In times of crisis, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one sees the importance of leadership when people step up and are tested as leaders. During the recent Radiology Leadership Institute®’s (RLI) Leadership Town Hall: Leading in Times of Crisis, several radiology leaders highlighted key elements of leadership, some of the challenges they’ve faced, and how they've been able to step up and succeed. Among them were several women leaders who articulated the need for distributed decision-making and multi-level leadership — now more than ever.
According to Dana H. Smetherman, MD, MPH, FACR, chair of the ACR Commission on Breast Imaging and associate medical director in the department of radiology at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, one cannot over-communicate as a leader during a crisis. “I think you have to use virtually every channel that is available to you,” said Smetherman. “I round a lot. I make sure I'm seeing everyone and I ask them what they need. I'm on the phone and I'm texting with people.”
Ochsner’s health system has 19 owned, operated, and managed hospitals in Louisiana and Southern Mississippi, overseeing care of about 60% of the inpatients in the greater New Orleans area — with that area having the highest concentration of cases of more than 50% in the state. For Smetherman and her colleagues, these statistics added up to a scary and even dangerous situation — emphasizing the need for her to lead, and lead with humility.
“I've had to acknowledge that my decisions are a best guess,” said Smetherman. “I didn’t have months to come up with a fabulous strategic and implementation plan. I’ve had to let my team know over and over again that I'm not going to be perfect and I'm going to make mistakes. In a crisis, people at least appreciate that you’re able to show your own clay feet.”
Judy Yee, MD, FACR, chair of the ACR Colon Cancer Committee and professor and chair of the department of radiology at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., agreed. When COVID-19 struck, Montefiore had several faculty who were immediately quarantined as part of the cluster in New Rochelle, N.Y., and in less than a week in the institution’s ERs flooded with coronavirus patients. According to Yee, the crisis showed her the importance of being as adaptive as possible as a leader — as well as being honest and transparent.
“Clear communication is critical,” said Yee. “I personally send out e-mail updates to the team at least twice a week with specific radiology updates. We deployed a third of our radiology residents to the frontlines and I check in with each one of them because it's a stressful and anxious experience for them. It's really important as a leader to be empathetic to your personnel. It's going to be different based on whether you're dealing with the registered technologist (RT) versus the nurse versus the resident versus the attending, but trying to make everybody feel supported — and being confident, fair, kind, and transparent in how you're doing — it is very important.”
Most importantly, both Smetherman and Yee noted that the crisis has highlighted to them the need for leaders to celebrate wins and successes amidst the darkness. “I personally will go out and talk to our frontline RTs and healthcare workers to congratulate them for a job well done” said Yee. “We hold breakfasts for them, as well as luncheons — appropriately socially distanced, of course — and they really appreciate that.”
Smetherman agreed. Her advice to radiology leaders battling the crisis is to find the positives and over-express one’s gratitude. “In our meetings, we not only talk about the number of patients who have maybe died, or who are in our hospital, or who are on ventilators, but we talk about the number of patients who have been discharged,” said Smetherman. “We celebrate patients coming off of the ventilators. We have celebrated the fact that we have decreased ventilator utilization and that we're managing more of our patients with non-rebreather masks. I think everybody looks to you as the leader and if you are uncertain or if you are stressed and show that, it trickles down. We have to keep staying positive if we’re going to win this thing.”
This article is the first of a five-part series in which the Bulletin will delve into key topics covered during RLI’s Leadership Town Hall: Leading in Times of Crisis. To access the full recording of the webinar, visit bit.ly/RLITownHall_COVID.