I believe you should follow your instincts, spend more time listening than talking, hire the best people and get out of their way, and, if the pressure drops, put on your own oxygen mask first. I read an article once about your gut being connected to your memory and that your ‘gut instinct’ is a result of a collection of experiences. It’s our subconscious warning signal and every time I make a mistake, it’s because I went against my gut. The part about the oxygen mask is because it’s not possible to effectively lead and make decisions in everyone’s best interests if you’re not taking care of your own basic needs first.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Caitlin Beck Stella, MPH. She is the CEO of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, part of the six-hospital Memorial Healthcare System (MHS) in South Florida. Of Memorial’s six hospitals, three are run by women. The women are collectively leading a team of more than 6,000 employees and volunteers in facilities that see nearly 500,000 patients a year. MHS is one of the largest public healthcare systems (by revenue) in the U.S.
Thank you so much for joining us Caitlin. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
While I was in high school, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. Till that point, my only experiences with healthcare involved “well care.” Now, for the first time, my family was experiencing “sick care.”
It was a stressful time for everyone, and trying to navigate the healthcare system was one of the most difficult things we were faced with. After my grandfather passed, I began volunteering at the hospital based on the suggestion of one of his physicians. The experience was very therapeutic and I feel in love with being in that environment.
This career isn’t for everyone, but I felt like I could have a positive impact on the lives of those in the same situation my family once was by doing everything I can to improve the healthcare process.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your hospital?
Being a children’s hospital that doesn’t look and feel like an intimidating place, we get really excited about Halloween and go all-out to make the holiday a special one for the kids. Our administrative leaders decided to dress as Disney characters and I chose to be Snow White. We have a festival for the patients late in the afternoon before trick-or-treating starts.
A three-year-old girl there with her parents kept coming up to me. She’d hug my leg and, when I bent down, she’d touch my wig and the red bow on my head. This went on three or four different times.
The last time, she leaned in and whispered in my ear, “I know about the apple. Please don’t eat it!”
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 once attended a lunch event and, much to my surprise, was called to the stage to receive an award. I had no idea this would happen and no remarks prepared. I was petrified as I went to accept knowing I’d be expected to make a short speech.
The valuable lessons learned? Always know one good joke to tell and be prepared for anything.
What do you think makes your hospital stand out? Can you share a story?
MHS is an exceptional healthcare system and it’s our people make us who we are. We hire the best talent and have a philosophy and culture that is 100% focused on patient and family-centered care, quality, and service.
Our true north is doing the right thing, and we’re all empowered to do so no matter what.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My current focus is on Wellington, Florida, a Palm Beach county community that will soon be home to a Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital specialty care center.
As the regional leaders and providers of complex pediatric care, it’s important JDCH reach as many people as could benefit from our expertise and services as possible. We know that driving long distances to see pediatric specialists is disruptive to school and other childhood routines, so we’re committed to providing increased access within South Florida. We’ve had a very warm welcome from the community in Wellington and in Palm Beach County, so we’re excited to begin seeing patients there early in 2019.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Women are known for our “gut instinct.” It’s a powerful force. Respect, listen, embrace, and always let it guide you. The only mistakes I have made resulted from not following my instincts.
At our core, we are all human beings who want to feel part of something bigger — something with purpose. We want to know that our contributions matter and make a difference. So, thank people. Share the impact they make on others with them. It’s what motivates all of us to continue doing what we do and become better people.
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 am absolutely a product of the many people who helped me along the way — from my parents and grandparents, to teachers, colleagues, bosses and mentors.
One of my colleagues from consulting is someone I’ve always viewed as a leader and mentor in our field. He’s also the father of two young daughters and a person I admire very much. Recently, he shared that he saw me as a great example to young girls and a role model for his own daughters. He was thankful they’d have someone like me in their lives and careers.
To hear that from someone I considered a mentor and leader in my own career was, to me, the ultimate compliment.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe making the world a better place is something I see as a primary function in work and life.
In a children’s hospital, it’s our job to make sure we are delivering goodness along with excellent care. Kids are not supposed to get sick and when they do, it’s our duty to bring joy and light where we can. Every moment matters.
Can you share with our readers some of the leadership lessons you learned from your experience?
I believe you should follow your instincts, spend more time listening than talking, hire the best people and get out of their way, and, if the pressure drops, put on your own oxygen mask first.
I read an article once about your gut being connected to your memory and that your ‘gut instinct’ is a result of a collection of experiences. It’s our subconscious warning signal and every time I make a mistake, it’s because I went against my gut.
The part about the oxygen mask is because it’s not possible to effectively lead and make decisions in everyone’s best interests if you’re not taking care of your own basic needs first.
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?
I would hope to inspire others to follow their hearts in their personal and professional lives:
- Choose the work you love and do it with enthusiasm and joy
- Be courageous
- Build and maintain relationships with care
That might not the entire formula for success, but it’s a large part of it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I received a card from my mom once that included a quote from Picasso. “The meaning in life is to find your gift. The purpose in life is to give it away.”
It’s our responsibility to give meaning to others. This makes me think of our physicians and nurses, in particular. It’s not a job that’s for everyone — operating on a newborn baby’s heart or taking care of a child dying of cancer. Most of us would not be able to handle it but those that have felt the calling are obligated to give their gift to help others.
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?
I would like to talk with women and mothers in developing countries who are entrepreneurs or trying to start businesses. I would like to understand the challenges they face economically and politically and what motivates them.
We should never underestimate the positive impact that motivated women can make!