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rachael mckinney

Rachael McKinney

Class of 2004

What is your current role in health care?

“Currently, I am a Hospital Area CEO at Sutter Health in Northern California.  In this role, I have accountability for three hospitals including, Sutter Amador Hospital, Sutter Davis Hospital and Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento.

I’ve been with Sutter Health for 15 of the last 18 years since the completion of my fellowship in 2004 at Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo. As a result of choosing my fellowship location wisely, I’ve been fortunate to hold a variety of leadership roles at Sutter and have had a long and rewarding career. Looking back, I thought I would just be in California for my fellowship and then move back to Minnesota or go back to Denver where I had done my summer residency, but I guess the rest is history.”

What stands out as a favorite memory during your time as an MHA student?

I have a lot of fond memories of the program and a lot of them are the social memories that we created. I’m still friends with several of my classmates and we try to get together, intermittently and we’ve done some girl’s trips, visited each other, attended each other’s weddings, etc. I think that the development of lifelong friendships is definitely a standout.

I also really enjoyed the “walk and gawks.” Those were incredibly helpful in really getting to experience the “real world” of healthcare and to meet and see such accomplished healthcare leaders in action, many of them alumni of the program.

Of course, we had the annual fishing trip, the roast…all are great memories

How has the MHA Program helped prepare you for your career?

One of the ways the program helped prepare me for my career is through the analytical thinking that we developed through the problem solving methodology. I think that has really shaped how I approach my leadership and how I approach problems in my organization. I find myself using the “never assume” and “in light of” phrases regularly.

I think the program forces an expansion of the analytical thinking that is so important as healthcare leaders. Especially now as we really strive towards providing health care in a more affordable and efficient way, it is super important that we have really questioning mindsets and we are always analyzing how we can do things better. Going back to the site visits, being able to then apply those learnings to the real world was really helpful. The real world exposure that we got, and being able to physically see environments and hear from leaders, what their challenges were made it a little bit more meaningful coming into the field then because you as had already had a little bit of exposure.

Overall, being able to take what we learned from an analytical, problem solving perspective and apply that in real world settings is probably the most important skill that I continue to use every day.

What challenges and opportunities will healthcare leaders encounter in the next 5-15 years? What skills will leaders need to be successful in light of these challenges and opportunities?

Well I really wish I had a crystal ball, but from a hospital perspective. One of the biggest challenges is workforce shortages and how we look differently at our workforce to deliver quality care going into the future. The workforce shortages have been very challenging during this most recent wave, especially in a state like California where we have mandated nurse staffing ratios.

We’ve talked a lot in recent years about the coming healthcare needs of the baby boomer generation – what is sometimes known as “the silver tsunami.” And physician and nursing shortages are not new to healthcare, but the pandemic and “Great Resignation” has definitely magnified that.  Many have chosen to leave the workforce, for personal reasons, for mental health reasons, for burnout reasons, whatever that may be.

Leaders will need to think differently about how we deliver healthcare in light of those challenges and the pandemic has accelerated some of this. For example, how do we deliver care in new ways like, the acceleration of telemedicine has been tremendous. Are there other things that we need to be doing? Other opportunities that we can assess that will allow us to do what we did with telemedicine to adjust and adapt to the workforce shortages?

In terms of skills, I think adaptability is crucial. Leaders need to be able to be adaptable to the constant change in healthcare and navigate the complexity in a way that allows them to stay focused on what needs to happen to manage the operation today while also planning for the future. The pandemic has also shown us the importance of partnerships and I believe we have opportunities to better partner to advance healthcare. Finally, communication remains one of the most important skills a leader can have.  I believe a strong communicator can more easily build trust and earn respect with stakeholders and their teams.”

If you could give one piece of advice to a current student, what would it be?

“Take the time to invest in relationships. Healthcare is truly the business of taking care of people and is very relationship-oriented.  It is incredible how small healthcare can be as you move through your career and how often you reach out to former classmates, past mentors, or alum.  Investing in  relationships and putting in effort to maintain those relationships can serve you well down the line. It’s amazing how your paths cross with alumni over time or with people that know your classmates. 

Then when you get into healthcare as a leader, and you have your own teams investing in those relationships is really important. That was a lesson I learned a little bit later in my career– just how important it is from a leadership perspective, to get to know your people just on a personal level. Now I just take even just 30 seconds a minute at the beginning of every meeting to check in with my team and say something like ‘Hey how’s it going? How’re the kids? How was the football game?’ Investing in those relationships can go a really long way as a leader.”

Why is your class the best class ever?

“I would say we’re the best because we studied hard but we also really knew how to have a good time…I would say the majority of us had good balance.  Many of my classmates had young families during the program and were able to juggle it all.  Social media has enabled us to all stay connected and it’s been really fun to see everyone’s families grow over the years along with their careers.” 

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