Arkansas Children’s boss talks leadership, moving the needle on healthcare

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 425 views 

Marcy Doderer was a summer intern in 1988 at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. It was that point she realized running a children’s hospital was her dream job and her education and job choices were aimed squarely at that goal in the years following.

Doderer, now the CEO of Little Rock-based Arkansas Children’s Hospital, is responsible for around 4,500 employees who provide healthcare to tens of thousands of children a year. She shared her life and career experiences at the Cross Church Summit Luncheon in Rogers on Thursday (Oct.3).

Doderer said she never played sports in school and wasn’t the smartest in the class, but still craved opportunities to lead and found them in clubs and organizations through her school years and early career. She said leaders can follow many different styles but for her, it’s being authentic and leading with honesty and courage to elevate those around her.

She is in a unique position as CEO of a children’s specialty hospital whose mission is to care for ill children and promote health and wellness because she is a mom of a child with a serious health condition.

“Around 21.5 years ago I became a mom and I learned about compassion while trying to navigate a very complicated healthcare business. Katie has congenital centralhypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), a disorder of the central nervous system that impacts breathing,” Doderer said.

She said Katie is one of about 600 kids in the world to have this rare disorder that requires a ventilator to breathe. Now in her senior year at Washington University in St. Louis, Katie has spent more than her fair share of time in the hospital and will forever need healthcare.

“I have spent plenty of time on the parent’s side of the bed with Katie and I understand what parents of sick children are going through,” Doderer said.

She said a patient at Arkansas Children’s Hospital named Abigail was diagnosed with bone cancer in her lower leg. A gifted track athlete, her lower leg had to be amputated this past summer and now the 16-year-old is trying to figure out what her track future will look like with a prosthetic.

“She has the biggest smile you can imagine and a good prognosis. Her mom Tammy, is my nursing director at the hospital (Little Rock), … has become a parent on the other side of the hospital bed. My job is to make life better for Abigail as a caretaker of children and for Tammy as an employer,” Doderer said.

She said leadership is not just about running a successful business, it’s also about caring for people in the organization who work toward the mission of excellence in children’s health. Doderer said setting the company culture is one of the most important tasks she has as CEO. She said in the right culture, employees will answer challenges and exceed expectations. She said effective leaders not only coach and challenge employees but they will also roll up their sleeves and help create solutions.

Doderer said the older she gets the more she appreciates honesty and truth, especially when hiring. She said “A” leaders will hire “A” employees, but “B” leaders will hire “C” employees. The basis for this assumption is that A’s look for excellence in their staffs and B leaders are often insecure of A leaders and they hire C employees to ensure their role in not threatened.

Doderer said “A” quality leaders are required in her leadership circle. When she recently discovered one of the direct reports was a “B” leader and the department she managed was ripe with drama, it became necessary to restructure the division. Doderer said the leader was allowed to exit gracefully and her entire staff also no longer works at Arkansas Children’s.

“It can be hard to look honestly at people and the jobs they do, but it’s crucial to apply a lens of truth if you want to recruit and retain the best team players for your organization,” she said.

Doderer said Arkansas Children’s is at the end of a 5-year growth plan and will formulate a new strategic plan for the board by the first quarter of 2020. She said this plan seeks to bring more access to 700,000 children around the state. That could an extension of telehealth in some communities, school clinics and mobile clinics. She said the state of healthcare for Arkansas children is dire with 30,000 estimated cases of child abuse and neglect each year and 156,000 children, or 22%, living in poverty. She said 52% are without a medical home and 23% are food insecure, which means they don’t know where their next meal will come from. Overall, Doderer said, Arkansas ranks No. 40 among all the state for child health and well-being.

“Our kids in Arkansas deserve better than that and Arkansas Children’s will continue to do all it can to improve that position, but it will take us all to move that needle,” she said.

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