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05 March 2007
New Vision of Healthcare Leadership Pioneered at Emory's Woodruff Leadership Academy
By incorporating best practices from the business world with the unique challenges of healthcare, a leadership development program at Emory University's Woodruff Health Sciences Center could serve as a model for successfully negotiating rapid changes in healthcare management and academic medicine.

Now with a four-year total of more than 100 participants, the successful academy focuses on the unique challenges of leadership within an academic health center. The results, from the perspective of administrators and individual participants, are described in an article in the March issue of Academic Medicine.

The Woodruff Leadership Academy (WLA), established by an Emory health sciences center team led by CEO Michael Johns, MD, aims to develop healthcare leaders through an intensive, creative, cross-disciplinary program. It brings together "fellows" from varied disciplines and professional roles as wide ranging as physicians, surgeons, researchers, educators, fundraisers, communicators, and departmental administrators.

Given the swiftly changing landscape of healthcare, including technological advances, increased competition, a growing and diverse patient base, and a more complex financial structure, Dr. Johns and his team believed creating and maintaining leadership excellence across Emory's health sciences center was the one element necessary for the success of a new strategic plan.

"Our focus on leadership was not a luxury, but a requirement to fulfill our strategic goal of advancing Emory's health sciences center into the top ranks nationally," says Dr. Johns.

Leadership development in a large academic health center presents unusual challenges, however. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center encompasses a wide range of highly specialized and demanding professional roles and a number of diverse operational centers. The center employs a total of more than 16,000, including faculty, staff and Emory Healthcare employees. Although many administrators and mid-level managers, including physicians, are highly competent in their unique areas of expertise, they sometimes lack overall leadership skills.

"We thought it was essential to create a strong group of leaders throughout the health sciences center who could work with senior leadership to create a shared vision of excellence," Dr. Johns says.

The WLA was modeled on successful corporate leadership programs, such as GE and Waffle House, and corporate leaders from those and other Atlanta-based companies were enlisted as speakers. In contrast to corporate leaders, however, the Emory leaders needed a complete understanding of the challenges of modern academic medicine and a vision of the university and the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. They are required to work seamlessly with other leaders across the institution, often in very different roles, and to be groundbreakers and ambassadors for the center's mission and goals.

Assessments of the 70 WLA graduates from the first three years showed the program's success. Participants embraced enhanced roles and responsibilities in the health sciences center and the university, pursued new cross-disciplinary collaborations, and acquired a greater enthusiasm and respect for the shared vision of the health sciences center, the article said.

"The WLA has had a significant impact on the direction of my career," says Richard Gitomer, MD, formerly chief of clinical services in internal medicine at The Emory Clinic and now chief quality officer for Emory Crawford Long Hospital. "It gave me the rare opportunity to relate to senior leadership and exchange ideas with them and to meet and develop an ongoing association with colleagues in other components of the health sciences center."

Dr. Gitomer worked with Emory's School of Nursing to develop a new practice model for caring for patients with chronic conditions and entered into a national collaborative on the subject. He was asked to participate in Emory Healthcare and university committees dealing with healthcare strategy, healthcare benefits, and signature topics for the university. "I believe it is unlikely that any of this would have occurred without my participation in WLA," he says.

A biography of Dr. Johns is available at

Information about the Woodruff Leadership Academy is available at


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