ACHE16: Healthcare leadership has its challenges but there is hope for the future


I'm still sorting through my notes from all the sessions I attended this week at the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress in Chicago. But as I reflect back on what I learned, what most impressed me was the message of optimism. Despite what many describe as the most challenging times they have ever faced in healthcare, the mood--at least from my perspective--was hopeful.

Certainly there is hope for those senior leaders over the age of 60 who still have passion, drive and want to make a difference. Indeed, the career path of Michael H, Covert, who became president and CEO of CHI St. Luke's Health in Houston when he was 65, is a sign that the industry is starting to value older, more experienced leaders. In fact, he says "Sixty-five is the new 45."

"Senior executive movement is really taking on a life of its own," he told attendees who came to his session on how senior execs can successfully navigate the transition to a new organization. "In the 70s, if you were a senior leader you would have been retiring and maybe you did interim work. That's what was available. The hospitals wanted up and coming leaders. What I'm seeing today is something different ... There is great hope and opportunity."

The challenges facing the industry mean that hospital and health system boards need experienced leaders. Although organizations still seek those in their 40s who are at the mid-point of their careers, Covert says many don't want to hire someone who they think will leave five years later for a bigger and better opportunity. They want someone with staying power.

However, if you are one of those older executives, beware that the CEO search committee will make a determination about your longevity based on how you present yourself, says Michael J. Corey, partner, Phillips DiPisa & Associates. You may be a young 63 but if you present yourself as tired and retreading your answers and experiences, it won't lead to a job offer.

"They are looking for energy in thoughtfulness and how you present," he says. "They are looking at you from a  different prism ... And if you say you will work another five years, what they hear is three."

There are still barriers to diversity, however. Although the industry has made some progress in expanding the pool of applicants beyond white men, there is much more work that needs to be done. And the conversation can't be limited to race and gender. Especially when you consider that members of the C-suite may not represent the population your organization serves.

But still there is hope--and action taking place. During two sessions that I attended on leadership diversity, there were calls to organizations to take action to eliminate healthcare disparities. Leaders must redouble their efforts to accelerate diversity to ensure that all patients in every community receive equitable care. And here is how you can start:

#123for Equity, a group of healthcare leaders and industry trade groups that want to eliminate healthcare disparities and improve care quality, urges leaders to pledge to act and take three steps:

  • Take the pledge to achieve the call to action within the next 12 months.
  • Take action and implement strategies that are reflected in your strategic plan and supported by your board and leadership.
  • Tell others about your achievements and share what you've learned in conference calls, educational opportunities and social media.

For inspiration, Vernice "FlyGirl" Armour, chief breakthrough officer at VAI Consulting and Training LLC--and America's first African-American female combat pilot--told attendees to remember that they have one mission, one goal and one team. And at the end of the day that goal is improving patient care and saving lives.

"There will always be obstacles. Acknowledge them but don't give them power. How you engage and overcome those obstacles is up to you," she says.

Michael Leavitt, former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, left attendees with a similar message of hope, urging them to find their own Olympic torch, a flame that symbolizes what we aspire to be, to overcome barriers and obstacles. "There are only three ways you can deal with it," he says. "You can fight it and die, you can accept it and have a chance or you can lead it and prosper." Ilene (@FierceHealth)