Recap of the 2017 ATD Healthcare Summit

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

New York, New York. A rainy, Sunday evening. Some 120-talent development professionals converged on the lobby of the NYLO hotel, just two blocks down from Central Park, and chatted over cheese sticks and pizza.

Most knew each other from past ATD events. Others were seasoned talent development professionals sent by their health care system or insurance company or coaching organization for the first time. The dulcet tones of an innovative mother-daughter duo singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing’” kicked off a two-day conference, jam-packed with speakers leading-the-charge in the leadership and development field.

This was my first ATD event, and I had only learned about the organization and this conference three weeks before through the team behind the event. Only one year out from my Masters in Health Administration (MHA) program, I learned quickly that my limited human resources class and time spent in an academic medical center HR department was no match for the knowledge that every participant I met brought to the table. No matter who I chatted with, there was always a new term or buzzword being bandied about.

I was first schooled in what a leadership development professional does by two long-term care (LTC) professionals, who asked the question I heard often: “You didn’t go to the big ATD conference? But it’s amazing! You should go next year!” It was obvious that every conference attendee was extremely passionate about talent development.

In the morning, the ATD team helped us onto our shuttle to the Columbia campus, and led the sleepy group to our special breakfast room at the Columbia Business School cafeteria. Jacque Burandt, our fabulous MC, introduced Cy Wakeman, the keynote speaker whose phrases on “No Ego” were quoted continuously by speakers and attendees alike throughout the next two days. Although the choice was difficult, I chose to attend “The Secret Every Leader Needs to Know” as my first breakout session. I knew of The Beryl Institute, and I wanted to hear about “The State of Patient Experience” from Deanna Frings, a former clinician. (Fun fact: 56 percent of healthcare organizations have already established or have programs on the patient experience in progress.)

At this point, we enjoyed a two-hour lunch that allotted time to network with fellow attendees more fully. I happened to sit with Vicki Hess, who was to be the closing keynote speaker of day one, and our table had a rousing discussion, with new table members coming and going, on family and career paths. I was surprised and delighted to learn that most folks in L&D had had very winding paths before they stumbled upon talent development.

Post-lunch we trooped back up to our home base, Uris Hall 301, and enjoyed a panel with Cindy McCauley (Center for Creative Leadership), Lori Gravelle (Charlotte Radiology Compliance and Credentialing), and Charlotte Hughes (Ascension Health System). All three had 10 minutes to present their work at three very different organizations. Cindy walked us through some of her insights, such as that 45 percent of development experience is offering challenging assignments. Lori, the lone compliance professional, explained the need for compliance advocates: risk identification and compliance-minded teams to recognize safety concerns, with a duty to report in job descriptions and performance appraisals. Charlotte spoke about diversity, technology, and design thinking. “Choose one,” she said, and work on shifting your organization toward patient experience.

Then Jacque and Theresa Scepanski of University Health System presented on performance improvement best practices. Some of their buzzwords I did know, such as excellence, culture, engagement, and least disruption of patient care. A new phrase I loved was overloading vs. onboarding.


Last that day was Vicki Hess, a sing-along presenter who compared family stories like loading the dishwasher to the workplace—how to change our beliefs/mindsets to create better outcomes (like clean dishes). Singing “I’ve got the power!” and other upbeat tunes, the room was laughing and energized by her “SHIFT to Professional Paradise.”

I got distracted chatting with a Department of Health professional and missed the tour of Columbia, but ended up in a cab with the ATD team and Jacque, which lead to a delicious dinner at Cafe Frida, a Mexican restaurant where 10 of us shared tamales, margaritas, and stories.

Tuesday morning there were weather warnings and folks were dealing with delayed flights. Despite the travel worries, we sat enthralled by Dr. Mackles’s lecture on “Adverse Events: Tie Your Shoes Before You Trip.” Another from my Day 1 lunch table, Dr. Mackles spoke to his discovery, through a taxi driver, of the deadliness of miscommunication in delivering care. From sentinel events to Joint Commission accreditation, Dr. Mackles hit on every new regulation and how we can teach clinicians tools to reduce communication errors, including read-back, interdisciplinary teams, follow up visits, to name a few.

For Day 2 breakout sessions, I decided I couldn’t choose, so I snuck in and out of all three talks. From Ben Locwin’s research and patient-centric care work, to Greg Madsen’s work to develop talent through rapid technology changes, to Su and Lee’s work to create better patient satisfaction through empathy with the fairly new JSL Creative Learning. All were fascinating, hard to leave, and innovative.

After a shorter lunch break (where I, again, for some reason, happened to sit with the end-of-day speaker), we were set to sit quietly and listen to DJ Mitsch of the Healthcare Coaching Institute. Instead, we stood and partnered up to physically experience “leaning” on one another and, at the end, went past the surface truth into the discomfort zone to ask “What’s in your heart?” My final partner was Jacque, and we found we had New Orleans in common in our hearts.

Once everyone had cracked open their sodas and bags of chips, a panel on emerging technologies in the healthcare industry commenced. Flora Alves from Trahantem spoke about her work in gamification and design thinking. Yon Sugiharto spoke on Yale’s Leapfrog app to help physicians, professors, and students learn on the go. Charlie Kauffunger covered talent management and integrating information systems at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

From our chat at the lunch table, Michael Stallard spoke more in depth to his personal loss, his discovery of human needs, the loneliness epidemic (40 percent of American adults lonely), and his idea for a connection culture. His speech was moving, bringing me to tears, compounding a two-day short but emotionally long conference.

After saying goodbye to some of the colleagues I had networked with, I caught a cab to the hotel with Dr. Mackles, who was leaving for family and Italian food. Feeling full of information and innovative processes and names of the people I had met, I made a voice memo to decompress and hash out what I was thinking and feeling.

Learning the many different things happening in the talent development field while talking with so many like-minded L&D professionals drove the summit. With the summit over, we were now separate individuals bringing back the information to our own organizations and roles. Using what we learned to make the patient experience better will be an ongoing task, but knowing this work is happening in so many places, in so many different (but connected!) ways is a comfort.

Full of new buzz words and ideas, I left the conference overwhelmed. However, after reflecting on the passion I heard from each attendee, I think talent development is really going to change patient experience for the better. I can’t wait to see what new techniques and changes there will by 2018!

About the Author
Rachel Fried is a healthcare professional with a Master of Health Administration from Tulane University. She has more than six years of experience as a leader, nonprofit administrator, and mentor. Rachel has spent her life exploring healthcare and public health and, more recently, population health, a new passion that Rachel sees as key to the future success of health care in the United States and the world. 
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