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Message from Dr. Steele, Chief Medical Officer

Physician Leaders at Summa: What do we stand for?

Last year I wanted to discipline an employed physician leader here for an appalling breach of Summa’s Standards of Behavior while angrily asking a nurse what he needed to do in order to get approval to use a new device without going through the standard approval process. I was advised not to discipline him for that because we had never consistently held physicians to those standards, and would therefore be changing the behavior expectations of physicians without giving fair warning in advance. In addition, I was told, other physician leaders had committed worse breaches without being punished, so it was not fair to punish this one.

A few weeks ago the physician and nursing leaders on Summa Health’s Senior Clinical Leadership Council1  agreed that a physician leader (chief medical officers, a department chair, vice chair, medical director, etc.) at Summa stands at least for these things:

  1. We, as physician leaders at Summa, are models for the Summa Health Standards of Behavior, with behavior that is exemplary at all times. To me, that means when anyone at Summa is wondering how they should behave, they should be able to point to our physician leaders and say “You and I should behave like him/her.”
  2. We, as physician leaders at Summa, are models for the I’m for Safety behaviors, which not only means we practice with a questioning attitude, communicate clearly, focus on the task at hand and support each other, but applaud when other caregivers do the same. We welcome crosschecks on us, and sincerely thank staff who ask us to consider changing what we are doing due to a safety concern. We always ask nurses and other caregivers to repeat back to us verbal orders we give, consistently use phonetic and numeric clarification and are shining stars for safety. No one runs better Time Outs prior to procedures or supports and acknowledges good teamwork more than we do. Finally, every physician leader is someone that a staff member who has a safety concern can raise that concern to without hesitation.
  3. We, as physician leaders at Summa, actively intervene with physicians and other staff when we observe them not following Safety Behaviors, Standards of Behavior or other policy. We are not just responsible for our own behavior; we also are responsible for the behavior of others. We don’t stand by silently watching someone else do something wrong. We speak up when we see someone not gelling in and out, violating safety standards or the dress code, smoking on Summa property or being rude or unpleasant when interacting with patients or staff while on the phone or at a work station, etc. And we support other leaders – whether from nursing or housekeeping, whether department heads or line staff - who also lead by holding us and other team members to those same standards. Because we know we are not perfect, we as physician leaders know we may fail on occasion to meet these standards. When we do fail, we want you to reflect that failure back to us, to crosscheck us and remind us of these standards. We invite you to help make us better leaders and we welcome that help.
  4. We, as physician leaders at Summa, are aligned with Summa’s goals, which mean we fully support them and work hard to achieve them. We may have expressed different views during an intense debate about what our course of action should be, but once the decision is made, we are fully on board with whatever decision is made. We walk out of the room, put the debate behind us and work full bore to achieve the goals, whatever they may be. When others disagree with the decisions that were made, we are public and private advocates for the goals once they are determined.

We, as physician leaders, are aligned behind these goals because we know that if we are not, Summa cannot move at the speed it needs to in order to succeed in a dynamic, competitive market. Summa cannot become a great patient care organization without our leadership and support.

So these are the standards for Summa’s physician leaders. In other words, our physician leaders are people who act in a way that inspires others. We are exemplars, which is defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “an admired person that deserves to be copied.” For physicians who are currently leaders at Summa, these are my expectations and the standard to which I commit myself.

To these explicit standards I also would add a few others.

We, as physician leaders at Summa, should be:

  • The coolest people in the room when the colon contents hit the air circulation device
  • The people you want to run a code, manage a crisis, solve a problem or run a meeting
  • The kind of people who, when we appear, others are glad we are there to help
  • Unafraid of change and we don’t despair when the going gets really tough
  • Where others turn for confidence when their own confidence starts to flag

In short, as physician leaders at Summa, we are, in all things, “an admired person who deserves to be copied.”

These high standards of exemplary behavior should be the standard for all physicians. If you are a physician in healthcare, you are a leader whether you want to be or not. The only question is how good of a leader you are. As a physician, you are a well-compensated person of privilege and authority in American healthcare. As a result, our expectations of you should be very high. We will get to that standard for all physicians someday.

At this point, every physician who cares for patients at Summa should be aware of two things:

  • First, if you aspire to lead at Summa, you should start working on meeting these leadership standards now. You will not suddenly be a physician candidate to lead here after years of failing miserably to measure up.
  • Second, for every physician employee of Summa Health, the current Summa Health Standards of Behavior are the minimum standard to which you will be held accountable at all times. The days when lower standards of conduct were acceptable for physicians at Summa are over. A physician who drops multiple loud, angry obscenities in the middle of a patient unit can expect to be disciplined the same way any other Summa employee who did the same thing would be disciplined. Our licenses are to practice medicine, not to trammel the Standards of Behavior.

Adhering to these standards will be a challenge for some physician leaders. Most of us have some work to do to get there, and some of us will probably not make it. Those who cannot meet the physician leadership standards will not remain physician leaders. But those who can will not only be the kind of leaders we all aspire to be, and the kind of physicians we all want to be, but will help transform Summa into a truly extraordinary caregiving organization.

1 Our chief medical officers, medical staff presidents, vice presidents for medical affairs, chief nursing officers, medical directors of our institutes, and the chief physicians of SummaCare, Summa Physicians Inc. and the NewHealth Collaborative.

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