Nycum, an AAPL member since 2006, was on vacation in Paris three years ago during the terrorist attack that killed 130 people. He shares lessons learned from his proximity to the tragedy.
Lawrence Nycum, MD, MMM, CPE, FACOG, FAAPL, the senior vice president for medical affairs with Novant Health, was in Paris for a birthday vacation with his wife, Lynn, in November 2015, when terrorists killed 130 people outside a soccer stadium, restaurants and an indoor concert.
Nycum’s first instinct was to assist with the triage of the 413 other casualties, informing police guarding the bridges that he was a physician. However, “given the circumstances,” he says, “they were not in the mood for much conversation.”
Turned away, he retreated to his rented apartment and laid low on the floor with Lynn as the sirens blared throughout the night.
Q It’s nearly impossible for physician leaders to be fully prepared for nightmare scenarios like the Paris attack. Although your offer to help was denied, did you learn anything from this experience?
A From a market leadership position, we revisited our emergency management response to do a threat analysis. It is interesting what you learn when you have drills around active shooters or mass casualties. There is always something to learn. My biggest fear is not knowing what I don’t know … that keeps me up at night.
Q What would you advise physician leaders to do to best prepare for catastrophic situations?
A It’s important to perform a stakeholder analysis, to see who needs to be at the table to understand your capabilities and lines of communication. Most health systems have an emergency management response policy and a prepopulated contingency team, and FEMA has physician training programs for emergency situations.
Q You’ve said the Ebola crisis a few years ago was the biggest crisis you’ve faced at Novant. What could other physician leaders learn from the way you handled it?
A It takes a team, and you can lead the team, but you rapidly understand that, individually, you do not possess all the competencies needed to address the issue. It’s a significant challenge to devise a rapid, cohesive response to an evolving threat. The amount of time, effort, manpower, logistics and unbudgeted expense that we had to deal with was tremendous. However, it was a great learning experience and really stretched me as a leader.
Q Regarding leadership, Novant Health is allocating funds for physician leaders to pursue CPE credentials through AAPL. What needs does this fill for your organization?
A Proactively supporting the development of leadership competencies within our physician team allows us to enhance our bench strength and gives us an added market advantage in the ever-changing health care environment. We have a significant number of engaged and aligned physicians who realize the benefit of obtaining the CPE. It conveys additional street credibility and signals to others a commitment to the leadership journey.
Q As someone who oversees more than 2,500 providers at seven Novant Health facilities in the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, area, what advice would you offer staff members aspiring to leadership positions?
A Everyone’s leadership journey is different, but with certain commonalities or core principles. First, physicians tend to respect and interact better with leaders who have been “in the trenches” as clinicians. Second, be a team player. Although we are trained to be autonomous, you need to interact and lead — or even be led by others on the team. Third, a leader can go only so far as a content expert; those with more self-awareness and self-motivation tend to separate themselves from other aspiring leaders. Finally, those who can fix problems while keeping the patient in the center tend to do well. The bottom line: Leaders must build relationships and change culture. If you can, you will be successful.