I was at a conference a couple of months ago and I had the good fortune of having dinner one evening with one of the speakers. The gentleman I ate with was a retired health care leader and I was entertained by his stories of the “Wild West” of health care. He lived and worked in a time where the only thing that mattered was the number of patients seen. He told me about times he would ask staff to place beds in the hallway of the hospital to increase census and other times that he would give permission to admit someone to the hospital just because the “family needed a break from Grandma”. What was even more amazing about his story was the fact that his hospital got paid for those things.
He went on to tell me that as his career progressed his view of his role as a leader changed and he said that when he finally discovered his purpose he became the leader he’d wished he’d been his entire career. At this point he had me hooked so I said “what did you discover, what was your purpose”. He wasn’t about to tell me so instead he asked me a question, he said to me “what’s your job”.
I sat up straight in the chair, cleared my throat and began an oratory about how my role is to provide resources to staff providing care to the patient. To make sure staff have what they need, when they need it to meet patient needs. I continued to explain that part of my role is positioning the hospital to continue to meet the needs of the community by assuring that needed services are offered and available. I spoke eloquently for another 5 or 6 minutes about fostering partnerships and increasing accountability, payer mix and budget allocation. I felt really good about my response.
After I finished my dissertation he leaned back in his chair, smiled, and said “that’s nice, let me tell you what I learned that made me a better leader and if you take these words to heart you’ll be a better leader too”. He said during the course of his career he came to the realization that the role of the senior leader is to demonstrate that nothing is more important than patient centered care and whenever you have to make a decision, if you make a decision that’s right for the patient, you will never make a wrong decision.
For the past couple of months I’ve reflected a lot on what he said. My response when he asked me what my role is wasn’t too far off but I was over thinking it. In the end all our jobs is to provide care to the patient and if every decision we make is always the right decision for the patient we will never make a wrong decision. As complicated a business as health care is, nothing is complicated about the care portion of what we do. Health is complicated, managing health is complicated but caring is easy and for most of us the reason we’re in health care is because we care.