The Washington Post

Behind the career: Herb Buchanan

Position: The new chief executive of Howard University Hospital in the District.

As a child, Herb Buchanan had a fascination with cars. But while working as an auto engineer at Chrysler, his dream of designing a breakthrough car shifted when a recession hit. He began researching other industries, and he felt he could use his problem-solving skills in the health care field. Starting out in consulting, he eventually worked his way up at several hospitals to his current post at Howard University Hospital.

What about your engineering background has served you best in your current career?

Problem solving. You learn as an engineer to break problems down into their most simple elements. In academic medicine, the problems are complex. But when you break them down, it’s not as overwhelming. The other is relationship building. In eight years at Chrysler I learned how to establish relationships, get people to work together, communicating.

Did you experience any backlash for leading hospitals without clinical experience?

When I first got into the business twenty-something years ago, it wasn’t that common to see folks from the outside lead hospitals, but now there are attorneys, engineers, human resource folks. The skill set now is not one that takes 20 years of clinical experience to develop. My style is to rely on the experts. I didn’t come into a room full of surgeons and say, “Look I know how surgery works.” Having those listening and communication skills was helpful because people knew I was going to be respectful of what they knew.

What is one of your proudest moments in health care?

When I was chief operating officer of University of Maryland Medical Center, there were two things we were struggling with. The senior team wasn’t connecting with the staff, and our service levels weren’t where we wanted them to be. We engaged the staff in a cultural transformation from the ground up. The staff put the plan and behavioral standards together. They really felt like they were engaged because they put it together. It got us more on the road to better service.

— Interview with Vanessa Small



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