"I have a unique position, where I understand both the administrative and the clinical languages. The decisions then become more clinically integrated," says the CMO of Davis Health System.
The CMO role continually intersects between the worlds of the physicians and the executive leaders. And because of that, CMOs have the advantage of understanding the physician perspective and bringing that to the decision table in the C-suite, says Catherine "Mindy" Chua, DO, CMO of Elkins, West Virginia–based Davis Health System.
"I have a unique position, where I understand both the administrative and the clinical languages. I understand where doctors are coming from, so I can take that to the table. The decisions then become more clinically integrated and more patient-focused because we have the voice of the doctors," she says.
Chua has been CMO of Davis Health System since June 2016. In March 2020, she was appointed incident commander for the health system's coronavirus pandemic response. Prior to joining Davis Health System, Chua ran a private family medicine practice with her husband for 10 years.
HealthLeaders recently talked with Chua about a range of issues, including her role as liaison between the medical staff and the C-suite, recruiting and retaining physicians, and the keys to success in population health. The following transcript of that conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
HealthLeaders: What are the primary challenges of serving as CMO of Davis Health System?
Catherine "Mindy" Chua: One of the biggest challenges is recruiting and retention in small towns. That has been difficult for the main hospital but even more difficult for our critical access hospitals. Trying to find ways to bring people in and keeping them here has been difficult.
Another difficulty is I am trying to manage both CMO work and operations work. I also work in the clinic.
HL: How have you been rising to the recruiting and retention challenge, particularly when it comes to physicians?
Chua: We have worked hard here to establish a culture where physicians are valued. We work actively to achieve a good work-life balance. We also engaged a recruiter who is not only from this area, but entire generations of his family are from this area, so he is invested and knows how to point people in the direction of what would be interesting to them outside of the hospitals. We understand that selling a place of work is not only just about the brick-and-mortar walls that you are working in, but also the things that recruits are interested in and how we can get them and their families involved and engaged in the community. We want our staff to have a fulfilling work life and a fulfilling personal life.
HL: How are you balancing your role as CMO with operational responsibilities?
Chua: I must make sure that I have good and capable directors and managers working for me. I am a big believer in managing from the ground up; so, I listen to the people who are doing the work rather than micromanaging. I recognize my role is to remove barriers and to mentor rather than being in the weeds doing the work. That allows me the opportunity to get a bird's-eye view of what is going on in my departments, while still being able to maintain my patient care. I have had to attenuate my patient care. I went from a full-time outpatient family practice five days a week to two days a week in the family practice.
Catherine "Mindy" Chua, DO, chief medical officer of Elkins, West Virginia–based Davis Health System. Photo courtesy of Davis Health System.
HL: What are the keys to success in population health?
Chua: Education is a huge factor. It is a fairly new concept for some people, so educating about what population health is and what it means to the organization is important. Education is important for physician buy-in. You also need administration buy-in to get a good population health program going.
Collaboration is the other key component because population health is not just within the four walls of a hospital. It involves bringing in community resources and community experts, so you can get a broad picture of what your community needs. That is the macro view. Then there is the micro view within the hospitals that has to do more with quality metrics and cost metrics. That goes back to education and buy-in because you must have doctors understanding why they must do documentation and what that means to them and the organization.
I am a big proponent of leading with the "why." If you just tell doctors that they need to do this, and you do not give them a broader perspective of why, then they will lack motivation to participate.
HL: How are you serving as a liaison between the clinical staff and senior administrators?
Chua: That is the key role of a CMO. The administrative C-suite has a different set of vocabulary compared to what physicians are taught. Having been in both private practice and as an employed physician, I have a good understanding of the physicians' point of view when it comes to how a clinic should be run or what patients need. I am also having one-on-one communication with patients every day, which the administrators do not necessarily have. I can walk up to a floor and walk into a patient's room, then ask them what I can do to make their day better. I can talk to the physician and find out about the barriers the physician has that I can help remove.
I have a unique position, where I understand both the administrative and the clinical languages. I understand where doctors are coming from, so I can take that to the table. The decisions then become more clinically integrated and more patient-focused because we have the voice of the doctors.
HL: You have served as an American Association for Physician Leadership mentor. What are the qualities of a good healthcare mentor?
Chua: Patience, humility, affability, and the ability to be a good listener are important. When I mentor people, I do not give them a lot of advice—I listen to what they have to say and help them to work through their problems. Mentoring is not about saying, "This is how you need to do this." People cannot grow or learn if they are being shown exactly where to go. If you can be that person who can steer somebody without pushing them—that is a good mentor.
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.
Lead with the "why" when talking to physicians about initiatives and decisions.
A good healthcare mentor steers mentees without pushing them.
Establish a culture that values physicians and strive to create a favorable work-life balance.