The Story of the Climb

Feb 02, 2022 at 10:56 am by admin

Chris Cosby, CEO, Saint Francis Memphis

Q & A with the 2022 InCharge Cover Honorees

Every person who holds a leadership position in healthcare has a story of their climb. Our four cover honorees have paid dues and earned stripes. They've risen to a summit - maybe on their way to the next one but certainly they're on an upward spiral of progress. Now let's see what got them there, and what bits of wisdom they have to pass on to us. Enjoy.

Where did you grow up and when and how did you decide to pursue a career in healthcare?

COSBY: I grew up in Dothan, Alabama. I decided to pursue healthcare due to my desire to help people but also to make a difference in the community. Both my parents had an influence on that decision as well. My mother worked in healthcare when I was younger. My first exposure was when she worked for a surgical company that would open new Ambulatory Surgical Centers as a partnership between hospitals and surgeons. My father owns Cosby's Heating and Cooling in Dothan, and I grew up watching him make business decisions. You combine the two and that's what helped influence me to look at Healthcare Administration.

Joy Gilmore, COO & Market Vice President, Gastro One

GILMORE: I am a native Memphian and love the 901. I am proud to be part of the Memphis medical community! I grew up knowing from a young age that I wanted to be a nurse. My aunt, Carol Thetford, is the Chief Nursing Officer at Baptist Women's Hospital. She was my role model all my life. I pursued a career in nursing right out of high school and I have loved every minute of it. The opportunities and options it provided me as a working mom were so rewarding. I was able to work a schedule that allowed me to raise and homeschool my children and, once they were older, I was blessed with the opportunity to pursue roles in leadership. Memphis is an amazing city to live and work in healthcare. The different communities you can serve and the work you can do in this field are almost limitless and so rewarding.

Chris Pokabla, MD, President, Memphis Medical Society

POKABLA: I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio in a family of six with two brothers and one sister. My father was a podiatrist, and my mother was a nurse. Growing up, my father would regularly take me to his office and often to the hospital to round with him on patients. I was surrounded by physicians and other health care providers, which helped shape my future in health care. I decided to become a physician while I was in college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I started off studying chemistry, however, I also greatly enjoyed studying the biological sciences.

Michael Scarbrough, Co-Founder & President, Prospero Health

SCARBROUGH: I grew up in Memphis, near Shelby Forest. I decided to pursue a career in healthcare when I was 19 years old. I initially worked in the Radiology Department at Baptist Memorial Hospital Medical Center on Madison downtown. I first entered the healthcare field on the advice of my great uncle, who insisted a career in healthcare was a "good job" to have. Ultimately, my passion for healthcare grew as I continued to witness the challenges experienced by my mom, Jan. She had a form of muscular dystrophy and as her only son and principal caregiver, it became obvious that the system wasn't designed to meet her needs. While she had some great providers at the local MDA clinic, such as Dr. Tulio Bertorini, most other health care providers were of little help. To make matters worse, our health policy in the 1990's and early 2000's did more to restrict choices for people like my mom than offer any true solutions.

Following my mom's death in 2004, I began to dedicate more of my time and professional energy toward seeking solutions for people like her. I worked with the State of Tennessee to help draft and implement changes to the TennCare program that expanded choices for additional at-home services instead of leaving people with no choice but to seek institutional care. My mom could have benefited from those expanded at-home service choices. I then spent most of the early 2010's working with additional states around the country to further refine and expand these programs so they became available to well over 500,000 additional Americans.

In 2018, I received a call from my friend, Doug Wenners. He wanted to explore the possibility of creating a company focused on serving people with serious illness through in-home physician-led care teams. After months of planning, writing business plans, and raising capital, Prospero Health launched in 2019. What started with a team of fewer than 20 people quickly grew to serve patients in 10 states by the end of our first year in 2020, 26 states by the end of 2021, and 29 states by the end of the first quarter of 2022. We will have over 1,150 employees this year serving patients from Portland, Maine, to Los Angeles, California, and nearly 250 of those employees will be right here in Prospero's Memphis offices, where we support our clinicians around the country.

Did you have a special mentor or mentors along the way that you'd like to mention?

COSBY: I have worked with several great CEOs in my career, and all have had an influence on my career and life. I learned something from every one of them. I stay in touch with several of them.

GILMORE: Absolutely want to mention my aunt again, Carol Thetford, who was such a role model and mentor for me. I watched her work the crazy shifts, love what she did and serve families with such a heart filled with compassion, and then grow in her career at Baptist to achieve so much as a woman in healthcare leadership. To me, she exemplifies everything I wanted to be as a nurse and a leader. Also, Chris Jenkins, now the COO at Saint Francis Bartlett was truly the best leader I have ever had the privilege to work with. He epitomizes what a leader should be in the way he promotes collaboration and opportunities to branch out and try new things. He has a gift for balancing his insights and brilliance as a leader with promoting innovating thinking in those who report to him. His "we, not me" mentality helped me take on challenges and learn new things, because I knew he was there to guide and support without taking over or taking credit for my work. I feel he was a driving force for me to always feel like I could achieve anything I set my mind to.

POKABLA: I had many excellent mentors during my medical training. I completed my Orthopaedic Surgery residency in Columbus, Ohio, and am very thankful to the outstanding faculty at Ohio State University, Nationwide Children's Hospital, and the physicians in private practice who taught me to practice Orthopaedic surgery. The most influential mentors to me are my fellowship directors, Dr. Buddy Savoie at Tulane University and Dr. Larry Field at Mississippi Sports Medicine. Their dedication to teaching and passion for medicine have inspired my clinical practice and they remain special mentors to this day.

SCARBROUGH: I have been very fortunate to have several valuable mentors during my career, but none have been more meaningful to me personally and professionally as Al King. I worked for Al for nearly 16 years across three different companies. Al is someone of incredible character, spiritually strong, and in many ways a father figure to me. He knew how to tell me the hard things I needed to hear but he also knew how to show tremendous love and care for a sometimes too-hard charging young health care executive.

How would you describe your style of leadership?

COSBY: I believe in servant leadership. Helping those around you be successful. If you help people be successful, then your organization will be successful. I am also big on having a family culture. Treating people like family. I tell the staff that if we treat each other and our patients like family, then we will get it right every time.

GILMORE: I would consider my leadership style primarily democratic, with a little bit of transformational leadership thrown in! I love involving staff at every level in conversations and allowing them to share their ideas is a huge part of my leadership style. When there are open dialogues across the organization and people feel their voice is heard, it is much simpler to have alignment with the organizational mission and goals.

I also like to empower people to have individual goals and take on new things so they can grow with the organization. I like to promote collaboration and innovative thinking, not just within my leadership team, but in every area of the organization. The best ideas often come from those with boots on the ground, so to speak. They have a different viewpoint, and they often see things we may miss. Sometimes you find hidden gems when you give people the chance and the freedom to fly!

POKABLA: I believe leadership involves a great deal of listening and collaboration. As a board member of OrthoSouth, I work closely with the other physician leaders and our CEO to guide our organization's strategy and build a culture that helps power the organization's collective success. The ideas and views of my physician colleagues, physician assistants, nurses, and OR and office staff are extremely important to me. My style of leadership involves approaching problems by helping to facilitate an accurate assessment of the issue and involving those best trained or experienced in that area to help guide our decision making for the organization.

SCARBROUGH: I love to find talented people, set clear expectations for them, and get out of their way and see what they can accomplish. I have very high expectations of myself and those who work for me, and while that can be challenging for those on my team, they know I won't ask them to do something I can't or won't do myself. I'll go as deep as need be on an issue to figure out the right answer with my team and ultimately, I think most people who have worked for me appreciate that.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?

COSBY: Professionally: I am looking forward to immersing myself in Saint Francis as we move this organization forward. Creating that family culture with our patients, staff, and physicians. We want to care like family. Personally: My family and I are very excited to be in Memphis. I look forward to watching my kids grow up in this community and forming lifelong friendships. This is the place that we want to be!

GILMORE: Professionally, I am looking forward to a year of continued growth and expansion at Gastro One and One GI. There are many exciting things happening in our organization. As we continue working as part of the One GI platform, there are great things ahead for us with new locations and additional providers joining us. We also have a goal this year to expand our services to Memphis and the surrounding areas, so I am excited for all that is ahead of us. We are truly becoming a comprehensive gastroenterology provider and I am proud to work with this amazing team.

Personally, as I do every year, I look forward to fun times with my big family. My husband and I have 6 kids and, as of now, one amazing grandkid. They are my greatest treasures and my "why"!

POKABLA: I'm optimistic about this upcoming year and the prospect of returning to a relatively normal way of life. Hopefully, this will be the year that we get COVID-19 under control. I look forward to working as president of the Memphis Medical Society to help support our physician colleagues in this regard. On a personal note, I'm excited for an upcoming ski trip with my wife, Maygan!

SCARBROUGH: Personally, I plan to experience the wedding of another one of my children this year and enjoy spending time with our ever-growing family of young adults and grandchildren. My wife, Christina, and I love to travel both as an extended family as well as just ourselves. It's our 30th anniversary this year and we have several places we would like to visit. We love the process of thinking about all the pros and cons of each potential trip and then picking the one we think is best.

Professionally, I have a few goals this year, including:

Settling into our new offices in downtown Memphis at Prospero Plaza

  • Expanding our services into three more states for a total of 29 states, coast-to-coast
  • Continuing to serve more people who need and benefit from the home-based medical care we provide - we enter 2022 with nearly 20,000 patients on service and plan to double that number this year
  • Continuing to build trust in the community with patients and their loved ones

If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about going into healthcare administration/leadership, what would it be?

COSBY: Go into this career for the right reason. Go into this career with the desire to help people. If you are blessed enough to get into a leadership position, then you will have the ability to help shape the future of healthcare. Put people first! Being successful does not necessarily make you great. What makes you great is when you reach back and help somebody else become great.

GILMORE: Be willing to do the seemingly "small" things first. When I mentor people the first thing I tell them is that you must be willing to go through the steps it takes to get to your goals and don't try to skip those necessary steps. There is a mentality among many young college students these days that you should be able to get "the job" because you have the piece of paper on your wall. You can have multiple master's degrees and not be prepared for leadership. Experience matters. Be willing to work side by side with people, learn what it takes to do the work and how each position in an organization affects patient care and outcomes. Learn all about organizational processes and understand the path the patient walks before moving to leadership. If you are not willing to do those things, you probably have no business being in leadership. My first job in the medical field was answering phones. I then moved to a nurse extern role and then a nursing role before becoming a supervisor, manager, director, and now Market VP. I can honestly look at any of my team and tell them, 'I have done what you do. I understand what it takes. Your role matters and is essential to what we do.' If I hadn't walked where they are, I don't think I would appreciate them as much, nor would I have as clear of a vision for how all the pieces of the organization fit and work together. As a nurse, I can also see things through the lens of the patient because I have taken care of them, held their hands when they were scared, cried with them, grieved with them, and experienced things with them through the healthcare continuum. I wouldn't trade any of that and honestly feel that it makes me a better leader.

POKABLA: I would advise anyone considering healthcare leadership to be ready to listen to multiple perspectives and understand a diverse range of needs. The job also requires a balance of patience and the ability to act quickly when the situation arises. Ultimately, we as leaders should always be guided by what is best for our patients.

SCARBROUGH: Appreciate the special opportunity you have in healthcare to impact the system and improve the lives of so many, while never settling for the status quo.

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