My leadership journey began largely by chance. After several years in private practice as a pulmonologist, I was seeking a professional change and chose to join National Jewish Health in Denver. At the time, I was professionally fulfilled as a clinician, and had no interest in a leadership position. I began at NJH as an ICU contractor with the goal of being hired on as full-time clinical faculty. I impressed my immediate supervisors with my performance, and they offered me the full-time position in addition to the directorship of a multi-specialty satellite clinic.
Though I never would have answered an advertisement for the director position, I trusted my supervisors' judgement and took the job. Thus, began an incredibly rewarding new phase in my professional life.
Emerging from fellowship training in 2007, my greatest strengths and interests lay in the practice of clinical medicine. I have also always enjoyed teaching, and I was fortunate to join a pulmonary and critical care practice that included teaching opportunities with internal medicine residents and medical students. That position also included a rewarding outlet of physician and community education through the group’s many established programs. At that early stage however, my primary goal was honing my skills as a pulmonary and critical care clinician. Just as I had become settled and was being groomed for a possible leadership role within the group, I moved to Colorado for family reasons. Feeling mature as a clinician, I joined NJH after seven rewarding years in practice.
Since taking on the NJH satellite clinic directorship, my professional life has been characterized by remarkable growth. The clinic had been present since inception without a medical director, and it was introduced to me as "dying on the vine". My community medical experience gave me many tools with which to build a new pulmonary practice as the core service for the clinic.
To help gain expertise and shape nascent management skills, my mentor, the CMO, suggested that I explore leadership courses through the American Association of Physician Leadership (AAPL). The coursework proved extremely fruitful, and I elected to pursue the certified physician executive (CPE) certification, which took about three years to complete.
Aided by my new perspectives on leadership gained through AAPL, I began to discover innate administrative talents that had never been drawn upon.
These manifested themselves at all levels from managing the clinic staff to interacting with upper administrators. At the same time, though, came the hard work of trying to understand and overcome the numerous challenges facing the clinic. Guided by intuition, my coursework, my clinic manager, and my mentor, I began gathering information and chipping away at some of the smaller issues. It took fully two years before I really started to find my voice, and it became plainly apparent that I would not be able to solve many of the problems on my own. I had growing confidence, especially after achieving my CPE, and after taking this information to several influential people, I started to see some results.
Thus far, I have been fortunate to enjoy a few successes in my director role. These include an increased number of total pulmonary patient visits per month at the clinic, as well as the fact that administrators on the main campus now have unprompted discussions about the clinic, which had previously been largely unknown outside of a few central leaders. Other growth has come in the form of the establishment of a new CME program aimed at local referring providers as well as the recruitment and effective orientation of a new full-time pulmonary provider. I have reduced support staff turnover while improving clinic morale and been able to reshape the rapidly growing allergy program.
Leadership opportunities seem to have a way of leading to other leadership opportunities, and I have also been able to expand my influence outside of the satellite clinic. I now serve on the medical executive committee and was asked to lead a new committee charged with improving the onboarding of new faculty members. Outside of my home institution, I serve on a steering committee for one of my national physician organizations and have more recently been pursuing ways to shape local youth vaping prevention efforts, which is an issue that I have always been passionate about but now find myself with greater voice, ambitions, and skill.
Just four years ago, this satisfied clinician would not have ever dreamed of the rapidly expanding roles that I now occupy. It all began with trusting my mentor's judgement and highly effective training through AAPL. Since then, I have thrived more professionally in the last few years than in any period since medical school, and I greatly look forward to an exciting future as a physician leader.
Evan L. Stepp, MD, FCCP, CPE
Director, Highlands Ranch Clinic
National Jewish Health Highlands Ranch, CO