Effective Leadership at the Heart of Community Healthcare

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“A budget of $1 million in the hands of an ineffective leader won’t deliver better results than $20,000 in the hands of an effective one,” says Shirin Vakharia, explaining the importance of healthcare leadership. 

As a director at Marin Community Foundation, Shirin is certain that providing high-quality care is rooted in having top-quality leaders. Shirin and her colleagues at MCF are acutely familiar with the challenges and opportunities that impact systems in the ever-changing healthcare field. They see that great management is a critical part of success, in order to navigate the changing system and support a hardworking staff.

With changing policies and public perspectives, the next generation of healthcare leaders requires balancing many priorities. This involves a different, more flexible mindset to succeed. “They have to operate in two worlds – first, a fee-for-service model that still focuses on volume; and then also on new models that focus on care, which are in some ways still largely unknown,” says Shirin. “So leadership has to work on those two tracks – the present and the future.”

In Marin County, this next generation must recognize the particular challenges affecting our local systems.

The aging population of patients nationwide is increasing the nationwide demand for healthcare services. This impact in Marin County is especially notable. The county’s population is the oldest on average in the Bay Area, and one of the oldest in California, amongst similar-sized communities. “This has huge implications in healthcare – on leadership, delivery, payment – and these growing needs can be increasingly costly if not well taken care of,” says Shirin.

In addition, Marin County continues to see extreme income disparities, along with increasing racial, ethnic, and language diversity. “How do we develop a culturally competent healthcare system?” Shirin asks. “How do people with extreme economic challenges experience living in the county and interacting with these systems?”

For healthcare leaders, this means creating an experience that’s “welcoming, understanding, and caring” for all our community members, says Shirin. The effectiveness of leadership is key to progress in the field. One must be able to fit together the puzzle pieces of health resources, partnerships, and community needs.

The benefits of social services and preventative care are widely acknowledged, but they are still not incentivized in the mindset and practices of our current systems. The next generation must take the lead on connecting the dots.

The field also demands leaders with emotional intelligence who can thrive under pressure and inspire others within a stressful work environment. “This is an exciting time to be in healthcare—with lots of innovation, experimentation, and good data coming back on ROI,” says Shirin. “But that’s on the shoulders of individuals who are often overwhelmed and working hard to do good.”

Local institutions, like Dominican University of California, are specially poised to answer the call for future leadership development.

“Healthcare really happens in communities, so with Dominican University, there is a lot of potential,” says Shirin. “Through my years in Marin, I’ve seen Dominican working as a community partner, not just an academic institution.” Across the University, programs are collaborating with partners and leaders in the local community. This creates opportunities for students to gain real-world experience, and for the university to give back to the community in various ways.

The new Healthcare Leadership program at Dominican University promises to provide more of these opportunities. With a dual focus in healthcare and business, the program will benefit from relationships developed by both the Barowsky School of Business and the School of Health & Natural Sciences. It offers graduate tracks for either an MBA or an MS in Healthcare Leadership. Graduates will go on to shape healthcare in Marin County and beyond.

“We need to attract people to the field who want to operate differently than we have in the past,” says Shirin. “And we need universities to shape their thinking, so they to come in prepared to lead with those new perspectives already a part of their mindset. Having the right people steering the ship is critical to transforming the system.”

Learn more about the new Healthcare Leadership programs (MS & MBA) at Dominican University of California.



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