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One-on-One With Good Samaritan Hospital CIO Chuck Christian, Part III

December 16, 2009
by root
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In this part of our interview, Christian says CIOs must leverage industry organizations and conferences to continually learn and grow.

On first blush, you might think Vincennes, Ind.-based Good Samaritan Hospital is just another small community healthcare provider in the heartland of America. At 232 beds, how much could be possibly be happening on the IT front? But upon closer look, it’s clear this organization is different. Good Samaritan offers a range of medical services, as well as some of the most progressive technology available today. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when your CIO has been chairman of the HIMSS board. To learn more about what’s going on at GSH, and pick the brain of a top CIO about HITECH, HCI Editor-in-Chief Anthony Guerra recently talked with Chuck Christian.

(Part I, Part II)

GUERRA: Have you read the book Good to Great?

CHRISTIAN: I’ve read it in pieces, but I haven’t sat and read it all the way through.


GUERRA: Because your bus analogy reminded me of Collins’ example in the book.

CHRISTIAN: That’s right.


GUERRA: Are there any mentoring programs out there for CIOs that you recommend, such as something from CHIME or HIMSS?

CHRISTIAN: CHIME does have a full mentoring program, and I’ve been a mentor and a mentee at different times. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have a network of individuals in the industry that you trust, and that’s what I’ve gotten through my relationships in CHIME and HIMSS. Through those organizations I know others have experienced these things I’m going through so that I can pick up the phone, I can call these guys and ladies, who I consider my friends. I can’t express the value that those relationships have brought me over the years.

The other thing I did early in my career, when I was trying to figure out the CIO thing, is that I got to know a few people in the industry who I thought were visionary leaders. You’ve got John Glaser, who’s always out there, John Wade, there is another guy, Buddy Hickman, Ward Keever and Bill Montgomery, all guys that I met early in my career through a variety of organizations. I watched how they handled themselves professionally, read the stuff they wrote, and watched their careers. I told John Wade, “You know, John, a long time ago when we first met, I told myself if you can be more like this guy and learn how he interacts and what he does, you will not go wrong.” And, of course, he apologized that I had picked such a sorry role model (laughing). It’s been really great. John has been a good friend over the years, and I had the pleasure of following him as chair of HIMSS where I got to experience his leadership. Buddy was right before him, Blackford (Middleton) was right before him, so I’ve had the opportunity of watching some really great role models for me, and I can count those guys as friends of mine, not only as professional acquaintances. And so the other thing that’s important is going to these professional organization meetings and creating those networks of individuals and trying to connect with as much of the industry as possible.

The other thing that’s helpful is reading publications like yours and others that are out there, there’s just a wealth of information, but you really must get outside the walls of your organization. You cannot expect to have everything come to you. And so you do that through some virtual experiences, such as Webinars, especially now when travel budgets have been cut.

The other thing is once you start volunteering for things, you’ll expand your acquaintances and have an opportunity to have conversations and learn from the experiences of others.

But you also have to understand what your limitations are. Several years ago, CHIME had an opportunity called 360 Evaluation, and I took advantage of that. The fee wasn’t that expensive, and so you were encouraged to get people all around you to talk about your strengths and weaknesses, people in your personal life, in your professional life, the people that you reported to and above them, and the people that reported to you, and you get this holistic view of who you are. It’s really an interesting thing because I think everybody has this vision of, “How I am, what are my skills, where are my strong points, where are my weaknesses,” and it’s really humbling to get a nice holistic view of who you are. Then you do a comparative analysis about how you think you’re doing with those skills versus what other people are telling you in a variety of locations.


GUERRA: So that was pretty valuable?

CHRISTIAN: Oh, it’s extremely valuable. And that’s been probably six or seven years ago, and I’m actually considering looking for another opportunity to do it again. I want to see if I’ve grown, if I’ve gotten better or worse, and find opportunities for growth. The other thing is there’s a whole bunch more around healthcare operations that I need to learn, even though I’ve learned a great deal. Things are just changing so quickly that I get to learn something a little different every day.


GUERRA: I’m impressed that you’ve been in the business 25 years and you’re still absolutely excited about learning.

CHRISTIAN: Absolutely.


GUERRA: I think the key question is, are you going to let your four daughters respond in that 360 Evaluation?