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Behind the career: Dr. Kurt D. Newman

Position: President and chief executive of Children’s National Medical Center, a children’s hospital in the District.

After a summer job at a hospital, Newman began taking classes to apply for medical school. He developed a passion for pediatrics after serving on a rotation at a hospital’s children’s department. He enjoyed the work so much that after receiving a fellowship at Children’s National Medical Center, his two-year stint turned into 29.

What was your first leadership position?

The first time at Children’s was as medical director of the quality program. We were looking at how we could improve the quality and outcomes of the different treatments and diagnoses going on. I was doing that on top of being a practicing surgeon.

What leadership lessons did you come away with?

The key is to never forget who you’re caring for. Keep patients at the heart of what we’re doing. If I [conveyed that to] the team, they didn’t mind working hard or long hours. If I kept the enthusiasm and esprit de corps up, connected with the team and understood them as people, I could really get them to work together and be enthusiastic. It was infectious.

Is that hard?

People may have their own ambitions or personal lives. They might be tired. There’s all sorts of potential distractions.

What was the key to drive that
focus?

One of the great opportunities I have is I can tell those stories of children and families because I’ve lived it for 29 years in this hospital. I have the credibility and authenticity. I can effectively tell the staff and employees to hold the patients as number one. And when they get passionate and excited, I just have to get out of the way.

Any unique leadership strategies you employ?

As chief surgeon and my first day on the job as chief executive, I got up at 4 a.m. to meet the night shift. They are the crew that doesn’t get enough attention. I don’t think they’ve ever seen an executive that early. Also, instead of having my office in the executive suite on the 5th floor, I moved it to the second floor right by the cafeteria. I have a big window in the door. I walk out, talk to people and get their ideas and create more accessibility. I let them know that I’m here to serve them.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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