Exiting health system CEO details a future-ready workforce

Tommy Ibrahim, MD, who is stepping down as president and CEO of Cooperstown, N.Y.-based Bassett Healthcare Network by the year's end, spoke on Sanford Health's podcast about bolstering the future rural healthcare workforce. 

Successful workforce models in hospitals need to be more flexible to re-engage employees, Dr. Ibrahim said on the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health's podcast, "Reimagining Rural Health."

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and grammar

Question: What are the top three opportunities you see when it comes to building a stronger rural healthcare workforce?

Dr. Tommy Ibrahim: You know, I think first and foremost, we really need to take a heart-in approach and listen to our people. There's a lot of change and dynamic sort of paradigm shifts that are happening now in the industry. I would even argue that there are some permanent shifts happening around workforce and our ability to sustain. Successful workforce models in the future are going to be contingent on how we could reengage our workforce and our people.

Our people know exactly what they're looking for. They know what they want. They know what works, what doesn't work. And I think as leaders, it really is incumbent on us to be there to listen empathetically and to begin to customize solutions that meet their needs first and foremost.

Q: Where have we made progress when it comes to healthcare workforce issues? Where does work remain? How will this shape strategy and policy moving forward?

TI: I think we've seen a lot of momentum catalyzed throughout and after the pandemic. I just sort of reflect on virtual care, for example. I remember having conversations with my medical staff just prior to the pandemic about how impossible virtual care models were going to be implemented. In the height of the pandemic and the initial surges, we saw a 10,000% increase in the number of virtual visits that manifested across the organization. 

That essentially happened all overnight. So the initial impossibilities became truly magnified potential that we now continue to enjoy across the entire spectrum of the healthcare industry. Obviously those levels have not been sustained, but we're certainly doing much better today than we were prior to the pandemic.

Q: If you could share one piece of advice with a new clinician or physician entering the workforce today, what would that be?

TI: You know, I think it's really important and sort of maybe a really obvious thing to say, but the consumer and the patient is going to be absolutely essential. I still believe that we are in a provider-centric healthcare system, and I think we need to rapidly shift the focus to the consumer to meet the desires, the needs, the wants of our patients to put team-based care around our patients and to support all of their care needs holistically.

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