5 Pieces of Advice for Young Healthcare Executives: An HCE Original Report

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healthcareix-itunes-artworkRecently, HCE asked five veteran healthcare executives the following question: “What advice would you give to young healthcare executives?”

This is what they had to say:


  1. Functional skills are not necessarily leadership skills.

Darrin Montalvo serves as president of integrated services for St. Joseph Health. He first entered healthcare administration 18 years ago in 1996 as chief financial officer at St. Jude Medical Center, a $500-million acute-care hospital in Fullerton, Calif.

Prior to becoming an executive, Montalvo said he had worked hard to hone his functional expertise. After all, he was being evaluated on his abilities–how well he understood balance sheets, the quality of his analytical skills, his talent for creating return on investment, etc.

“What I learned quickly was that my functional skills were no longer the skills required to sit in a leadership position, but rather it was all about strategy, team building, culture, decision-making, dealing with people, [and] governance. So the skill sets I had that brought me to leadership were no longer the skill sets that I was asked to bring to the organization.”

Instead, he learned early on that he had to connect all of the dots.

“By that I mean, when engaged in all these conversations with other leaders or with a board or other organizations, I had to make sure I knew what all the information pieces were before I really started to engage in a direction.”

  1. Be intimately familiar with federal and state regulations.

As a leader within the rural and Native-American healthcare communities, Ahmad R. Razaghi, president and chief executive officer of Razaghi Healthcare, is reminded of the numerous intricacies of regulatory demands on a daily basis, since he often has to negotiate the competing interests of two separate entities: tribal governments and the United States federal government.

“Over the many years that I have functioned in an executive capacity in the healthcare industry, I have learned that the single most valuable tool you can have is an intimate knowledge of the immense regulatory risks associated with the business you are running,” Razaghi said. “One small oversight could place your entire facility at risk for loss of license and closure.”

Razaghi advises young healthcare executives to keep themselves “updated on the newest trends in the industry, especially those that would be most applicable to the size and nature of the facility you lead.”

  1. Be intimately familiar with the financial side of your hospital’s operations.

Craig B. Garner served as chief executive officer of Coast Plaza Hospital, a general acute-care hospital in the Southeast Los Angeles county of Norwalk, from 2002 until 2011. He also pursued another career as an attorney and healthcare consultant and now heads the Garner Health Law Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif.

Garner focuses on short- and long-term services to healthcare institutions struggling to manage the ever-changing U.S. healthcare system.

“The role of the hospital CEO is now such a multifaceted position,” he said, “where although you don’t need a legal degree or a finance degree, they both are integral to what you do, because everything is so much legal, so much regulatory, and your financial condition is so important that absent a firm grip on what’s going on financially, the potential repercussions can be devastating. If you don’t have your hand on the pulse of what’s going on with your organization financially, you’ve got pretty big issues.”

“It’s not even about having a CFO that you trust,” Garner added. “It’s really about taking ownership of that which you oversee.”

  1. In fact, consider attending law school on the side.

Arthur Shorr’s 45-year career in and around healthcare involved a four-year stint as administrator and chief operating officer at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and a four-year stint as chief operating officer and senior vice president for administration at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

As an expert in hospital operations and a pioneer in physician practice management, Shorr founded the L.A.-based healthcare consulting firm Arthur S. Shorr & Associates Inc. in July 1983.

Shorr also cultivated a successful teaching career that now includes a course for second-year graduate students who are on the cusp of their residencies and their careers.

One of the factors his students do not have a clue about, he said, is “the necessity of developing an exit strategy starting now.”

Why? Because there are no old executives. In fact, many hospital administrators exit healthcare in their 50s, he said.

Because of this, Shorr advises his students to attend law school even as they’re nurturing a healthcare administration career.

“It’s about coming to the law with a fundamental 20- to 30-year expertise in that discipline of the law,” he said. “You will literally start at the top of the pile and know so much more than the generalists, who are very bright guys.”

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of creating and communicating a vision and connecting people with that vision.

Diana Hendel, PharmD, began her career as a pharmacist. For the past 25 years, she has risen through the administrative ranks of the C-suite in MemorialCare Health System and now serves as chief executive officer of three facilities: urban hospital Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital, and Community Hospital Long Beach. She oversees a budget of more than $1 billion annually

Hendel believes having a clearly communicated vision is the first step in a leader’s job. However, that vision must be rooted in authenticity and genuineness. Only then can a leader cultivate the team spirit that is demanded by modern healthcare.

“I learned along the way that clearly defining the organization’s decision-making processes and pursuing a philosophy that demonstrates how decisions are made and communicated is extremely important,” she said. “By achieving these objectives, people throughout our organization better understand how decisions are made and ways they can actively participate in that process, which is critical to achieving and holding true to our mission and the vision.”

Hendel brings an unbridled enthusiasm for healthcare to her work.

“This is the very best leadership career of all,” she said. “The nation’s healthcare delivery system is undergoing the greatest transformation in history. This extraordinary transformation will likely continue well through the next decade and be part of the rest of most of our careers. Therefore, there’s no question that this is the best time to be in healthcare because we are the generation that has both an enormous opportunity and a sacred responsibility to dramatically change the healthcare delivery system to one that focuses our energies, resources, and innovative spirit to improve the health of the communities we serve and make this a better place for everyone to thrive.”

To the veteran healthcare executives reading this, what pieces of advice would you add to the five listed above? What has been the most crucial leadership lesson of your career?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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