The importance of physicians as leaders

DMU President Angela Walker Franklin, Ph.D., second from left, welcomes UnityPoint Health’s Steve Stephenson, Tracy Ekhardt and Eric Crowell.

In presenting the final installment of DMU’s 2016-2017 Innovative Leadership Series, three UnityPoint Health Des Moines leaders encouraged students to be ready for dramatic change, to be “good at complaining” and to seek seats at the leadership table.

“Your world is going to be so different from ours,” said Dr. Steve Stephenson, president and chief operating officer of Blank Children’s Hospital, reflecting on his 30-plus years in clinical leadership positions. “Think about broadening your view of what the future of health care will look like.”

Stephenson pointed to how successful entities today like Google, Amazon, iTunes and Uber significantly differ from top companies in the past, which were primarily manufacturers of goods. While today’s practice of medicine is still largely based on an “industrial age model,” he said it, too, will become increasingly digitalized.

“Medicine today is made up of very expensive fixed assets – structures, people and supplies,” he said. “It’s inefficient, expensive and lot less effective than it needs to be.”

Solving the problems in health care will require active leadership by the physicians and others who provide it, said Dr. Tracy Ekhardt, assistant vice president of medical affairs of UnityPoint Health Des Moines. “As physicians, we’re fantastic at complaining. Leadership is complaining and then doing something about it,” she said. “We need to be at the table to help make decisions and control change. That also allows us to explain decisions to our colleagues.”

“Think about broadening your view of what the future of health care will look like.”
— Dr. Steve Stephenson, president and COO of Blank Children’s Hospital

Stephenson added that the skills physicians apply in looking for the underlying causes of symptoms make them well suited for leadership. “We need people with the ability to listen, ask questions about the real root of the problem and then decide what we can do about it,” he said.

Moderating the discussion was Eric Crowell, UnityPoint Health Des Moines president and chief executive officer and a member of the DMU Board of Trustees. He encouraged students to seek out mentors whether they’re in the classroom, on rotations or advancing in their careers. His two colleagues further advised students closely observe the styles they see.

“You’ll see leadership everyday, good and bad, in many different settings – in meetings, on rounds and at the bedside,” Stephenson said. “Watch for it and learn from it.”

Scroll to Top