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Passion and purpose: Taking healthcare to new levels

April 22nd, 2013

by Derrick Suehs

What's the difference between good patient care and great patient care? What makes a patient describe her physician as "like family"? What causes a patient to describe his nurse as "angelic" while demanding another to be terminated?

I encourage you to pause for a moment to think about your immediate responses.

Over my 30 years in healthcare, I've met with numerous patients and their families. I am sure you have as well. They have shared their stories with me--some great, even inspiring, some not.

I recently started thinking about why it is that some patients love their physicians and others do not. Or, why they speak so highly of one hospital and absolutely refuse to ever return to another.


I have had a husband ask me after his wife of 35 years passed away, "Why didn't your hospital care about my wife?" I have heard a woman in her 30s swear that her physician was heartless and say she would never seek care from her again (and then highly praise another physician).

I've also seen a wife be so grateful for how the staff cared for her husband, even though he passed away on their watch. She graciously donated a large sum of money to the hospital foundation a few weeks later, yet that was the only time she'd been in that hospital.

We've all heard these stories.

The debate on quality has gone on for a very long time. I am not so sure we know the answers to the questions I've posed above. I think we have insight, but I'm not entirely sure we truly understand the difference between "good" and "great" or "ordinary" and "extraordinary" care.

As I reflect on these stories and sort through the dynamics associated with each, I've begun to realize the difference between good and great comes down to passion and purpose. I suspect many people will dismiss this conclusion as overly simplistic, but I disagree.

It is the core ingredient that determines not good, but outstanding outcomes. I don't know of any organization that has great outcomes that's led by a good (average) leadership team. I do not know of any great physician who does not have passion for his/her work (and let's not confuse arrogance with passion or purpose; they're very different).

Passion and purpose take us to a new level of commitment. I do not know any situation in which great accomplishments happened by people who did not care. Dr. Suess put it best in "The Lorax," saying: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

I'm not implying our industry lacks passion and purpose. I see it every day in my role as chief quality officer. But I am suggesting that if we wish to improve--to make tomorrow better than today for our patients--we must truly love what we do and we must have a passion to want to make a difference.

We must understand that "average" is not good enough. Or "this is normal or an expected complication" is not a way to become better. All of us in healthcare, regardless of our role, have an obligation to challenge ourselves to get better, to own our own behaviors and attitudes.

Passionate people change the world. Those who want to make a difference are those who will lead the way from "good" patient care to "great" patient care.

Are passion and purpose on your list of what makes the difference between "good" and "great"?

Derrick Suehs has served as chief quality officer of Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., since 2002.


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