Being intentional about your development is crucial to success in developing as a healthcare leader and in developing new leaders in your organization, according to Susan Aloi, PhD, FACMPE, faculty program director at Thomas Jefferson University School of Population Health in Pennsylvania, who recently spoke to the MGMA Podcast Network ahead of her session at the 2023 Leaders Conference, Oct. 22-25 in Nashville.
“Own it, manage it,” Aloi stressed to emerging and established practice leaders. “It's your responsibility — develop your plan for your future and think about where you want to be in three, five, 10 years and you'll get there.” Aloi previously presented at the 2023 MGMA Summit on how to create and sustain a successful leadership development institute in a healthcare organization. On this podcast episode, she details her experience growing up around the industry, what energizes her about the work happening today in population health, and what’s working in leadership development.
Q. What first got you interested in healthcare?
A: My mom. My mom was a registered nurse and used to bring me to work with her. When I was younger she worked in a primary care practice, and I would sit at the front desk while she would care for patients. I have these wonderful, vivid memories of her caring for these patients and these patients loving her so much. Because of her interactions with them, I knew at a very young age that I wanted to go into healthcare. Over time I realized … I want to go into some type of administrative role in healthcare. My mom encouraged me to get a part-time job at a hospital or a primary care practice and learn about the different parts of healthcare, until I landed in an area that I loved, which happened to be medical group practice management.
Q. What is your role like at Thomas Jefferson University?
A: I wanted to find a place where I can blend all my experiences and background. Thomas Jefferson University has a doctoral program and a population health program — this is a new program that started about two years ago. We are building infrastructure and working with researchers across the country who are focusing on population health issues. Being able to prepare current and future healthcare leaders, especially in the areas of value-based healthcare and population health, is very rewarding for me. Through the research that these doctoral students are doing, I truly feel like they're going to be making a difference in the health of a population in ways I've never seen before. I'm seeing innovative ideas coming from the students and the patient communities in which they are working… and it's extraordinarily inspiring every single day to work with a group of people who want to see change and want to influence that change.
Q. What energizes you about the work in population health, positive or negative?
A: I'll start with the not so positive side. When I talk to students and the researchers and they're focusing on issues in the communities that were issues 20 years ago, it makes me sad that we haven't made a dent in some of these communities. … But then I get motivated and inspired when I've got five students who are working in communities across the United States and partnering with local organizations to actually look at the root causes … and being able to develop innovative solutions.
In population health, there are pockets where we're having a laser focus, whether it be cancer, obesity or diabetes. I'm hopeful and inspired that we're actually going to better understand what's happening in these communities, what the challenges are, what the obstacles are, and then more importantly, how we can make a positive impact and finally having have positive change in these populations.
Q. You’re one of the speakers at the 2023 Leaders Conference, Oct. 22-25, in Nashville. What can someone expect to learn at your session?
A: With my colleague Kris Baird, we are going to be discussing how leaders can develop themselves and develop their teams so that they are successful in today's healthcare environment, as well as the future healthcare environment through an intentional path of leadership development. Leadership development is one of those areas that tends to get put on the back burner for a lot of reasons. It could be just not part of a strategic plan, there could be financial challenges [or] there's just not someone to lead that type of initiative. We are going to talk about how you can intentionally focus on leadership development for yourself and your organization, through tips and tools and resources, and even the many resources and tools that are available through the MGMA as part of your membership.
Thinking about cost: There are so many courses and tools that the MGMA knowledge assessment offers to organizations where our leaders today can start understanding where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, so that they can start developing — and that's a no cost because it's part of your membership. We're going to talk about how organizations can develop leadership institutes. … There's lots of change happening in healthcare, and organizations are looking at how they can have a leaner management team. How can we do what we need to do with fewer leaders? For the leaders that remain, how can we develop them? How can we ensure they are successful with all the challenges and forces that are impacting their role today?
Q. From your perspective, where is the healthcare industry getting it right about developing new leaders, and where do is there work still left to do?
A: There is a continued and ongoing emphasis on clinical excellence. … Health systems have a deep understanding of the importance of focusing on clinical excellence, so that is something that inspires me. I also see that healthcare systems are thinking more about interdisciplinary collaboration — not thinking so much about their organization vertically but looking at it more like a tic-tac-toe board where how can we work together vertically and horizontally to care for our patients.
I continue to see healthcare organizations emphasize patient-centered care and putting patients at the center of their decisions, ensuring their safety, [as well as] patient satisfaction, patient well-being and employee well-being. [However] there is less of a focus on developing leadership, mentorship, succession planning, diversity, inclusion and change management. Looking inward within the organization, there are certainly areas of improvement from the development perspective. Thinking about the patient perspective, are the innovation and technology that healthcare systems invest in actually improving patient care? We still have certain health conditions across our country that technology and innovation haven't fixed — because they’re not technology or innovation problems. … There are areas for improvement in healthcare to truly understand what's the root cause and what we need to do in healthcare to fix that from a patient perspective. Technology may not be the solution.
Q. What are some examples of the organizations that are succeeding in developing new leaders?
A: Northwell Health in New York is certainly an organization that focuses on their leaders and setting them up for success. They are intentionally developing and mentoring future leaders. They see potential and start building and growing those individuals [and learn] how to communicate better, collaborate, better focus on employee engagement. There are other organizations that recognize the importance of making sure leaders have the tools to do their job. When I worked at Weill Cornell Medicine/New York-Presbyterian, they had an informal leadership development program where the managers of the units took it upon themselves to develop their teams. … They might not have had a department, so to speak, that focused on leadership development, it was part of the culture.
Whether it's ingrained in the culture and you have leaders who are intentionally developing their staff, or you have an organization where it's part of their culture and there's infrastructure and resources to help assess, develop and groom future leaders — I don't think there's a right or wrong model. The more [you work] on the culture, that helps you see vertical and horizontal collaborations, increase increased employee engagement. You see staff who stay with leaders for a long time, so you see reduced turnover. You have teams that work well together [with] problem-solving abilities, and you have a lot of trust and accountability across teams.
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