Years ago, my wife and I tasted the most incredible pinot noir. Long after, we visited the winery where it was made. The owner took us to every corner of the vineyard to help us understand the hard work that went into the experience of every sip. Every small detail– why those particular cultivars, the specific days of harvest, the microclimate on that hill, and the barrels in this shed– helped us to better understand and value the wine. This wine for us is now nothing like it was before we had this experience.
As my career progressed through the surgical care of children, to the development (and funding) of a respected lab, and to the opportunity to lead and grow a new children’s hospital, I found the challenges tremendously satisfying. As “the crucibles of leadership” presented themselves, I found I could get through them more or less by following prior examples, good or bad. The teams I had were adequate and collegial but often hindered by limited know-how. I was at the table for most conversations mainly out of respect, not expertise or enlightened perspective. Like many in academic medicine, I had arrived at the role of Chief Medical Officer with enthusiasm for the opportunity to help make clinicians, their teams, and their programs successful. But is enthusiasm enough? How would my partner executives and I actually help the organization harness and deliver the innovations just over the horizon? I knew enough to know that, as in medicine, a deep fund of knowledge and the understanding of how to apply it was critical to successful healthcare leadership.
I had considered business school many times for no specific reasons. Finance or project management, marketing and economics, even strategy, were the scattered and poorly understood concepts that I contemplated. Ultimately, I just couldn’t see the return on investment. That is, until I reached a point where I was floundering to conceptualize, develop, and deliver meaningful solutions. I could no longer fall back on, or move forward with, solely my past experiences.
Brandeis’s Executive MBA for Physicians was a chance and a risk for me and my growth as a leader. Together with a group of unique and very accomplished classmates, we were led through each business foundation to discover just how much we lacked in our background and experiences. The program, like the tour from the wine makers, gave us the opportunity to break down the elements of a process, understand them more fully, and explore how to best fit them together for your desired results. We eventually developed into master blenders who could craft future paths through intersections of business, policy and clinical care.
Currently, I am a CMO in a big system with a large scope. My perspective now reaches further than managing a greater number of direct reports, interacting with cost centers, or ensuring a place at the table with accomplished leaders. The EMBA developed in me different and powerful faculties and internal resources. As a result, I can use my better understanding of complexities, required collaboration, and meaningful controls to find new ways forward. The barriers to health care delivery, in reality, have not changed, but my former frustration rapidly fades into fair process and business systems approaches to bring the best into and out of any challenge.
I had a call with my long time executive coach one afternoon after a particularly intense series of crises. I shared with him just how much the change I had experienced during the EMBA meant to me. I now brought a different skill set to working with an associate to bring a new genomic test “into our market” or with lean teams to develop new operational excellence at an over-capacity surgical service. Three more examples later my coach cut me off and said, “For now I’m going to leave you in your bliss, we’ll talk next month” and hung up. Listening to the dead receiver I thought, “Just like the wine, now it’s nothing like it was.”
Dr. Thomas Tracy is an EMBA for Physicians alumnus, class of 2017 and is currently the CMO in a large medical system.