Fostering Leadership and Comradery in a Diverse and Dispersed Department

There are general professional development courses, and then there are healthcare-specific professional development courses. Many members of the University of Wisconsin Department of Surgery have experienced both types of courses and have learned a little more about themselves in the process.

But each participant in the Department’s inaugural session of the Weikel Leadership and Engagement Across Disciplines of Surgery, or LEADS, Program said it surpassed their expectations, offering both healthcare-specific and non-healthcare speakers and lessons that brought them closer to the UW Health system, closer to their colleagues across the Department, and closer to how they want to be impactful leaders at Wisconsin Surgery.

The program, curated by Chief Administrative Officer Nicole Jennings and Department Chair Rebecca Minter, MD, featured a full year of monthly meetings with unique leaders from within the University of Wisconsin /UW Health and from the wider Dane County area. Topics included diversity, equity & inclusion, healthcare financial management, leading teams, negotiation strategies in challenging environments, innovation, strategic and business planning, and more.

The seed that would grow into the Weikel LEADS program was planted in 2020, when the Department revealed a significant internal professional development program as one of its 5-year strategic plan initiatives. As the COVID-19 pandemic radically changed meetings and gatherings all over the world, it took extra time and care to set up the program and its initial cohort of 28 participants for success; the program hosted its first meeting in November 2021, and ended in October 2022.

“This was one of the first things we were able to do to bring people back together in-person as a department,” said Jennings.

In work as specialized as surgery, with 11 divisions across the Department, gathering in-person didn’t just mean reconnecting with peers that participants hadn’t seen since 2019. It also meant making new connections with folks they wouldn’t normally work with and better understanding how their differing workloads served the same mission of moving surgery forward.

For Dave Foley, MD, these connections within the program have translated to how he conducts himself in the hospital both in and out of the OR. “Now, I set aside time to walk around and maintain high quality conversations throughout the day that aren’t necessary meetings,” Dr. Foley said.

Others spoke on the value of a dedicated pre-planned time and space to dig deeply into their work.

“I’m so grateful for the protected time we had to get away from the typical workday and interact with other people in the department,” said Sudha Pavuluri Quamme, MD, MS, a Scientist in the Wisconsin Surgical Outcomes Research laboratory. “There are so many facets between UW Health, the UW Medical Foundation, and the School of Medicine and Public Health, and it’s unique to have a situation where all entities come together and we can understand how they do so.”

Breadth of participation and learning were key goals: Participants included faculty, administrative staff, and advanced practice providers, and there was just as wide a variety in speakers and programming. One favorite speaker was UW-Madison Chancellor Emerita Rebecca Blank, who met with the group in her last few months in the role. Robert Flannery, Chief Financial Officer of UW Health, was also lauded by participants for demystifying finances within the UW Health system, and how that work involves all levels of staff.

“Little things make a big difference,” said Rick Ziegler, Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Surgery and LEADS participant. “It’s complicated and administrative staff does a lot to help advocate to make everyone successful, but everyone has the ability to make a difference.”

While Jennings and Dr. Minter were the primary curators for the program, it was made possible by a generous donation from Keith and Barbara Weikel, former healthcare professionals themselves. Keith Weikel, the former Chief Operating Officer and Director Emeritus of HCR Manor Care, Inc., had a strong interest in training healthcare leaders, and aimed to develop a program that would provide business and leadership training for people who were already stepping up as leaders in their individual specialties and practices. Keith sadly passed before the program’s first session, but knew it was being developed, and his wife, Barbara, a retired nurse, took an active role in bringing it to fruition.

The Department is now in the process of selecting its next cohort of LEADS participants in preparation for its second session, starting in July 2023. To learn more about the program, visit our website.