Member Spotlight: Dr. Paul DeChant, IBM Deputy Chief Health Officer

By Brittany Hink | AAPL Staff
August 18, 2017

DeChant is senior health care adviser at Simpler Consulting and deputy chief health officer for IBM. Here, he shares advice on leadership and wellness.


Paul DeChant, MD, MBA, FAAFP, has been an American Association for Physician Leadership member since 1996. DeChant is a senior health care adviser at Simpler Consulting and deputy chief health officer for IBM, and he stays actively engaged with the association, including as a presenter at live institutes and members-only webinars.

paul dechant

Paul DeChant

He and co-author Diane Shannon, MD, MPH, have recently published a book, Preventing Physician Burnout: Curing the Chaos and Returning Joy to the Practice of Medicine.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

What inspired you to become a physician, and where do you find career inspiration?

From the time I was little, I was interested in being a doctor. The usual thing, I liked people and I never really thought of being anything else. I find my inspiration in the challenges that clinicians face focusing on their patients. My ultimate goal is to have the best possible healing interaction between a physician and their patients, and what I find is that there have been so many external changes impacting the health care environment that it’s getting harder and harder to have that deep connection with our patients. … I am inspired to remove as many of those barriers to that connection between a physician and their patient. 

What advice do you have for physicians looking at getting into leadership?

It’s important to know yourself and what your motivation is. [For] people who worry most about wanting to become a CEO because they think there is something special about becoming a CEO, understanding your personal motivation is really key. It has to be driven by this desire to make things better and it has to be driven by what you want to do and why you want to do it — not what title you want to have. If you are pursuing what is most important to you and you understand why that is, then that will sustain you through the challenges. You will be the kind of person who can help support people that are reporting up to you.

You recently did a webinar for AAPL on physician burnout. For physicians who are facing that, what do you want them to know?

First of all, it’s important to take care of yourself. When you are taking care of yourself and you are feeling like you’ve got the capacity to do more, then there are more things to do. Take care of yourself so you build up some internal capacity. There is a lot of work on resilience training and burnout coaching these days — it’s really important to get people to a point where they are stable and have capacity. The next step is really crucial, and that is to engage in work to fix what’s broken in the workplace. Fix what’s broken in the workflows that we have, looking at your hospital and clinic and being able to get engaged in work that can address and understand where the barriers and frustrations are that we run into. As we understand those, then we will be able to change the way things are done to remove those barriers and frustrations. Watch DeChant's recorded webinar.

How should CEOs work with team members to help them not feel burned out?

It is really important for people in the C-suite to go to where the work is actually being done. Go and shadow physicians and nurses in the hospital — really, truly shadow to see and understand the challenges that they face. Then in your hospital or clinic, whatever process people are using to help fix things, if its huddles or meetings, attend those. Not to bring solutions but, again, to understand the challenges people are facing. Meeting with people who are working in management and supervisory positions, connecting with them as well to understand their challenges and to help them understand this different approach, the supportive approach of helping front-line folks solve their problems.

Can you share one of your favorite memories from medical school?

 In my first year, I was class vice president, and the president and I organized a talent show at Oregon Health Sciences University for the whole medical school. We just thought this would be fun. Neither of us had any personal talent, but we were good at organizing. So we organized the show and it was a hit. It took off. There were a lot of really talented people who wanted to share their talents. We did it again the next year and we ended up doing it all four years while we were there. I was just recently back there to give a presentation on burnout — it was in the same auditorium where we did the talent show. It was a real sense of déjà vu when I walked in there and realized where I was. It was literally 40 years later … and the talent show is still going on.

How has AAPL helped you in your career?

It’s helped me find jobs, sometimes when I was looking for them and sometimes when I wasn’t. I have stumbled upon some great opportunities, have met tremendous people who have been great mentors to me, and it has introduced me to concepts that I otherwise would not have had the chance to really dive into. Really, across the board — from interpersonal relationships, professional opportunities and new knowledge — it’s been tremendously helpful.

Editor’s note: This is the Member Spotlight feature from the AAPL Newsletter for August 2017. The newsletter is emailed monthly to all AAPL members. For information, or to suggest members for future profiles, email

Topics: Leadership

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