Dr. Jennifer Haythe: “Do not hesitate to praise or compliment great work”

Do not hesitate to praise or compliment great work. As we age out of tests and homework into the real world, we lose much of the feedback we are accustomed to getting. It is so important to tell people when they have done a great job and why. I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Jennifer […]

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Do not hesitate to praise or compliment great work. As we age out of tests and homework into the real world, we lose much of the feedback we are accustomed to getting. It is so important to tell people when they have done a great job and why.

I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Jennifer Haythe, MD, a leading cardiologist, Director of Cardio-obstetrics and internist at NYPH/Columbia. As the Co-Director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health and Columbia, Dr. Jenn specializes in the care of pregnant women.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Well, I always loved science and biology. I remember when I was in 3rd grade we dissected a frog in school and I was fascinated. I immediately asked my science teacher for a catalogue and made my mom order me a fetal pig to dissect at home! There was little doubt by the time I was in college that I would go pre-med. I knew I could never have a desk job and that I needed to find a way to combine my love of science with spending time with people. As a doctor I get both — I work with great teams of doctors, nurses and students while getting to know so many wonderful patients and their families.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Ever been on a heart transplant donor run? Well if you do, it will change your life — it definitely changed mine. It happened to me when I was a fellow in training and I got the call. I was there from beginning to end, a life-changing roller coaster of emotion. It begins with the procurement of the donor heart at another institution. And while you are there to do a job, you are keenly aware of the gravity of what has happened to someone’s loved one. That in their grief they are able to give the gift of life. Then you bring the heart back and watch it transplanted into a dying person’s chest, with the subsequent joy and relief for that patient and their family. It is frankly overwhelming and awe-inspiring and a testament to the kindness, determination and love in so many people.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember I was a medical student and the head doctor asked me to present the case at the patient’s bedside in front of the team. When I was finished she asked me to examine the patient starting with checking the blood pressure. As I grabbed the blood pressure cuff I pulled the cord across the patients face to reach the arm. Everyone laughed including the patient who pulled the cord off her face. My chief smiled and asked me to try that again without “hurting anyone.” I was so embarrassed but now when I teach students I reflect on those humbling moments and remember to treat them with compassion and understanding, as we were all beginners at one time! We all need to learn how to be experts.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I work at a large academic medical center Columbia University Medical Center — New York Presbyterian Hospital. I can honestly say that the people I work with every day are simply incredible. We are lucky to have so many talented people working tireless together to solve some of the most complicated, unique problems of human health.

I took care of a pregnant women a few years ago who had terrible coronary artery disease from lymphoma radiation therapy in her youth. She presented at 26 weeks of pregnancy, having chest pain and a heart attack. Within minutes we had called almost every discipline in to the cardiac catheterization lab: obstetrics, anesthesia, pediatrics, neonatology, cardiology and cardiac surgery assembled in. This multi-disciplinary collaborative approach enabled us to rapidly stabilize her, place stents in her blocked arteries, and manage her through the rest of the pregnancy and to a healthy delivery. There aren’t many places where you can get that many different people together so quickly to work together for a common goal.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am a heart failure specialist but through my work with pregnant women with heart disease I have become very involved in women’s heart health. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in this country — more than all cancers combined! And yet there is still a huge knowledge and treatment gap. We have launched the Columbia Women’s heart Center this year to address these gender discrepancies, educate women about the risk of cardiovascular disease, and provide women patients with a diverse group of doctors who specialize in women’s cardiovascular disease. We also just had our 5th annual Women and Heart Disease Symposium which brings together experts in the various fields of cardiology to speak on a wide range of topics and hopefully bring knowledge, attention, and new research into this area.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I think it is crucial to find a mentor that inspires you, even if that person is outside of your institution. Surround yourself with different kinds of people that introduce you to alternative ways of thinking about a problem. Always support other women in your field. Encourage positivity and steer away from gossip. Say yes to things you might normally avoid. Listen to what your team is saying.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I had a wonderful mentor, also a cardiologist, who was my supervisor when I was an intern and resident. One day I ran into her in the parking garage and she asked me what I decided to specialize in. I told her the truth — that I loved cardiology but I worried it would be too hard, too male dominated, too much time away from the future family I wanted to build. Right there on the spot she offered me a job after my residency doing a heart failure fellowship. She told me I could do it and I believed her because she was someone I trusted and admired. So I changed all my plans and worked for her and then did my cardiology fellowship. She hired me after my training was done and I have stayed at Columbia since then. She always told me I should never doubt myself, and when I do, I think back to her and that moment.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

This year I was fortunate enough to meet Christy Turlington who founded Every Mother Counts — a non-profit dedicated to reducing maternal mortality around the world. She invited me on a trip with her foundation to Tanzania to visit schools and birthing centers that her foundation supports. We fundraised to run the Kilimanjaro half marathon and all the proceeds went to her foundation. That too was a life altering experience — it is amazing that at any point in your life your perception can expand and change dramatically.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Have integrity and lead by example. In my opinion, the most influential thing you can do for your team is to set an example of hard work, ethics, compassion, and competence.

2. Embrace change — this can be hard for everyone at times but systems change and evolve and we need to be able to adapt and see change as positive.

3. Do not hesitate to praise or compliment great work. As we age out of tests and homework into the real world, we lose much of the feedback we are accustomed to getting. It is so important to tell people when they have done a great job and why.

4. Network — my husband taught me this lesson! Getting out and meeting people in your field or similar areas is essential. You can not live in a vacuum.

5. Apologize and acknowledge when you are wrong. It is so important to admit when you have made a mistake. It helps foster a culture of honesty and acceptance.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Well, my obvious choice would be a movement to end heart disease. BUT — I think that the movement the world really needs is one to save and protect our environment. All of our amazing discoveries and accomplishments in science, the arts, literature, architecture, music, sports, will be meaningless if we destroy our planet. We should start with single use plastics — enough already!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is a quote that has been attributed to Mark Twain (though it is not clear if it was he who said it). “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble — it’s what you think you know for sure that just ain’t so.” I have always loved this quote because it is such an important concept — especially for medicine. If you don’t know something you can always look it up, ask for advice, and educate yourself. But if you are arrogant and stubborn and think you are right without listening to others or double checking — that is what gets you into trouble! It is so important to be open-minded, always learning, and be humble.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have breakfast with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I love the example she has set — a comedian who has been successful in a male dominated field, a mother, a wife, a humanitarian, an activist, a cancer survivor. I find her inspiring. And I love to laugh — she fits the bill!

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