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Using Adversity & Teamwork to Transform Patients’ Experiences
Parkway medical director Brett Clayson leads one of the highest patient-rated clinics at U of U Health – but it wasn’t always that way. Here are the five leadership principles he used to transform his small, out-of-the-way clinic. Hint: Start with your strengths.

arkway Health Center is a unique clinic both because of its distance from the University (42.8 miles) and because we've experienced a tremendous amount of change. Five years ago, shortly after I joined the clinic, we had a complete turnover of our providers. This, among other factors, made our long term future uncertain. We were at a crossroads.

One path before us was to try and rally the organization to invest funds in the clinic to update its aesthetics and give us money for a marketing campaign. The other path was for us to choose to focus on areas that we felt we could control as a team, like exceptional patient experience (EPE) and quality. We sat down together and asked ourselves, what are we really good at?

We knew we could never compete on volume, so we decided to focus on our strength: the relationships we had developed with our patients.

How we turned our strengths into better patient experience

#1 Create informal influencers

Your influencers don’t need to be formal leaders. For example, we hired a physician assistant (PA-C) who had been a long time medical assistant who was emotionally invested in the success of the practice. We also had an experienced nursing supervisor who led a very good team of nursing staff. The staff were committed to making Parkway whole again and so very open to focusing on patient experience. We had a patient experience champion in Malcolm Masteller, a newly hired physician.

TRY THIS: Take a minute and write down two or three people who are informal influencers on your own teams. Make a goal to visit with them in a one-on-one to enlist them to your cause.

#2 Enlist executive support

Our administrative leaders Wayne Imbrescia, Tom Kline, and physician leader Susan Terry were personally very supportive of our focus on patient experience and quality. But they were also transparent with us, which was helpful. They did not commit to keep Parkway open. They did not magnify our weakness either, which was volume. Accountability was always there, but they inspired us to improve.

#3 Be a mentor

I take the approach of a leader who recognizes that by emphasizing a person’s strengths, they improve in all areas of their performance. Leadership is much more about finding positive qualities in people. It is about building them up and then building upon that. I find this approach particularly effective when working with my clinical peers, including physicians. While many of us may think we prefer to hear our weaknesses up front, my experience is that we prefer to focus on our strengths.

#4 Dig a little deeper

What are patients telling you? What is your team telling you? Talk about your efforts and be specific. Once you know where the issue is, then you can go to your team and say, "Hey, we drilled down and this is kind of what it's looking like. What do you think is the best way to remedy it?”

#5 Walk in their shoes

If providers were giving you an patient experience score based on their interaction with you, how would they rate you?

I get to know the people I work with. I treat them like they're our clients, just like we want to treat our patients. If you have a good relationship with your teams, then tough conversations become a lot easier.

When it comes to interacting with physicians, I always make sure to get to know them. It’s key to acknowledge some of the challenges that they have. In other words, you need to meet them on their terms. A physician might say, "All you administrators, you don't have any surveys about you, and yet there are surveys about me that are posted on the Internet.”

That's pretty tough. It's better to acknowledge the limitations of survey methodology, just right up front, and then get to know them as people.

TRY THIS: Rate yourself in these three areas: likelihood of recommending manager/colleague; manager’s explanation of condition/problem; manager’s friendliness and courtesy. Feeling brave? Include your ratings in the comment section below.


Annotated transcript from Brett Clayson’s speech at the Oct. 31, 2018, Leader Development Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Brett Clayson

Medical Director, Parkway Health Center, University of Utah Health

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