The new top physician at Atlantic Health System regards mentoring as one of her favorite jobs.
Every member of a healthcare system has a responsibility to promote quality care, says Atlantic Health System’s new chief clinical officer.
Suja Mathew, MD, was recently hired as executive vice president and chief clinical officer for the Morristown, NJ healthcare system. Before joining Atlantic, she was Professor of Medicine at the Cook County Health and Hospitals System in Cook County, Illinois.
HealthLeaders recently spoke to Mathew on a range of topics including quality care, patient access, research and academic programs, and mentoring. The following is a transcript of that discussion, edited for brevity and clarity.
HealthLeaders: As Chief Clinical Officer, how can you promote quality care?
Suya Mathew: Every individual in this organization must promote quality care. This applies to every clinical person and every non-clinical person. We all need to be committed to quality care.
However, as Chief Clinical Officer, I have our quality and patient safety programs in front of me, so I am directly accountable. We have long been recognized as a quality patient care provider and safe patient care provider. I will look at our programs and always see where we can improve. My goal is to get better. We are great now and we will get even better. As our environment continues to change and the challenges in our industry continue to affect us, we will look for ways to improve.
HL: How will you approach improving patient access to Atlantic’s care network?
Matthew: The key is to ensure that wherever a patient or family member enters the Atlantic Health System, the individual has access to the very best care we offer should they need it. My goal is to ensure that we continue to pay attention to what our patients and our local communities need and balance that with the resources we have in local communities.
I also want to create clear avenues for patients to access our secondary and tertiary services when needed. So if they need to stay healthy, we want to do that locally; However, if they require a higher level of care, they can access all the resources we have at Atlantic.
HL: What will you do to improve the healthcare system’s research and academic programs?
Matthew: Clinical work and academic programs are symbiotic. We provide excellent clinical care at Atlantic, and it’s exactly the type of system you want to train learners in. That’s also the kind of system you want to research in. These areas fuel each other.
We already provide excellent clinical care, we already conduct meaningful research, particularly in clinical trials, and we already conduct effective medical education. We will seek to further develop the links between each of these three parts of the work so that our research and clinical trials improve the clinical services we can offer our patients. We want our educational programs to improve clinical interactions with our patients. We want the great clinical work we do to be fully utilized to educate our learners and clinicians of tomorrow.
HL: How did your tenure as Chair of Medicine for the Cook County Health and Hospital System prepare you for your role as Chief Clinical Officer at Atlantic?
Matthew: I was in the Cook County Health and Hospital System for 22 years. I grew up professionally in this system. In my last role there, as Chair of Medicine, I was responsible for internal medicine delivery, training and research activities across the department. So this scope of work is similar to what I do at Atlantic as Chief Clinical Officer; However, the scope of what I do at Atlantic is larger.
Cook County has been a wonderful place for me for so long. It’s a public health system doing a great job but in a very challenging environment. Learning to be a clinician in this environment and learning how to lead in this environment prepared me for working at Atlantic. I have learned how to enhance my creativity and resourcefulness while working in a resource constrained environment. I will bring these skills to Atlantic.
HL: What are the key elements in promoting career sustainability and job satisfaction among physicians?
Matthew: There are three pillars of job satisfaction for physicians. The top priority is to ensure a long and sustainable career in medicine. I would break that down to the system in which we practice medicine – we need to make sure the system encourages high level activity. Everyone on the nursing team should be working at the top of their license. Therefore, physicians should be involved in activities aimed at making full use of their skills and knowledge base.
The second element of sustainable professional satisfaction is the consideration of individual resilience. On the whole, the clinical staff has very resilient employees. We have gone through many years of training and preparation for this work. We are strong. Still, we need to make sure we allow our clinicians to invest in themselves. We must support their absence from work.
The third element to creating lasting job satisfaction is looking at our leadership. The leadership under which clinicians practice has a major impact on the level of job satisfaction they feel. Leaders need to have the right qualities – their communication skills need to be optimal, they need to be able to motivate the people who report to them, and they need to provide an environment conducive to career growth.
HL: What are the key elements of serving as a mentor to residents and faculty members?
Matthew: This is one of my favorite pastimes. For most of my career I have served as a program director and medical educator. As a medical educator, you will have direct contact with many learners as a course leader or program leader. As a professor of medicine, I not only had direct contact with students, but also with faculties and young managers. I relish the opportunity to be part of people’s success stories.
There are formal programs that can facilitate mentoring. But at the end of the day, it takes people who are generous with their time to invest in learners and younger colleagues. For us as leaders, it’s often a matter of spending a little of our time and energy for a significant payoff. I have received strong mentoring and sponsorship over the years, both of which have advanced my career in ways I could not have imagined. I feel obligated to repay this, but it is also a great pleasure to be a mentor.
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Christopher Cheney is Senior Clinical Care Editor at HealthLeaders.