A year and a half ago, Dr. Melina Kibbe became dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine and chief health affairs officer for UVA Health. As dean, she has been determined to examine whether an intense focus on transparency—including data—could create a culture of increased excellence, trust and belonging. She discusses how the school continues to get it done.
What were the main drivers for a master plan focused on transparency?
When I came into this role, UVA Health launched an updated mission to “transform health and inspire hope for all Virginians and beyond,” along with a fresh vision to be a leading academic health system and a preferred place to work. The big question was how we would get there. I prioritized transparency because I believe it improves accountability for me and my leadership team while also building trust across the organization.
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Were there any cultural concerns about the process?
Any bold plan comes with risks. My team and I discussed whether a plan of full transparency would weaken existing structures or take a toll on positive aspects of the existing culture. We had to be open to the data illuminating some tough truths, and we faced skepticism about whether lasting change would be possible. Ultimately, we decided that a focus on transparency was worth any growing pains.
Data collection was an essential first step, correct? How was that achieved?
I learned that there had not been a School of Medicine annual report in more than 20 years. Without a good sense of where we were, it would be impossible to make meaningful progress on our collective vision, so that’s where we started. We collaborated with groups such as the human resources, finance and development departments to source data on our diversity, faculty retention, financials, compensation, research and education outcomes, among other metrics. We needed a true baseline.
What other processes were essential to the plan?
Buy-in to a culture of transparency was critical. Employees want to know how their work relates to our organization’s overall success and how well they are achieving those goals. Everyone wants to know they are being treated and compensated fairly. Faculty and staff especially want proof to back up leaders’ claims. Thus, I openly shared data traditionally discussed behind closed doors: detailed diversity information, faculty retention numbers, compensation data, financial information, research metrics, etc. I shared with leaders, faculty and staff by giving presentations to all 29 of our departments, creating a renewed Department Annual Review process, delivering an annual State of the Medical School address, and publishing our 2021-2022 Annual Report.
Through this process, we also learned some hard truths, like the fact that our research dollars were not keeping up with our peers’. Once we set transparent goals related to fundraising, 2022 turned out to be our best year ever.
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What advice do you have for other schools or organizations seeking similar objectives?
First: Set clear and measurable goals. If you can measure it, you can improve it. Each department set annual goals—with quarterly reports—and accomplished them. What’s more, departments were motivated to set even higher expectations for themselves the following year.
Second: Celebrate accomplishments. This can be as simple as starting a weekly newsletter to recognize outstanding contributions from faculty, staff and students. But these recognitions must also reflect your priorities. For example, when the nominating committee for the Dean’s Awards sent me their first list, I realized it had few people from minority groups, so I asked the committee to re-evaluate whether implicit bias could have played a factor.
To me, transparency is an action. It starts small, with open conversations and data gathering, but makes a huge difference in building trust. In this year’s Association of American Medical Colleges StandPoint Survey, UVA School of Medicine had a record-setting 87% participation rate. This tells me that people want to be heard, and they want to use transparency and dialogue to drive action. Anything is possible when transparency permeates the culture.