MPW '14: From nurse to CEO

TriStar's Rohan leads by seeking to serve

Heather Rohan can point to the very specific moment that inspired her to pursue a career in health care.

"When I was a junior in high school, my father had a heart attack,” the TriStar Centennial Medical Center chief executive officer recalls. “I watched the nurses save his life, and that was the moment I decided … I wanted to become a nurse."

Rohan would later earn a nursing degree at Barry University in Florida and begin her career as an intensive care nurse. Now, though she has worked in various executive offices and hospitals, Rohan still sounds like a nurse when she speaks about what is most important to her as a CEO.

"Ultimately, we're here for the patient,” she says. “It's the only reason we are here. Every decision is based on what's best for the patient. That was true as a nurse and it's true today."

A desire to enact change on a broader scale inspired Rohan to pursue management positions. From an executive viewpoint, she is able to evaluate the many factors that play into a patient's care and experience, and coordinate decisions from every level to improve outcomes and quality.

"She's all about doing the right thing, and it leads to better business," says Dr. Divya Shroff, TriStar Centennial chief medical officer. "She has a skill in identifying that and aligning it with her strategy and vision."

Rohan began managing nursing departments for HCA, of which TriStar is a subsidiary. She worked as a director of nursing and as chief nurse before getting an opportunity to serve as chief operating officer of a Florida hospital. But while some COOs dream of being promotion to CEO status after a few years, Rohan got the chance in two weeks.

"The CEO left, and in two weeks, I became the CEO," she says. "I had never even been a COO. But I wanted to make the best of it, and after four months as acting CEO, the division president gave me the role [permanently]."

The same principles apply in management as in nursing, Rohan says. Connect to the staff, patients, physicians and community.

"If you can make those connections, you can lead,” she says. “Even if you have never done it before, if you can establish relationships, I believe you can do it."

Adaptability, Rohan says, is a key word that permeates her overall management style and is ever important in an industry teeming with Affordable Care Act reforms and adjustments.

"When you think about mobilizing teams to do great things in changing times, I think about Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, people who were able to make an impact in an environment of change," Rohan says. "I think leaders will differentiate themselves by how they respond to change and challenges."

Rohan says she's optimistic about the impact health care reform will have on TriStar, where she has been CEO since 2012. She sees her main responsibility as supporting health care providers as they improve patient care.

"I want to provide the technology they need, the leadership and the input, and I think it's very exciting,” she says. “The bar has been raised for us in providing health care in our community, and I think that's a great thing.”

To maintain integration between every level of care, and to lead by serving, Rohan and her team engage monthly in a "Walk a Mile" program, for which they draw a name of an employee with whom to work for a day.

"We have 3,000 people in our family,” she says. “So it's to find out — whether you're in bone marrow, security or transportation — the things that get in the way of doing your job well. This is a great way to find those things out and provide the right services for our staff and our patients.”