theresa larivee

Earlier this summer, I was invited to participate in Penn Medicine’s #WomenOfPenn blog post campaign. I discussed what I’ve learned during my nearly 30 years in academic medicine with Serena Dasani, MD, MPH, a recent Penn medical school graduate who is now spending her first year of residency with us at Pennsylvania Hospital.

One question that Serena asked that I’d like to delve into — especially since climbing metaphorical and actual mountains is the focus of this month’s What’s New feature story — was about the climb that led to me becoming PAH’s CEO. I explained to Serena that I never developed a prescriptive plan or charted out my journey to leadership exactly, nor do I doubt the roles that luck and good timing played. Instead, I practiced exposing myself to new, sometimes uncomfortable situations.

As CEO, you need to have a big-picture, 360-degree view in order to lead successfully, and I began cultivating that knowledge early. I could have stuck to finance my whole career, but my first health care job allowed me to root myself in the hospital’s operations and push my boundaries, so I used that opportunity to learn more — how physicians worked, what faculty needed, how to plan strategically with clinical and business perspectives in mind. I took chances and learned that sometimes I could leave my training behind to try something new. Asking questions and seizing opportunities — those are the skills that pave the pathway towards confident, effective leadership.

Whether you have started an upward climb to pursue management on your unit, become a trusted mentor in your department, or lead a new process improvement project, my advice is simple. Don’t get caught up in thinking about what you must do or attain in six months, five years, or a decade. Instead, take the time to engage. Listen to others, put your hand up, volunteer, and always endeavor to be curious and willing to broaden your understanding. You might just find your goals expanding, your expertise growing, and your leadership skills developing along the way.

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