Living like a leader: A day with Jeff Welch, CEO of Florida Medical Center and Tenet's Miami-Dade Group

Aug 13, 2019

"Building energy and camaraderie within your team is so important in healthcare, because we have tough jobs. I always tell people that nobody coming into our building is typically having a good day and it's up to us to make a difference. We should be honored to have that opportunity."

Between driving growth, meeting clinical objectives and navigating complex payer dynamics, there don't seem to be enough hours in the day for healthcare executives.

Leaders succeed despite these challenges, each with their own habits, hacks, styles and methods— and Jeff Welch, CEO of Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale and Tenet Health's Miami-Dade Group, is no exception.

Mr. Welch, who joined Tenet more than 12 years ago, has held numerous leadership positions, including CEO of Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass.; CEO of Tenet's South Carolina-Massachusetts Group; CEO of Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Medical Center; and CEO of Coral Gables (Fla.) Hospital.

While Mr. Welch's leadership is showcased by his career trajectory, it also has been continuously recognized by magazines throughout the country. Mr. Welch was named among the top 50 most influential business people in Massachusetts by the Worchester Business Journal and, most recently, he was named one of the top 50 influencers in the state of Florida by The Miami Herald.

Here, Mr. Welch spoke with Becker's Hospital Reviewfor our "Living like a leader" series, which examines influential decision-makers' daily routines to offer readers an idea of how they manage their energy, teams and time.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

Jeff Welch: The first thing I do take a second to appreciate the new day. When I physically get out of bed, I take the dog for a walk. On this walk, I gather my thoughts and work though my schedule for the day. I think about things like having the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives. After taking the dog for a walk, I go to the gym and work out. I am usually in the hospital by 7 a.m.

Q: What is the first thing you do when you get to work?

JW: I typically will grab coffee and walk around the hospital to see as many physicians as I can. I'll walk around the operating room to say hello to the surgeons. I will say hello to the team working on the OR schedule for the day. I'll also visit the emergency room. By about 8 a.m., I'm back in my office responding to some emails or getting ready for our morning huddles that discuss the events that occurred yesterday and will be occurring today.  

Q: Is there anything that makes your office setup unique?

JW: I don't have an office chair. I stand at my computer and respond to emails when I'm in my office. I do have a conference desk for when I meet with people, but most of the time I'm standing. When I stand, I feel like I have more energy and I think better. I don't like to be sitting behind a desk. I don't think that's a good leadership style. I like to be front and center with staff and patients. My standing-only office has worked well for me. I've done this for about five years now.

Q: Do you have work that you like to get done before lunch?

JW: I typically eat lunch on the run, unless I go into the physician's lounge or the cafeteria. But before lunch I will ensure I have met with the directors and the leadership team. I also try to provide some level of inspiration, some level of empowerment and some level of the can-do attitude. We're here together as a team. I always ask them: "What do you need from me today to be successful?"

Q: Is there anything about your routine that you think differs from other healthcare executives?

JW:  Every Monday morning, I send out inspirational notes to all the employees. The quotes included in these notes could be related to communication, empowerment or passionate care. I love when I walk around and see that some staff members hung up the messages in their offices or at the nursing stations. Building energy and camaraderie within your team is so important in healthcare, because we have tough jobs. I always tell people that nobody coming into our building is typically having a good day and it's up to us to make a difference. We should be honored to have that opportunity.

Being a responsible leader is making sure you effectively communicate with your team and you are there to inspire and empower them to make decisions. I don't think you can be a successful leader without communication.

Q: How often do you perform rounds?

JW: I meet with patients daily. I walk around to the units and talk to them. Sometimes I even see what the patients are eating from the cafeteria and try it myself.

In terms of scheduling rounding, I make sure I have an hour or two per day to round. I'll go to the nursing units, the OR and the ED.  If there are any issues going on, I'll go up to the units with the team and talk about those issues. I'll also go to the units and talk about patient satisfaction scores. I will hit every department in one week during those two-hour sessions. But I hit the ED and the OR every day. I make a point to make sure that I'm visible and accessible. I think that's important for not only me, but for my entire administration, and I encourage them to do the same.

Q: How much time is spent with your direct reports?

JW: It's daily communication. Their offices are near mine and I pop into their offices a lot.  We work as a team and I like to describe it as the "I-formation" in football. We don't all go to the same meetings. If my CFO or COO are at a meeting, they'll fill me in on that meeting later. Or if I'm at a meeting, I'll fill my team in about it later that day. We try to do the "I-formation" in terms of spreading out so we're not killing each other or bogging down our schedules with meetings. My direct reports all also have access to my cell phone and can reach me whenever they need. 

Q: What is the hardest part of your day?

JW: There aren't many difficult aspects because I love what I do. But if I had to choose, what's difficult for me is making sure that everything our organization does is for the betterment of the patient and the community. I need to make sure every single decision we make is for them, and sometimes that stress can be heavy.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your day?

JW: The entirety of my job feels rewarding. I especially find spending time with clinicians and patients rewarding. It's uplifting to know that we are making a difference in our community and in people's lives. I'm also inspired by the people I work with every day.

Q: What is the last thing you do before you leave your office?

JW: The last thing I do before I leave my office is check my schedule for the next day. I typically take a walk to one of the units and say goodnight to people. Usually it is some time between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. I also write down what I didn't get done during the day, so I know what I need to follow up on for the next day.  

Q: Do you do any work at home, in the morning or at night?

JW: I do, probably to a fault, but I'm sure most CEOs do the same. When I'm up in the morning and having a cup of coffee, I peruse my emails, and I check my schedule. In the evenings, I will also respond to emails or be on a call. Additionally, if I was unable to catch up with a physician during the day, I will call to follow up. When it comes down to it, communication is really the essence of being successful. I always say its better to overcommunicate and say, "I don't have an answer yet, but I'm working on it," instead of not calling or communicating at all.

Q: How do you unwind at the end of the day?

JW: I love spending time with my wife. Every night when I come home, she asks me how my day was, and it's nice to talk about it. She's in healthcare, too, so she's a good anchor and resource for anything that happened during the day.  It's nice to have someone that can offer suggestions. So, we'll have a deep, long talk which helps me unwind.

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