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O'Neill brings welcome change

The creation of a new strategic planning position within the Duke University Health System administration, and the appointment of Molly O�Neill to fill that role, are positive steps toward bringing about change as the Health System moves forward.

It did not take long for Dr. Victor Dzau to make his first move as CEO of Duke University Health System. The doctor only arrived July 1, but he has already created a new strategic planning position and chosen a woman to fill it.

This is a lucid first step toward creating a Health System that has distinctive marks of Dzau’s leadership. Dzau was wise to create a new senior staff position immediately instead of waiting to fill a vacancy naturally created by someone’s departure. As many new leaders have noted, the ability to guide an organization is highly dependent on creating a network of trustworthy and competent people.

Molly O’Neill, whom Dzau has already worked with in Boston, arrived in Durham in June, before the chancellor officially took office. Her presence will immediately shake up a senior management team that employees within DUHS have called intimate and even exclusive.

Dr. Ralph Snyderman, Dzau’s predecessor, held the top job in the Health System since it was created, and many of the top officers have been a part of the senior staff since that time as well. While their loyalty is undoubtedly to the institution, they all have developed personal relationships with Snyderman, and some may have difficulty moving quickly in a new direction.

Adding O’Neill to the senior management team sends more than a signal that a new era has begun; it puts more, novel perspectives on the table. With O’Neill’s appointment, Dzau will never have to be the new kid on the block.

The position that Dzau created for O’Neill is also an insightful acknowledgment of the Health System’s future needs. To the outside observer, DUHS often seems to react to problems and developments in health care rather than to anticipate them. It often seems that structural changes in DUHS follow a tragic wake-up call, such a patient injury.

Although DUHS usually reacts impressively in such instances—often becoming a field leader when it does make changes—adding a planning officer without an apparent impetus is a positive development. The Health System has grown immensely since its inception in 1998, and health care is an increasingly complicated business.

A strategic planning officer, whose primary job is to analyze the health care climate and anticipate future financial and operational needs, is an excellent addition to DUHS management. Other senior staff have done an admirable job of keeping the Health System out of financial trouble, but it is time for someone to devote her full time to planning. Health care will continue to evolve at an increasing rate and if DUHS does not keep an eye on the medical horizon, a downward spiral could come quickly.

The fact that O’Neill happens to be a woman will also dispel the image of DUHS that occasionally surfaces as an all-boys club.

O’Neill’s colleague at her previous position said she was particularly adept at building collaborations among physicians. The DUHS administration, which Duke physicians periodically criticize for its lack of communication, needs more people with this skill. The Health System should welcome O’Neill with open arms.

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