protocols for room turnover to allow for cleaning and a safe return to use after a COVID-19 patient has been in the room. NorthShore has gone to great lengths to enhance many of our ED rooms with negative airflow capacity. In one of our EDs, the entire facility is a big negative airflow environment. Finally, we have, as an organization, instituted mandatory temperature screening and COVID-19 symptom screening for all patients and visitors (as well as having a limited visitor policy) so that we can more safely screen our patients and families.

Q: What's one lesson you learned early in your career that has helped you lead in healthcare?

EW: In general, assume that everyone is a good person who means well, is trying to do their best and is a patient advocate. If you start with those assumptions, you can quickly align organizational and individual goals and help everyone do their best work. It provides a basis for having empathy, understanding and compassion toward colleagues to help them overcome obstacles and difficulties, and removes barriers to doing the right thing. It also helps you connect with the individuals on your team. In return, you will likely establish trust and a shared vision about the best way forward in each situation.

Q: What's the most important way clinical leaders can support their team's well-being and resilience during the pandemic?

EW: Establish trust with your teams so that everyone feels that you, as the leader, are supporting them unquestionably. This is done mostly with action, not words. For me, it means leading from the front, from within and from behind. My colleagues need to know that I'm working hard on my own well-being and resilience so that they can also take those cues. They need to know they can come to me with concerns, and that I will listen and respond. Listening with intent, responding with actions that show you're always trying to ensure the well-being of the staff will help their morale. In this pandemic, I've anointed myself as a different kind of CMO – the "Chief Morale Officer" – and, given my own skills, this orientation is how I have determined I can be most effective.

Q: Where are the biggest opportunities for patient safety or quality improvements in 2020 and beyond?

EW: Changing the culture of medicine. Medicine has become very transactional between hospital administration and healthcare providers, and between healthcare providers and patients. Patient safety and quality are built on healthcare providers having the time, the permission, the physical resilience and the resources to take extra time to do what is needed in every patient's best interest. Healthcare administrators who focus on supporting healthcare providers is the primary way to achieve better results in patient safety, quality and experience. Show me a well-cared for physician, nurse, advanced practice professional or staff member, and I’ll show you a well-cared for patient.

More articles on clinical leadership and infection control:

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Ochsner pressured 8 COVID-19 patients to accept hospice care, families say

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