Making the leap from clinical work to administrative leadership

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As a kinesiology student, Michelle de Moor applied for a weekend ECG tech position at Royal Columbian Hospital. That decision set her on a career path that culminated recently in her confirmation as Vancouver Acute Service’s new vice president.

“It was my first exposure to a hospital working environment and I was inspired,” recalled Michelle at a recent VPSA Dinner with Leaders event. “I knew then that I wanted to work in health care.”

Michelle went on to study physiotherapy and joined UBC Hospital after graduation before moving to VGH. It was an exciting time for the young professional, but after four to five years, she began to feel antsy.

“I wanted to contribute in a different way,” said Michelle. “I took leadership courses and applied for some leadership roles. But it was hard to break out of clinical work. I had the opportunity to fill in as a manager in reconstructive orthopedic surgery during a maternity leave and knew after that that I couldn’t go back.”

Michelle took her master’s degree at Royal Roads University. Her goal was to stay at VGH, but a mentor at Fraser Health encouraged her to apply there.

“It was the most challenging decision of my career,” she said. “I loved VGH and there were so many opportunities there. But I’m glad I worked at Fraser Health; it was helpful to work in another organization and experience another culture. It’s important to put yourself out there and take risks.”

Michelle spent the next six years working as a clinical program director with our neighbouring health authority.

“I always knew I would return to VGH, and I struggled when Fraser Health switched its structure to a program model. I used to be able to ride my bike to work but there I was having to work at several hospitals that required a car to get to. And I missed being connected to teams.”

Michelle returned to VGH in 2010, initially assuming the role of Vancouver Acute Operations Director for the Intensive Care Unit, ED, and the Burns Trauma and Plastics Unit. Her portfolio expanded to include Patient Flow and Access and Regional Program Operations Director for both Trauma and Emergency. More recently, she led two large portfolios, serving as Executive Director, Vancouver Acute Services, and as Executive Director, Clinical & Systems Transformation.

“It’s humbling to be a leader in health care, and the last two years have been the most challenging in my career,” said Michelle. “The quality of relationships is outstanding, and I enjoy mentoring up and coming leaders. I also work hard to stay connected to those working on the frontline; I don’t want to be too far away to make informed decisions.”

Post-pandemic priorities

In her new role as VA VP, Michelle and her team are focusing on programs that have capacity challenges, such as solid organ transplant. They are looking at ways to partner with Vancouver Community to improve patient flow. Capital and capital equipment planning are priorities as is the DEI agenda and Indigenous cultural safety work.

“Human resources challenges are what keep me up at night right now,” she added. “It’s a priority too for the Ministry of Health. It has a planning group, and we inform that table. They are considering several issues: housing; financial incentives; reimbursing tuition costs; more effective deployment; retraining support; working with schools to increase student intake numbers; how to support new grads to be successful.”

Michelle describes the situation as very complex and requiring a multipronged approach.

“Human resources and the financial constraints we work in are the two most challenging parts of this job. There are lots of things I’d like to say yes to, but I have to make decisions around resources. Constraints can also drive innovation and help us to see things in a different way.”

On encouraging emerging leaders

Michelle encourages young leaders to take risks and to know there are people who will support them.

“Failure is OK,” she said. “Have humility and learn from it. We need to support people to overcome their fear of failure. It takes courage to lead, and experienced leaders need to support people to take risks.”

VPSA’s next Dinner with Leaders event will be held in the coming months. Keep your eyes tuned to our weekly MSA/VPSA Checkup for details.

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