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Healthcare executives must ‘dare to act’ | Lessons for Leaders


It’s easy to fall into the trap of being busy but playing it safe. Jochen Reiser, president of the University of Texas Medical Branch, urges leaders to be bold.

Healthcare leaders shouldn’t be afraid to make big changes when necessary, Jochen Reiser says.

In this area, Reiser can speak with some authority. He began serving as president of the University of Texas Medical Branch in August. Just a few months later, he unveiled a sweeping reorganization, including taking the role of CEO of the UTMB Health System. Reiser said the reorganization aims to give equal weight to UTMB’s healthcare, research, academic and innovation missions.

Reiser tells Chief Healthcare Executive® that leaders shouldn’t play it safe. He tells leaders to get information and says they should ask tough questions and verify their assumptions.

But he says, “When you have answers, then dare to act.”

Reiser says it’s “a big mistake” to be passive when changes are needed.

“These jobs can be done for a while by doing not as much, being very busy, but doing not as much,” he says. “But ultimately you don't move the needle for the organization. I think these jobs demand us to be accountable, but also demand some action on us, based on the best information we have.”

“And I would say that anyone who comes into a job like this needs to do just that,” Reiser says. “It's not enough to not dare and act upon information that they have.”

When an informed leader is willing to take bold steps, he says, “Great things can happen.”

Reiser recalls his time serving as chairman of the department of internal medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He says he was recruited with some generous support.

“I essentially began to hire and assemble new programs and hire new physicians very, very fast, and with a very steep ramp up,” Reiser recalls. “And then we figured out how to make it all functional.”

A few years later, Reiser wondered if he should have waited, and planned the growth of the department better, because “some programs ran great, and some not so much.”

Several years later, all of those programs are running successfully and are critical drivers of Rush’s academic mission, he says. And he’s grateful he didn’t hesitate.

“Many people said on my way out, ‘We were so glad that you were so bold, in getting that ball rolling,’” Reiser says.

“So on balance, I have found in my career, acting upon information in a good moment and being a little bit opportunistic, is better than holding it out, and sort of like being overly cautious,” he adds. “Because there's always a reason or two that you might want to not do things. And I think on balance, you don't serve an organization at the leadership level with that attitude.”

Reiser also touts the value of holding leadership roles and serving in multiple organizations. He grew up and received his medical training in Germany and practiced there for one year before coming to the United States.

In addition to working at Rush, he also held posts at the University of Miami and at Harvard Medical Schools.

“It's been very helpful to me to have been at several institutions,” Reiser says, adding, “I was able to extract the best from all the places.”

(If you’d like to submit your lessons in leadership in healthcare, great advice you’ve received, or insights you wish you had earlier, submit an idea for our “Lessons for Leaders” series. Contact Ron Southwick, senior editor of Chief Healthcare Executive: [email protected])

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