ATD Blog

Recap of the 2016 ATD Healthcare Executive Summit

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A balmy cool settled on Sunday evening over the famous San Antonio River Walk as attendees of the ATD Healthcare Executive Summit found their way to the opening reception at the Hotel Contessa. Scribbling our names on sticker badges, we stepped into the elegant room and surveyed each other. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Coming from the world of academia, I’m accustomed to national meetings where everyone speaks the language of science. As a scientist who studies how healthcare teams are trained, I’ve always been a bit out of place. My doctorate is in public health and I did my post-doctorate work in quality improvement. Although I can speak the language of epidemiologists, geneticists,  biologists, and practicing clinicians, it’s rare for me to encounter professionals who speak my language—the language of learning and development.  My vocabulary includes words like competencies, learning objectives, and interprofessionalism.

The first time I attended an ATD International Conference and Expo, I remember feeling a sense of connection. At the Healthcare Executive Summit, I found a sense of community. In attendance were academics, industry leaders, development specialists, and clinicians. What’s more, we were all focusing on one thing: the training and development of healthcare professionals. 

When we gathered Sunday night, every conversation heard around the tall circular tables was a version “Oh you’re working on this too? Fantastic! I’d love to hear how your team did it!” It was true networking of likeminded individuals. 

On Monday morning, our group met the bus—coffee in hand—to tour San Antonio’s University Hospital and it’s academic affiliate, UT Health. These innovative and vibrant institutions were our gracious hosts for this inaugural summit. Monday’s schedule was packed to the brim with fascinating speakers and opportunities for connection. 

Next, Dr. Jason Wolf from The Beryl Institute led Monday’s keynote address, after a vibrant presentation from Theresa Secpanski, vice president of organizational development at University Hospital. There were more than a few jokes about how difficult it would be to follow Dr. Wolf’s touching and illuminating presentation on creating the patient experience. Fortunately, Jennifer Milton, executive director of Transplant Center University Hospital, was next on the roster. Her impassioned and personal presentation left the room in quiet awe of her achievements. 

A well-fed group reassembled after lunch to hear from someone we quickly nicknamed “the professor”: Dr. Lenard Friedman, director of MHA programs at Washington University. As someone who spent so many of my years in school, I was in a familiar “happy place” in Dr. Friedman’s engaging lecture on “Leadership Competencies for an Unknowable Future.”    

We were then mildly alarmed by the content covered by Carl Anderson, vice president of Van Scoyoc Associates, in the session: “Cybersecurity: How to protect your healthcare brand from Ransomeware.” Thankfully, his laidback and approachable nature relaxed the atmosphere in the room. Ben Spedding and Jennifer Hoff, both from Capella University, then walked us through the future of healthcare training with employer-based strategies that ensure learning results in tangible (and employable) skill acquisition. 


I know from personal experience that one of the most difficult time-slots to fill is the sleepy hours after 3:00. Any concern of a subdued audience was evaporated by the energy and enthusiasm of Cohen Brown Management Group CEO Martin Cohen. Useful acronyms and helpful tips tumbled from Cohen’s lips faster than we could take notes or tweet out to the world. When he finished his presentation, we all sighed a collective sigh of appreciation that the sessions were being recorded and we could review the wealth of material presented—not just in Martin’s session, but from both days. 

As the light began to fade from the windows that bordered the room on two sides, we were treated to a panel discussion on succession planning form a diverse trio of talent management experts: Dr. Christina Barss, corporate director of leadership and learning for Houston Methodist Hospital System; PhD candidate Aileen Zaballero, a senior partner at Rothwell & Associates; and Dr. William Rothwell, president of Rothwell & Associates. 

The evening concluded with a wine and cheese tour of the fascinating art installments throughout the University Hospital system. And as a devout introvert, I retreated quickly back to my hotel room to contemplate the day’s events in solitude and look over my notes, filing away as much relevant content into my email as I could before turning in to an early bed time. 

The next morning I was (after a double espresso) spry and eager to meet another full schedule until my flight left in the afternoon. First, Dr. Timothy Brock (and a hearty catered breakfast) started the day off right with a conversation on how “innovative leadership and analytics technologies are transforming the healthcare delivery value stream.” 

The emcee for our time together had been our delightful facilitator, Jacque Brandt, who is executive director of Center for Learning Excellence at University Health System. It was with mounting anticipation that we waited for her presentation, which came to fruition mid-morning Tuesday. Jacque walked us through transforming healthcare through talent development in what we had come to recognize as her signature style—vibrant and full of life.


At this point, it was our treat and pleasure to hear from Dr. Patrick Robinson, dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Capella University. His description of the future of precision medicine had everyone in the room dreaming of futuristic medical advances being made accessible in coming days. 

Presenting last at a conference is always a challenge, as participants with early flights siphon off and the room begins to empty. It was in this time slot that the animated and delightful Jonathon Briggs kept us all captivated in our seats, eager to hear about healthcare communication in a mobile-first world. His charm and proficiency kept the room engrossed in his every word. 

My business card case empty, I made my way to the airport. During my four-minute wait for my Uber, I had just enough time to breathe deep and fill grateful for the opportunity to attend the ATD Healthcare Executive Summit. And during the ride, I filed away the day’s notes on whom to follow-up with when I returned home. So many potential collaborations! 

I padded through security lines in my socks, remembering to remove my ever-present Fitbit only after the initial pass through the machine. I stopped to get a latte before heading to my gate and ran into two fellow attendees. In a crowd of strangers, my fellow participants felt like family. We made jokes about coffee and airports and sat next to each other on the plane. 

Although these small friendships happen at every national meeting, the Healthcare Executive Summit was a unique experience to connect with and learn from others whose passion and expertise mirrors my own. We’re each looking forward to coming together again next year. If you speak our language and share our passions, I hope you’ll join us. 

About the Author

Dr. Jessica Uriarte leads the Office of Academic Development at the Houston Methodist Hospital System. She is a dynamic professional specializing in using simulation and case-based learning methods in instructional design for healthcare professionals. Her doctorate in Public Health and post-doctoral fellowship work in quality improvement allow her to approach healthcare training from a broad, systems perspective. With more than 12 years in healthcare training experience, Jessica now researches the effects of training in healthcare settings on clinical outcomes. 

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