Expert Commentary

Embrace change as a hospitalist leader

Tales from an insightful dive into SHM leadership training


We work in complex environments and in a flawed and rapidly changing health care system. Caregivers, patients, and communities will be led through this complexity by those who embrace change. Last October, I had the privilege of attending and facilitating the SHM Leadership Academy in Orlando, which allowed me the opportunity to meet a group of people who embrace change, including the benefits and challenges that often accompany it.

SHM board member Jeff Glasheen, MD, SFHM, taught one of the first lessons at Leadership Academy, focusing on the importance of meaningful, difficult change. With comparisons to companies that have embraced change, like Apple, and some that have not, like Sears, Jeff summed up how complacency with “good” and a reluctance to tackle the difficulty of change keeps organizations – and people – from becoming great.

“Good is the enemy of great,” Jeff preached.

He largely focused on hospitalists leading organizational change, but the concepts can apply to personal change, too. He explained that “people generally want things to be different, but they don’t want to change.”

Leaders in training

Ten emerging hospitalist leaders sat at my table, soaking in the message. Several of them, like me 8 years ago, had the responsibilities of leadership unexpectedly thrust upon them. Some carried with them the heavy expectations of their colleagues or hospital administration (or both) that by being elevated into a role such as medical director, they would abruptly be able to make improvements in patient care and hospital operations. They had accepted the challenge to change – to move out of purely clinical roles and take on new ones in leadership despite having little or no experience. Doing so, they gingerly but willingly were following in the footsteps of leaders before them, growing their skills, improving their hospitals, and laying a path for future leaders to follow.

A few weeks prior, I had taken a new leadership position myself. The Cleveland Clinic recently acquired a hospital and health system in Akron, Ohio, about 40 miles away from the city. I assumed the role of president of this acquisition, embracing the complex challenge of leading the process of integrating two health systems. After 3 years overseeing a different hospital in the health system, I finally felt I had developed the people, processes, and culture that I had been striving to build. But like the young leaders at Leadership Academy, I had the opportunity to change, grow, develop, take on new risk, and become a stronger leader in this new role. A significant part of the experience of the Leadership Academy involves table exercises. For the first few exercises, the group was quiet, uncertain, tentative. I was struck both by how early these individuals were in their development and by how so much of what is happening today in hospitals and health care is dependent upon the development and success of individuals like these who are enthusiastic and talented but young and overwhelmed.

I believe that successful hospitalists are, through experience, training, and nature, rapid assimilators into their environments. By the third day, the dynamic at my table had gone from tentative and uncertain to much more confident and assertive. To experience this transformation in person at SHM’s Leadership Academy, we welcome you to Scottsdale, Ariz., later this year. Learn more about the program at

At Leadership Academy and beyond, I implore hospitalists to look for opportunities to change during this time of New Year’s resolutions and to take the opposite posture and want to change – change how we think, act, and respond; change our roles to take on new, uncomfortable responsibilities; and change how we view change itself.

We will be better for it both personally and professionally, and we will stand out as role models for our colleagues, coworkers, and hospitalists who follow in our footsteps.

Dr. Harte is a practicing hospitalist, president of the Society of Hospital Medicine, and president of Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, part of the Cleveland Clinic Health System. He is associate professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, Lerner College of Medicine in Cleveland.

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