Bay Street or Medical School? A glimpse inside a CEOx1Day at CHEO
Alex Munter, President and CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and Andriy Katyukha
“Maybe you should try Bay Street instead of medical school?” My interviewer’s acerbic tone gave the impression I was not the candidate they were hoping to admit when assessing medical applicants. Fortunately, I was admitted, and as a result of my experiences I am committed to dismantling entrenched attitudes in medicine that stifle progress and positive change.
As I continue through my career, I remain steadfast in my conviction that functioning at the intersection of medicine, business, and policy is crucial to help move the healthcare system forward. As some of my sagacious mentors have pointed out, multi-disciplinary skill building, outside the traditional framework of what is deemed relevant for the practice of medicine, unfortunately is sometimes discouraged. Is it a lack of exposure to other skillsets or is it a profound fear that someone equipped with unique skills may threaten your position? Regardless of the reasoning behind this antiquated view, it falls on you to be introspective, decide what opportunities you will pursue, seek out mentors who inspire you, and work fervently to bring about the change you want to see in your field of work.
For me, this means seeking out opportunities that bolster my interest in strategy, governance, and health leadership, and that is how I found myself participating in the CEOx1Day program. Though I was apprehensive about applying to a competitive program geared towards future leaders in business, I submitted an application anyway. To my pleasant surprise, I was selected by Odgers Berndtson to work with Alex Munter, the President and CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).
My day started with what now seems like a very prescient discussion with senior medical leaders and Alex—COVID19 preparedness. From there, we departed to meet the rest of the executive team for their weekly Tuesday meeting. While the discussions were incredibly insightful, I am certain that the team would be surprised to hear what resonated with me the most: amidst the business of the day, they all stopped to recognize individual employees, of all seniority levels and positions, who made a meaningful contribution to the organization. This was their ‘kudos’ time, and I got the impression that employee recognition and appreciation is not a concept that is flippantly tossed into quarterly reports, but is the underpinning of the culture at CHEO. This is where I learned my first lesson: when it comes to transformational leadership, senior leaders who focus on results, and shift the emphasis from personal credit to team recognition, make the biggest impact.
Alex and I then connected with the CEOs of the Hospital for Sick Children and Holland Bloorview Rehabilitation Centre to discuss their partnership through the Kids Health Alliance, a network that aims to bolster patient and family-centered care in pediatric populations. We then proceeded to Alex’s CEO Information Session where he updated staff members about various projects and organizational achievements. It also served as a platform to once again recognize employees who made a difference at CHEO, and further encourage employees to use their personal insights to make improvements in their respective departments. In my professional life, I have yet to see such an emphasis being placed on promoting grassroots initiatives to fuel an organization’s success and progress. Through this, I learned my second lesson in leadership—empathy. A heightened ability to listen and validate employee experiences not only creates a positive work environment, but also empowers employees to use their experiences to change things for the better, strengthening the company in the process.
My day at CHEO finished off with Dr. Jean-Philippe Vaccani, a brilliant physician leader who serves as the Deputy Chief of Staff at CHEO. After a candid discussion about our careers, goals, and health leadership, I was struck by his encouragement and eagerness to promote discussions that underscore the importance of multi-disciplinary thinking in medicine. Professional mentorship is one of the best ways to give back to others, and just as I have benefited from kind and encouraging mentors, I also hope to make mentorship a priority in my own career. I urge non-traditional majors and STEM students to embrace opportunities like CEOx1Day to not only learn from incredible leaders, but to also share their own invaluable insights to broaden leaders’ perspectives. Even if you do not see yourself represented in a field, seek out opportunities that allow you to be the catalyst for change.
Later that evening I had the privilege of joining Alex and his partner for dinner, where I not only got to meet his adorable son, but also Lola, the family dog and self-proclaimed “Queen of the House”. It was the perfect setting to further discuss our thoughts on a variety of topics and get to know each other a little better. Through our discussions about the healthcare system, advocacy, policy, and representation, I got an incredible sense that Alex’s successes are rooted in a deep sense of service. While he serves as CEO, to me he serves as a role model who has broken barriers for LGBTQ2S+ individuals, has worked to shatter the ‘glass closet’ that often exists in corporate leadership, and has instilled in me a deep passion to work tirelessly as an advocate and leader in healthcare. This leads me to my final lesson about leadership—service. Rooting your work in service, be it serving people directly or serving a mission that fuels your passion, lays the foundation for the most meaningful impact you can achieve as a leader.
CHEO is an absolutely incredible organization to work for and I applaud the efforts of Alex Munter, the senior leadership team, and most importantly the committed and passionate employees who work day-in and day-out to bolster pediatric care in Ontario. I would like to thank Kristen, Michael, Eric, and the entire team in the Odgers Berndtson Ottawa office for affording me this invaluable opportunity!
Doctor of Medicine (MD) Student, Class of 2022 | Queen’s University