Man Plans, God Laughs … Enjoy the Ride
By Dennis Morrison, PhD
When I ask people if they could have predicted five years ago that they would be doing their current job, the majority say they could not. This was not always the case. There was a time when the most secure jobs were factory jobs, especially jobs in auto manufacturing. The people who entered that field – mostly men — could work for 30 years at a decent wage, with benefit, and receive a rich retirement package.
My own family was raised with the aforementioned mindset and some family members encouraged me to forgo a college degree for the benefits of “getting on” at a local factory. No one in my family had gone to college before and they did OK, so there was no reason to assume I should be any different.
Fortunately, I didn’t follow their advice, though I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I started college as a music major but switched to chemistry after learning, rather painfully, that I wasn’t the drummer I thought I was. Chemistry was interesting but, again, I didn’t know what I would do with it.
Since I was supporting myself and paying my own way through college, I needed a job. I found a position on the psychiatric unit of the local hospital. That job changed everything.
I was captivated and amazed by these people who thought and behaved like no one I have ever known. I had to know what caused people to lose touch with reality or have wide, sometimes violent, mood swings or to become addicted. I wanted to help them. I changed my major to psychology and premed, with chemistry as my minor. I even hoped to go to medical school (but three years without direction can have a negative impact on one’s GPA, a fact that most medical schools notice).
However, after I found myself, my GPA drastically improved. I made it through my bachelor’s degree and then completed a master’s degree in psychology and physiology, which allowed me to work as a psychologist. After about five years, I returned to school and completed another master’s degree and my Ph.D. After a stint in the Navy as an aerospace physiologist, I was ready for a new challenge and moved into a management position for a small outpatient mental health clinic. My career took me into increasingly larger facilities and more senior positions culminating with two CEO jobs.
Two years ago, I joined Netsmart as its first Chief Clinical Officer. So what’s to be learned from this journey (besides don’t flunk out of college)?
First: Change is Part of Staying on Your Path
I would never have predicted I would work in management, much less enjoy it. I was one of those folks who was critical of the “suits” because, as all of us clinicians knew, we did the real work. In our opinion, those people in management added little to the organization’s success. It was a naïve view, to be sure, but one part of it was true: without the clinicians and other front-line workers, we were done. But the notion that management added nothing was also false and that was based on a lack of knowledge about what management, or more correctly, leadership, brings to an organization.
When I considered moving into management, my decision was driven by the same desire I had when I got into clinical work: I wanted to help others.
As a clinician, I could only see a relatively small number of patients over my career. As a manager, I could influence the care of a much larger number of people. As its CEO, larger numbers still.
Second: Be Vision Focused
While my career path was circuitous and, arguably, really made up of several careers, what drove me stayed the same: the desire to see the people get the best care possible.
So how does this align with me joining Netsmart?
At first blush, one could wonder what connection there could be moving from a provider environment to a technology company. I know a number of my professional colleagues wondered about it. The truth is that it is just another step in the same direction with the same agenda. At Netsmart, I get to see to it that people get the best care possible. Only now, the medium is a little different. Instead of providing care to patients, we provide cutting-edge clinical tools to providers who provide care to patients. The end result is still the same and, for me, it’s a lot more fun.
I’ve lived at the interface of clinical and technology for a long time. I believe that technology, done well, can be an enabler of better care. Now I get to work with some astoundingly smart people who share that vision and are in a position to make it real. We are the only technology vendor in this space to employ a Chief Clinical Officer, let alone a Chief Clinical Officer and a Chief Medical Officer (Dr. Ian Chuang). The reason we are here (and I hope the reason you are here) is to change the way care is delivered, to improve people’s lives, and, as Steve Jobs said, “to make a dent in the universe.”
Working at Netsmart is not about software or technology. Those are means to an end. The end is healthier happier people.
Your journey may be more direct than mine, but I doubt it. Opportunities will present themselves unexpectedly and it’s up to you to respond to those opportunities. Make plans but remember the Yiddish proverb “Man plans, God laughs.” … And He is laughing, so enjoy the ride!
Dennis Morrison, PhD