Skip to main content

Houston Methodist's Chief Physician Exec Highlights 3 Strategies to Boost Physician Well-Being

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   March 19, 2024

Shlomit Schaal is also focused on quality and patient safety as well as leadership development.

Shlomit Schaal, MD, PhD, MHCM, executive vice president and chief physician executive at Houston Methodist, has made physician well-being a top priority for 2024.

Schaal has three strategies for addressing the high-profile issues of physician burnout and well-being.

"We want to create a culture of wellness for physicians at Houston Methodist," she says. "We do not want a culture where physicians feel pressured to see as many patients as possible as fast as they can."

“The second thing we are focusing on for physician well-being is the efficiency of practice," she says. "There are many things in the modern practice of medicine that take up a physician's time, and we want to redesign our processes to make sure our physicians are practicing at the top of their licenses, and they have support to do things such as coding, billing, and answering messages."

"The third thing is personal resilience," Schaal adds. "We know there are ways that we can help physicians increase their personal resilience, which is related to a culture of wellness and efficiency of practice."

Schaal, who also serves as president and CEO of Houston Methodist Physician Organization, is leading a Joy in Medicine Initiative (JIMI) as well as reaching out to Houston Methodist physicians to see how they define a culture of wellness.

"I have to ask physicians, 'What does a culture of wellness mean for you?'" she says. "The idea behind JIMI is not to do a top-down assessment, then have me say, 'I think that a culture of wellness is defined by four elements, and here they are.' We are going to physicians and asking them about a culture of wellness."

Developing leaders

Schaal is also focused on leadership development this year.

Houston Methodist, which features an academic medical center and six community hospitals, has three leadership development programs: The Chair Academy, which serves the physician leaders who run the health system's clinical departments; the Administrator Academy, which mainly serves the administrative dyad leaders who are paired with clinical department chiefs; and a Physician Leadership Development Program.

"I truly believe that our leaders are the prime people who affect the efficiency, the morale, and the capabilities of their teams," Schaal says. "I want Houston Methodist to have the best leaders possible."

This year, the Chair Academy and the Administrator Academy are focused on three areas:

  • Leadership: Program participants will find out about the key components of leadership, including the qualities of a good leader, how leaders influence people, and team building.
  • Philanthropy: Program participants will learn about how to be well-versed in philanthropy to work with people who would like to donate to Houston Methodist or support an initiative that the health system believes is important. "Philanthropy is important because in medicine you need philanthropic help in order to go above and beyond for your patients," Schaal says.
  • Communications: Program participants find out about how good leaders communicate verbally, inspire people through communication, communicate with a team, and relay bad news.

The Physician Leadership Development Program is taught collaboratively with Houston Methodist executives and Rice University professors. The program is designed for physician leaders who are not department chairs, and it lasts for six months.

It's basically a condensed version of an MBA program, Schaal says.

"We have several modules that physicians learn, including strategy, organizational behavior, finance, and operational management," she says.

Quality and patient safety

Schaal is also focused on advancing quality and patient safety.

"In my role as chief physician executive, quality and patient safety is part of my responsibility," she says. "We deliver high-quality care at Houston Methodist as measured by organizations such as U.S. News & World Report, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Leapfrog, and Vizient. All of our hospitals are top performers in these external rankings. When I came here in April 2023, a big part of my role was to take quality and patient safety one step forward."

Last year, Schaal conducted a listening and learning tour of Houston Methodist facilities to see how the health system could improve quality and patient safety. During this tour, she learned that Houston Methodist did not have a communications strategy for quality and patient safety.

"We devised a communications strategy to communicate all the great things we are doing," she says. "Now, we have a website for quality and patient safety. We have a newsletter called Quality Time and a podcast called Quality Time. This is a way for us to share everything that we are doing with each other and with the world."

Schaal also found a lot of variation in how quality teams were built at Houston Methodist. So the health system devised a "diamond structure” at each facility, comprised of the CEO, chief quality officer, chief nursing officer, and quality director to lead quality efforts.

"In the diamond structure, all four of these executives work together to lead quality at their facility," she says. "This standardization has been helpful because we have also built communities around our CEOs, chief quality officers, quality directors, and CNOs. They can share knowledge with each other, with the spirit that a rising tide lifts all boats. If we share with each other, we can solve problems together rather than acting in siloes."

Schaal says the health system wants to "capitalize" on quality and patient safety academically, rather than financially.

"We want to highlight our process improvement efforts and all of our ideas and innovations at Houston Methodist at academic conferences," she says. "We want to share the success of our quality and patient safety efforts with our colleagues in Texas, the nation, and the world. We want people in other health systems to learn from us, so they can also improve."

Photo: Shlomit Schaal, MD, PhD, MHCM, is executive vice president and chief physician executive at Houston Methodist. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist.

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.


Houston Methodist's leadership development programs include programs for the physicians and administrators that run clinical departments as well as a program for physician leaders who do not run clinical departments.

Quality and patient safety efforts at the health system include devising a new communications strategy.

To promote physician well-being, Houston Methodist is focusing on a culture of wellness, efficiency of practice, and personal resilience.

Tagged Under:

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.