The goals and leadership Dr. Thomas Graham is bringing to Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute

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Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute in Allentown, Pa., appointed Thomas Graham, MD, as its first physician in chief in April.

He recently connected with Becker's about his new role and his plans for the future of the institute.

Note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What drew you to the role at Lehigh Valley, excited you and led you to take on the position?

Dr. Thomas Graham: All of us look for a culture-first, high innovation environment in which to work with great team members, and it certainly checks all of those boxes. This one happens to be an opportunity where I was very familiar with the geography — I knew this area very well. I had collaborated with the CEO Brian Nester, DO, and others around the development of their enterprise innovation capacity. But when it comes down to it, I see the Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute on a trajectory to be the next major orthopedic destination center. It has the size and scope with 200 plus providers, it has the volume and variety trending to 20,000 cases, it certainly has the techniques and technology at the vanguard of our specialty. So it had all the ingredients on a personal and professional scale that would attract anybody, but I was just very fortunate to be able to join this great team.

Q: What do you envision for the future of the institute, and how you plan to work toward those goals through your position?

TG: I think the important word you used is institute, because I think today we're recognizing that service-line-driven system integration is so critical. The center of the medical universe has always been where the patient and provider get together. An institute to me is where that service line and the site at which care is delivered have their nexus. If you can optimize and place that within a high-performing system like Lehigh Valley, then you're well on your way to activating our Holy Grail — which is the right patient, getting the right care, by the right provider, at the right time and at the right price. The institute model that Lehigh Valley Health Network has embraced and has done so well in implementing, and that goes across heart and vascular, neuroscience, cancer specialty surgery, and of course orthopedics, and so I really am an advocate for that. What I see as my job is to make sure orthopedics is serving our patients and providers but also being a very good citizen within the system as an institute part of that mosaic that we believe will continue to grow our system and be able to serve our communities.

Q: You have had a lot of leadership positions in the past with other hospitals and health networks. What are you bringing from those experiences that will help you at Lehigh Valley?

TG: I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been straddling executive and clinical functions now for a quarter-century plus at some of the biggest healthcare systems in the country. I think it really comes down to understanding the terms that each individual within your institute considers their definition of success, and you do that by relentless inclusion — that's communication. You then synthesize those respective aspirations into the collective direction you want to take. Throughout my career I've come to understand by working with great mentors, great partners and colleagues the importance of really engaging everybody in the mission and always keeping the patient at the center. If you really do think of it as a patient-centric engagement and create that partnership with your patients, I believe that that is probably what propels some of the greatest organizations like this one to their level of success.

Q: What are some qualities and characteristics that great leaders have?

TG: You have to realize that you work for your constituents. It's no longer about will you see the next patient, do the next case, write the next paper. You're there to facilitate them. I have spent almost three decades in the world of professional sport, and I've observed championship organizations, and the way you get there is to put individuals in the positions where they will succeed. The second baseman has a particular job, the catcher has a particular job and the pitcher has a particular job. They may not be absolutely similar, but they're all contributory to a larger success. I saw a championship organization at Lehigh Valley and wanted to aspire to it. As far as my own philosophy of leadership, it's be democratic but decisive. You have to really understand what the opportunities and barriers are of the people within your organization. They're experts at what they do and what they see and make sure that there's channels of communication by which they can exchange that information, but then you have to be a decision-making organization. You need to work with the information that is provided and make good decisions for that time while still remaining dynamic and flexible in understanding that winds are going to change. 

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