Many of my friends are leaving. A small but significant exodus from healthcare is under way.
A 56-year-old chief executive officer of a successfully merged hospital system abruptly and unexpectedly handed in his resignation. "I've had enough. It isn't worth it anymore," he told me. He doesn't know where he is going next, but it will not be in the healthcare industry.
A successful and respected vascular surgeon, at the height of his career, recently quit medicine. He lamented, "I wish I had never entered medicine. Its soul is gone."
One of the best nursing supervisors in a Southern California community hospital, after much soul-searching, quit, with the comment, "I can no longer look myself in the mirror. With the recent budget cuts, it is no longer possible to provide quality care for our patients," she told me. Stories like these are repeated every day in hospitals throughout our country.
The exodus is not about losers. The folks who are leaving represent many of our best and brightest performers. Dispirited physicians are leaving the medical profession. Burned-out nurses are walking off the job. CEOs are counting the days left in their employment contracts or availing themselves of golden parachutes.
Many well-managed healthcare systems, with more than a century of devoted community service, are in a state of financial emergency. Some are facing bankruptcy. Wall Street is having second thoughts about investing in healthcare. Many top-level managers are developing stress-related illnesses.
The word is out-healthcare isn't much fun anymore. What is happening to our industry at the start of a new century? The usual villains blamed for the changing fortunes of healthcare include the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, the rise of managed care, increasing competition, declining Medicare payments, slow third-party reimbursement, unsuccessful consolidations and mergers, and the burden of meeting ever-more-stringent requirements of regulatory and accrediting agencies.
Undoubtedly all of these play a role in our plight. However, an even more insidious factor may be involved: the amount of time and energy it takes to do the job. An executive's family and personal life suffer under the crushing load of just staying even with the game. Work weeks of 70 to 80 hours are not uncommon among top-level corporate managers. The question is, how much of your life do you want to sacrifice to stay afloat in this industry? Is it worth the price of your soul?
How do we put joy and meaning back into the lives of folks who work in healthcare? Two approaches are possible. The first is rather daunting. It requires a restructuring of the industry. This involves major political, social, and economic design challenges, but they're issues that must be addressed as we move into the new century. The second approach, which offers more near-term relief, is to provide renewal and regeneration for healthcare professionals, enabling them to survive-and maybe even thrive-in a chaotic, high-stress environment.
At the Kaiser Institute, we are working on both approaches. We have helped many communities restructure their local healthcare systems. We promote the idea of collaboration rather than competition among local healthcare providers. We believe government, the marketplace and the voluntary sector must come together in every community in a shared covenant to serve everyone.
The institute emphasizes spirituality-a missing ingredient in contemporary healthcare. The institute's Fellowship in Intuition teaches healthcare managers to use the right side of the brain to envision and create abundant communities where all healthcare providers work together. On the right side of the brain are love, compassion and nurturance-also in short supply in healthcare. A new mental model is needed to change the world of healthcare. Until that model is in place, no amount of effort, time or money will solve the problems the industry faces today.
In the short term, Kaiser Institute is launching an executive sabbatical and professional renewal program. The sabbatical is designed to help healthcare leaders develop greater self-insight; acquire life-transformation skills; learn methods for maintaining peak productivity under stressful conditions; and envision new ideas for organizational and community renewal. The sabbatical, long a tradition in the academic world and to some extent in the corporate world, has yet to come to healthcare. The time is right for such an effort.
The renewal program consists of an intensive week at a spa followed by executive coaching each month for a year. The coaching can be provided on-site or by phone. The program also offers opportunities for participants to stay in contact with one another.
Our brand of sabbatical is not a vacation. It's a directed growth experience delivered in a specially designed environment. It's customized to the unique needs of each person. Unlike the usual continuing education courses, seminars and workshops, the sabbatical program is highly interactive and can be consciousness-changing.
In the academic world, a sabbatical usually lasts for a year. In the chaotic world of healthcare, top-level managers cannot be gone for even a tenth of that time. Yet, much can still be accomplished through even a short break from the routine.
The good news is that you can still have fun in this industry. It may be time for you to invest in a more abundant future by committing to personal and professional renewal. It may be time for a sabbatical.