UVA Health's CEO on becoming the 'workplace of choice'

The University of Virginia board of visitors recently extended the contract of K. Craig Kent, MD, as executive vice president for health affairs and CEO for UVA Health through Jan. 31, 2030, which will take him up to 10 years at the helm of the system. 

Over the next few years, Dr. Kent told Becker's he is excited to continue to implement the health system's 10-year strategic plan, which, among other things, aims to transform UVA Health into "the nation's leading public academic health system and best place to work."

"Staffing continues to be our number one priority. We have a very ambitious strategic plan, which includes substantial growth of our clinical, research and educational enterprises," Dr. Kent said. "When you grow, it takes more people. And if you don't have the people, you can't grow. In some ways it's fundamental to the work we already do, but it's equally fundamental to our ability to grow."

A key component of the strategic plan is to create a culture that people want to be a part of — one of the most fundamental improvements a health system can make, according to Dr. Kent. 

"We outlined in our strategic plan that we want UVA to be the 'workplace of choice,'" he said. "A lot of that is culture, and the feeling that you're appreciated, making sure compensation is appropriate, and that the right teams and leaders are put in place."

The system is already seeing positive results as it revamps its culture and strives to become the "workplace of choice."

UVA has reduced its nursing turnover rate to about 12%, which is not too far away from where it was pre-pandemic, according to Dr. Kent. That 12% figure is also far better than the national average, which stands at around 22.5%, according to data from NSI Nursing Solutions.

"That doesn't necessarily mean that we're knocking it out of the park in terms of recruiting nurses. But once we do recruit nurses, they stay," Dr. Kent said. "Some of our culture work has been pivotal there."

UVA has also invested heavily in its physician culture, creating an environment in which it surrounds providers with the tools and resources they need to be successful and provide the highest quality care. 

"The turnover rate for our physicians is certainly among the lowest in the country," Dr. Kent said. "We've done very well there."

UVA's "Less is More" initiative, led by Juliana Bueno, MD, seeks to improve faculty wellness by reducing administrative burdens, allowing physicians to focus on their core missions of serving patients and students, and pursuing research. 

"Hospitals and health systems ask their physicians to take care of patients, but also ask them to take care of 100 other things," Dr. Kent said. "The question is are all of those other things absolutely necessary. When you roll up your sleeves and take a deep dive, you realize that many of those things are not necessary. So, in a very methodical way, we are working through the daily life of a physician and questioning everything they are asked to do outside of patient care."

One area of focus from the Less is More initiative is clinical case-based learnings, which can become a burden on physicians trying to balance their clinical work with teaching, research, administrative or community commitments as part of an academic medical setting.

"Every year, our physicians take dozens of hours of CBLs, so we're working to reduce that by 50% or 60% so our physicians can have more time back in their day to spend it with their families, patients or do whatever they'd like," he said. "We've an incredible focus on culture to make sure we become the workplace of choice."

The early reception from physicians has been extremely positive, according to Dr. Kent. 

"The first message we wanted to get across is that leadership cares," he said. "I'm a physician, and I've been at every level at the organization. "I think there is an appreciation that anything that can be done to help, we are trying and are supporting them, and that message has really gone a long way in supporting our physicians."

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