New CMO’s Prescription: Communication, Teamwork and Lots of Smart People

Nov 24, 2022 at 08:07 pm by pjeter



Dale Criner, MD, MBA, recently assumed the role of chief medical officer/vice-president at Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital. After completing medical school and residency, and while working as an emergency department medical director, he returned to the classroom to earn a Master of Business Administration.

Regarding his academic pursuits, it’s his MD that he most cherishes.

“Professionally, I consider myself a physician more than anything else,” said Criner, who is board-certified in family medicine and emergency medicine.

“I’ve practiced in the emergency department (ED) my entire career while striving to help my fellow doctors and hospital associates. As CMO you have to integrate the physician side along with the administrative side,” he said.

Criner says it’s important to understand some of the challenges physicians have and help them with their practice while ensuring they’re adhering to the needs of patients cohesively. Several service lines the CMO is charged with ensuring are running well include pharmacy, case management, quality and safety.

“Certainly, there are many areas of focus for the CMO, but the guiding principle is to keep the needs of our patients in the center of our decisions,” he said. 

Criner began his career as medical director at Dyersburg Regional Medical Center and later served as attending physician at Methodist University Hospital prior to assuming leadership of Saint Francis Bartlett and Memphis emergency departments. He returned to Methodist North Hospital last year as medical director of the ED.

“To me it’s important from a leadership standpoint to surround yourself with as many smart people as possible, people who are extremely talented and who all work together toward a common goal,” Criner said. “You let people show their talent. You give them a direction, work together, and make sure you’re all on the same page.

“Also, not being afraid to try things is important. It’s okay to say, ‘What’s our goal? What do we want to do? Okay, let’s try it.’ Then if it doesn’t work out, that’s fine. We’ll come back and regroup, reassess, and try a different way. It’s going to be important for us to continue to adapt and to change in order for health care to grow.”

Although he has practiced clinically at Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital, his new role at the 300-plus bed hospital starts with getting to know all the associates, providers, and departments and how they interact.

“Enabling communication is the number one thing on my list so we’re all on the same page and doing what’s right for the patient,” said Criner. “I want to determine how best I can participate in quality improvement within the system. One of the important things is enabling physicians to communicate directly, rather than simply placing an order. I’d like for folks to pick up the phone and talk with each other and discuss patient care in real-time.

“There have been a lot of really smart people who have done this before, and they’ve done some incredible work. We will build on those efforts, ensuring that we have the best quality measures possible, patients are getting what they need, and that they’re not necessarily getting more than they need. Whenever we get people better, we get them out of the hospital and back home healthy. We want to ensure their rehab is done appropriately so we can keep them out of the hospital if at all possible.”

Criner realized early in his career that the practice of medicine and the delivery of health care was going to be about much more than diagnosing and treating injuries and disease.

“I quickly learned after residency in one of my first jobs as a medical director of an ED that I had been taught how to take care of heart attacks and strokes, but I couldn’t communicate effectively when it came to the business of medicine,” he said. “That’s certainly something that can’t be ignored. We do have to consider not only what’s best for our patients, but what’s best for our hospital and our practice, and how to do that with the changing landscape of government regulations and insurance rules. We have to continue to ensure we have a thriving practice.

“The MBA enabled me to see it from a system perspective and tie all the pieces together while communicating more effectively whenever it came to administrative functions.”

Criner is a Memphis native whose parents were in the U.S. Army – his father a chaplain and his mother a nurse. By the time he finished high school, he had attended eight schools stretching from Augusta, Georgia to Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii.

“My parents probably had the greatest influence in shaping the direction I went,” he said. “They instilled in me a strong work ethic and a drive for continual learning. Both of them had doctorate degrees and education was strongly important.”

He and wife Dawn – a dental hygienist and “CEO of our household” – have a son and two daughters. They all enjoy music and attend various concerts whenever possible.

Dr. Criner is also a golfer, and a very modest one. “I like to play, but I’m pretty bad at it,” he said with a laugh. “If you need a hacker who doesn’t score very well, I’m your guy.”

Sections: Clinical