The Primitive Podcast: Dr. Amy Thompson

Posted by The Prim Pack | November 2, 2020

The Primitive Podcast with Dr. Amy Thompson

Having intelligent minds around you is crucial in a leadership setting, but emphasizing diversity around the table provides perspectives, understanding, and an influx of problem-solving ideas. 

In this episode with Dr. Amy Thompson, a pediatric physician and currently the CEO of Covenant Women’s and Children’s Hospital, we cover:

  • The landscape of healthcare
  • Failure being a necessary element of leadership
  • This often underutilized element that happens to be the key to obtain team buy-in

Hear more from Dr. Thompson in the next episode, only on The Primitive Podcast.


Kade Wilcox (00:00):

Welcome to The Primitive Podcast. I'm Kade Wilcox, your host. Thanks for joining us for today's episode. We're joined by Dr. Amy Thompson. Amy Thompson is a pediatric physician, currently the CEO of Covenant Children's hospital, and just a phenomenal leader, also a very faithful wife and mom. And one of the things I'm really excited about you learning about Amy is just what she's learned about leadership, as well as being really faithful in other areas of her life. So thanks for joining the podcast and enjoy.

Amy. Thank you so much for joining. It's fun to have you on the podcast before I have Dusty on the podcast. So hopefully you can rub that in his nose a little bit, but for those who don't know who Amy Thompson is, CEO of Covenant Children's hospital. Tell us a bit about your background and the work that you do now and all the good stuff.

Dr. Amy Thompson (01:06):

Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I will certainly rub it in that I am before Dusty. So my name is Amy Thompson and I'm actually a physician by training. So I am a pediatric hospitalist, proud to be working for Texas Tech when I still play doctor and stuff. So I still practice and I'm able to do nights and weekends. I was a reluctant administrator. I was not looking to move into the world of administration, but just through some circumstances that are just out of our control and, I think the Lord governs things. And so I was asked to move first into the chief medical officer role at Covenant Children's. And then now for the last five to six years depending on when I was interim and then hired full time, the CEO at Covenant Children's hospital.

Dr. Amy Thompson (01:55):

I'm married to Dusty Thompson. Actually this year we celebrate our 25th anniversary, which is awesome. My only question to my mom is why did you let me get married when I was so young, that's good. And we have two kids. So I have Roman who is a freshman at New Mexico State this year playing some baseball in New Mexico and then JJ, who is 11. And I certainly like being a mom best. Better than anything. And love my life with Dusty, and I was saying I was going to rub it in his face, but he's my hero. He's definitely the better part of who I am.

Kade Wilcox (02:34):

Yeah, he's a great dude. One of the reasons I wanted to have you on the podcast is because I've known you about 10 or 11 years now, just mainly through Dusty, obviously. But something I've always admired is a statement you just said where, you really love being a mom and Dusty's wife more than you love all this other stuff. And I've seen that even when you were just practicing as a physician and it's something I've always admired. What process did you go through as you went through the transition of just practicing medicine to looking more to the administrative side, because I'm no physician and I'm no administrator, but those two things are completely different. Right? And so what was that journey like and the process?

Dr. Amy Thompson (03:17):

Absolutely. So, what drove me to the bedside? I love being a doctor. And I love being a doctor for kids. I think they are fantastic. And that's all I ever wanted to do. The thing that was interesting for me was specifically in Lubbock. One of the things that we really wanted to do as a hospitalist group was kind of take healthcare for kids where it was and move it forward. And one of the things that you realize is you're being pushed into that administrative side of things, is your ability to potentially do more good for more people if you can kind of get into a leadership role. And I would say it was personally hard for me because there is no better personal thing that I love to do is to get to know a patient and their family one-on-one. Be able to build a relationship with them and, hopefully make a difference in their life. But what we began to see with Lubbock and even with children's care is that there was a real opportunity to move that forward. I always say that the thing that drove me from the bedside was that vision of wanting to do something potentially greater and having a bigger influence than I could potentially have just at the bedside.

Kade Wilcox (04:34):

Yeah. That is really good. Did you grow up wanting to be a physician? At what point did you realize you wanted to be a doctor?

Dr. Amy Thompson (04:40):

I always knew. So interestingly I joke there was an article in the paper when I first took the job of CEO, you know me well enough to know it said, what did you want to be when you grew up? And I was like, I was trying to choose between a basketball coach, for those of you out there I love basketball so much, or a doctor. And so it was really funny that those were my two things, but I always wanted to be a doctor.

Kade Wilcox (05:03):

That's really cool. What do you see as your role now as the leader of the Women's and Children's hospital? Every year or every month or every week, when you're thinking about your role as the leader, what kind of buckets of responsibility do you ascribe to your role?

Dr. Amy Thompson (05:23):

The thing that comes the most natural for me is what I would call the vision piece. We are here and I want to get us to here and have these big dreams and we could change. My husband, Dusty, used to joke with me that he's like, it wouldn't matter what business you were in, you would want to transform it. And it's true. That's the part for me that runs easily through my veins is the part that says, this is a vision and we're going to move towards this vision. But I feel like that the thing that I have had to learn, and I feel like I'm learning this many years in, is that it's not just about getting up in front of folks and saying, this is the vision and this is where we're going but it's about loving the people. I am a CEO of Covenant Children's. I am certainly in charge of taking us in a direction that's going to improve, in this case, healthcare for kids and for women and at the Joe Arrington cancer center, these kinds of things. But it's also true that I've been put over those people not just to help ensure their job. I feel the responsibility of making sure they have a job when they come to work, but it's also true that I take very seriously, and I feel like that the area that I've grown the most in is understanding that my other job is to make sure that they love their job. Helping them see what good they can do every day and us taking care of them.

Dr. Amy Thompson (06:51):

And I don't know that I understood that when I first got into administration is that there was going to be this other component of loving the people that you work with and taking them along with you. And when they are struggling, sometimes change is super hard. And so it is easy to sit in my office and talk about the change, but then making sure that you're sitting with your people enough to understand, maybe we're moving too fast. We gotta get a little more buy in here or understanding that people bring hard things to work. They have these personal lives that happen outside of that and just giving people a lot of space. But also understanding that those are the folks that are walking in to your place every day and really taking that piece seriously. So that's where I feel like I've had to grow.

Kade Wilcox (07:40):

Yes, that's really good. I think from the outside, and I'm certainly an outsider when it comes to healthcare, but when I think of healthcare, I think of what you see in the news, the challenges of healthcare and just all the wrinkles and the different layers and levels of healthcare and all the challenges you hear about. So what has been challenging as it relates to both trying to lead an organization forward while simultaneously dealing with this behemoth that is American healthcare?

Kade Wilcox (08:10):

The easiest part is when I go back to the bedside and I will actually tell you the reason I will never give that piece up is because I feel like it's the thing that I do that helps get me back to the perspective and the thing that matters, which is taking care of the patient that's right in front of you. The hard part is if there was unlimited amounts of money and reimbursement and all of these things, that would be super awesome and easy, but the problem is American healthcare has undergone this tremendous transformation. And some of those are for reasons that we know, our healthcare costs too much, and even though our health care costs a lot, you would expect if we're the most expensive healthcare that we should have the best outcomes. And that's not always the case depending on what you look at. And so there's needed to be some change in healthcare, but it creates problems. And so I would say where the rubber meets the road for me is having to get where those two things can come together. Reimbursement is decreasing, we're getting paid less and less for what it is that we do. And so having to learn how to do that with less people, that's hard. Having to help physicians. I gotta be honest when I'm at the bedside, I certainly don't think I wonder if this is a more or less expensive antibiotic, you know? And that is just not the way that you think at the bedside. And so getting into the administrative side of that is really challenging because I'm having to say, look, we have to save money and we have to do these things.

Kade Wilcox (09:48):

But I'm on this weekend. So this weekend, when I go back on, you actually can see and feel some of the impact, of the decisions that you're having to make. When I was in med school, I had professors that would say, change is coming to healthcare, and I remember one day when it dawned on me, this is it. This is the change that they were talking about. And the way that I always say it to people who are thinking about getting into healthcare as a profession, as an administrator, is this is not for the faint of heart. Because the challenges are many. And I think it's an ever moving target, about how to improve health care. So trying to do all of those things well, making sure that you're still empowering people to do the stuff that really matters at the bedside.

Kade Wilcox (10:42):

Yeah. It's super admirable. It makes a ton of sense that how practicing health care then shapes your leadership. And that's a huge takeaway for all of us in a position of leadership. How do you keep from going crazy? Because you put your admin hat on and you have a role and responsibility, you put your physician hat on and when those two things conflict or create friction, how do you detach from that and try to be solutions oriented? How do you handle that?

Kade Wilcox (11:14):

The first thing that I would say is you have to have smart people around you. Probably my biggest strength right now, where I sit at the Covenant Children's hospital is my administrative team that's around me. And we try to discipline ourselves. So we meet every week together and we have a big executive meeting. And our goal in that meeting is actually to get to places where we can solve problems. And it's brainstorming every week of this is the situation and this is how we're going to try to solve that. I would say that probably on that list is I think too many times, and I'll talk specifically to healthcare, I don't think we have enough physicians and people at the bedside in rooms making decisions.

Dr. Amy Thompson (12:04):

And I think we have to move to that. I'm a fan of having more and more physician involvement. And that's something that in the last year I have really understood is a place for me that I really need to step it up is I have to make sure that I have enough input from those folks who were actually doing the work all the time at the bedside, from nurses and from physicians. And then I think the hardest part for me is when I know the thing that we have to do and people don't want to do it. And the fact is you have some choices right there. And I think that that's where you have to let people in, look, this is what I'm dealing with, these are the truths of both sides of this. How can you guys help me solve it? And what's amazing to me is when I give problems both to my team, but also to clinicians and folks that work on my floor, it's amazing to me to watch them come up with the solutions about how we're going to solve these problems. And so if I had to put it into a sentence, I would say, you are not going to solve this problem by yourself. And it's complex. And sometimes I have to be like, I can not figure this out today. We will come back tomorrow with fresh eyes and try to see both sides of that coin. But yeah, it's hard.

New Speaker (13:27):

Are you an anomaly in healthcare? Because you've practiced medicine for so long and now you're the CEO. Does that happen very often?

Dr. Amy Thompson (13:36):

You know, it's happening more and more. And I have to say, I like that. I see it going that way. And I want to be very careful. I had somebody one time when I said that say, so you think all administrators should be physicians. And man, I'm so grateful when I first became the interim CEO. I had been chief medical officer and rather than replacing myself as the chief medical officer, the person I hired was a gentleman who I had known who had experience in operations and finance. And I joked with him that I missed that day in med school. And so I needed somebody who had that experience to come in and I will tell you that those folks are invaluable. And so I would answer it while we still have to have folks with operational and finance background to help us keep on target, I do think it's helpful to have more physicians at the table and it's something that you're seeing change a lot right now.

Dr. Amy Thompson (14:34):

I will also tell you, I'm a pediatric hospitalist and hospitalist means I just take care of sick kids in the hospital. So every time that I was on, I would go to the ER and admit patients, I would see patients in the newborn nursery, I had patients on the floor, we ran the intermediate care in the PICU. And so I've sent kids to and from surgery. So coming in, I understood operationally how all of those areas worked as a physician. And so I will say that me being a hospitalist, played a huge part in me understanding how the hospital worked.

Kade Wilcox (15:10):

Yeah. It makes a lot of sense. I got more healthcare questions for you because I think there's a lot of parallel to other organizations. I don't want to ask this question leading. So if you disagree with me, just punch me. Punch me out. So it seems like a lot of our healthcare problems is that we're just simply treating symptoms and we're not focusing as much on the preventative side of things. And that's really what plagues organizations all the time where you're just constantly putting out fires, but you never actually go backwards and say, what can we do to create a healthy foundation or a healthy place to move forward. And so is that right? What does that look like? Like what does that look like in the healthcare context?

Kade Wilcox (16:01):

Absolutely. This is a great question. And I do agree with you which is lucky for you and I'd hate to punch you in your own podcast. The answer is that you get it because the fact is, and this is part of the reason I love pediatric medicine is, if there is a way that we could change things when folks are kids, we actually could make a huge impact on what's downstream for them and the rest of their life. And I would say it's not just even straight medical things. So I'll use two examples. The first would be diabetes. If we can get in and teach kids how to eat right, how to exercise, how to meal plan. And that's hard, especially when you have a kid who is not in control of their own environment. Right now we're doing some stuff with the YWCA and different things like this to get into where we can teach kids these skills. And that would be a great example of something that like, if we could change that stuff, my adult hospital wouldn't be dealing with so much hypertension, overweight, diabetes.

Dr. Amy Thompson (17:10):

But I will give you one of the other big ones. I have the privilege of also being over our mental health, even adult things at Covenant health. And right now in kids, I'll talk specifically, we've got a big vacuum for kids in that entire realm. We've got some great people in the city who do all of these things, but it's very disjointed. It's hard to get in. We don't have a lot of support, in some of the places like I mentioned, in schools where kids need this. I actually prefer the term relational health because I believe that emotional wellbeing is how you relate with yourself and others and learning positive ways to do that. So if we could get into schools and do things like resiliency training, emotional health training, learning how to control your emotions, learning how to do self behavior modification, that's where you actually can see some dividends. And so it's interesting for us that we're about to do a master facility plan. We are going to build a state of the art PICU, where we can take care of the sickest of the sickest kids, but we simultaneously want to be involved in things like we're doing with LISD, where we can try to support programs that are going to help so that we don't have to hospitalize kids.

Dr. Amy Thompson (18:38):

I said this at the press conference we were having about the thing that we did with LISD is I said, I'm about to build inpatient psych beds. And what I hope is that we could, as a city, come together and figure out how to do so many programs before that. I hope I built a unit and it sits empty. That would be the greatest victory for me to build a unit and then never fill it up. We would stop having to admit kids for these problems. And probably even adults. I would love it if those hospitals would sit empty because we were doing such a great job at prevention.

Kade Wilcox (19:14):

That's good. Thanks for sharing all that. I think what sparked that thought in my mind is what you're talking about in terms of, I don't think you used the word diverse, but like when you talked about surrounding herself with leaders who were both physicians and admin folks and finance people it seems like you're going to get better ideas. You're going to have different angles and ways of understanding the problems. You're going to have better ideas on the preventive side of things. The whole thing just gets better, which is highly applicable to any organization, not just healthcare. So I can see the value that you bring in that role of being a physician. And so it's really cool to see.

New Speaker (19:51):

How do you treat failure? Certainly over the last five to six years you've made some great decisions and maybe you've made some not so good decisions. How do you handle that?

Dr. Amy Thompson (19:59):

The first thing that I would say is I think people are afraid to stand up and talk about it. I will tell you that we're failing at some stuff and what I always say is if you're not saying that you're failing at something, you're just not being honest with yourself. Leadership is an exercise in failure. And I will tell you most of the things that I end up telling, like even the stuff that I will say on this podcast, I'm going to tell you the vast majority of those I learned by failing at them. We'll say things like, communication is the most important thing that you're going to do, you can never over-communicate. You know how I know that? It is not because I came out and was so great at communication it's because of the number of problems that I've seen where I have failed to communicate well. And so then that allows you to make a statement like communication is super important.

Dr. Amy Thompson (20:50):

I think that the failure piece, you have to come to grips with the fact that this is going to be part of who it is that you are both as a human, but also as a leader. And I think you can't spend too much time, I call it navel gazing about after you've made a poor decision because I promise you're going to make another one. I'll joke that you need to have an action plan. So like, okay, totally screwed that up, how is it that I'm going to be able to fix this, but I will tell you, it starts with taking some responsibility.

Dr. Amy Thompson (21:30):

Your teams will not follow you if you make mistakes and don't own up to them and say, let me tell you how I could've done this better. That probably would have saved us from being in this situation. And if you will model that for people they'll come along. And when they were part of that decision, it drives the ability for everybody to sit in a room and own their part of what caused things to go wrong. And then you're actually able to say, how can we prevent this from happening again?

Dr. Amy Thompson (22:01):

I'm going to scripture you and say, in the scriptures, when it says, forget what is behind and press on towards what is ahead. You need to write this on your mirror and look in it because you're going to have to forget some of the failures and you gotta move on.

Dr. Amy Thompson (22:22):

I had an exercise that was in a women's leadership group and we had this exercise and it was like, you're supposed to do this timeline of your life and talk about these big moments. And there were great moments, like the birth of my children and the day I got married. So there were those moments, but what's interesting is as I did the exercise, what I realized is these other big moments were either setbacks or failures. When I tore my ACL, as it turns out, what happened I got a different perspective. And so it was interesting to me that when I looked back on those important moments of my life, I remember the day that I thought, wow, this is super interesting. That what I'm telling you I learned actually came out of either failure or just hardship.

Kade Wilcox (23:17):

Yeah. That's really good. How do you approach your own personal growth? You're responsible for all kinds of senior and executive leaders. You oversee physicians, you oversee major stakeholders, Covenant is owned by St. Joseph. So you have those stakeholders, you have local and regional stakeholders. You got a lot of people in the room. And so how do you in the midst of trying to lead well there, how do you lead yourself?

Dr. Amy Thompson (23:44):

You know, I will tell you the things that I've done good and bad with this. For the longest time, I feel like the number one thing that I had to learn with some delegation. And the reason I say that is because when you're trying to do it all, people will let you, they'll be happy to let you do it all. And then what happens is you don't actually have enough time for the question that you just asked, because all you're doing is doing all this stuff. And I have had to learn that again, the hard way.

Dr. Amy Thompson (24:15):

I feel like I had a goal for 2020, and then COVID hits and we'll pick it back up in 2021, is that you've got to create some space. You got to create some space to do things that your team needs you to do. And as it turns out, my team needs me to have some self reflection. My team needs me to go get some leadership training. I need to have some honest feedback from my team so that they can say, let me tell you areas that you could grow in. And being able to accept that feedback, but goodness knows in the past I am a doer and I like to lead. I like to lead by, I will go with you. And we will go to the front line, but as it turns out, some of the things that I've needed to do need to come by sitting alone by myself and having those kinds of times.

Dr. Amy Thompson (25:15):

I'm a Christian. And so what I will tell you is the day does not go well if I do not take time to be alone with the Lord, and I will tell you I'm not afraid to say it. That perspective for me, I can tell big differences on days that I don't take time. People who say, I don't have time to exercise, I don't have time to pray, I don't have time to read my Bible. Whatever those things are for you that feed your soul. If you don't do those things, you are selling your team short by not providing for that.

New Speaker (25:51):

Sometimes I have to write really fast to keep up with my notes thanks for your patience there. That's really good. What are some of the biggest personal influences in your own leadership journey? You certainly have an extensive academic career. You have to, as a physician. But what are some of the biggest influences in your own leadership journey?

Dr. Amy Thompson (26:14):

You know, I would say a lot of them have been physicians. I'll talk about things that I learned. Dr. Rick Lampe was my chairman in the department of pediatrics, which is where I trained. He was the very first physician I ever got to follow when I was in medical school. And I remember lessons like that that you didn't get at a seminar. But watching the way he interacted with patients. The thing Dr. Lampe used to always say is every conversation in medicine you lead with what is best for the patient. And I will tell you to this day, that is such a discipline for me to say the answer to this question lies in what's best for the patient. And so he was a huge influence on me.

Dr. Amy Thompson (27:03):

Is it fair game to say that one of the biggest influences that I've watched lead has been my husband? I think he's a great leader and I always say this because maybe it should be good. I live with him. He's not perfect. I don't want to pretend like he's something that he's not, but what he is who he says he is. And I think he has probably taught me more about just being authentic. Like your people do not need a caricature of you, your people need you, and then they need you to grow. They need you to be honest, where you're falling short. And the thing that I love the most about Dusty is the thing that I will hear over and over about him is when I hear him preach, he's just Dusty. And I would say, that's the thing that I've learned from him is just be who you are. Be who God created you to be, and fan those gifts into flame, don't be afraid to do that.

Kade Wilcox (28:09):

The other thing that I would say is there was a gentleman that was the CEO of Covenant Children's before me and some unfortunate circumstances in his health are the thing that led to my even getting this job. And there are some folks like that. He was maybe the most positive, glass half full, kind of person that I had ever met and that's a huge influence on how I try to be.

Dr. Amy Thompson (28:37):

So I would say for me, almost everything for me has been watching great leaders. Not perfect leaders, but great leaders much more than I read leadership books. I do read leadership books and I go to seminars and I do that stuff, but I would say the biggest way that I've learned is by these influences and folks that I've watched lead.

Kade Wilcox (28:58):

That's good. I resonate with that. I used to work at a church camp and still to this day, 37 years, some of the most profound leadership examples for me are from this guy named Wendall Brown, who managed maintenance at this camp for like 40 years. And I can just vividly in my head, see him leading, and others out there. So I resonate with that.

Kade Wilcox (29:23):

My last question for you, if you could speak to your younger self, 15 or 20 years ago, what advice would you give yourself then knowing what you know now?

Dr. Amy Thompson (29:33):

You know I think that the biggest thing that I would say to myself is it's okay to dream. It's okay to dream about the big things that you can do. You don't have to come in knowing all the answers to what it is that you're going to have to do. What you have to have is a desire for the vision that you're going for. You gotta have a drive to continue to improve, but allow yourself to dream. I hope there's somebody out there who's listening who is contemplating what it is that they want to do with their life. I never would have seen myself doing what it is that I'm doing right now. And so just allowing yourself to have a little more freedom. I didn't think I was capable of doing some of the things that I've been able to do. And that's the thing I would say is just dream. Dream about what God has for you and what potentially he could do if you just allowed him to lead wherever you needed to go.

Kade Wilcox (30:43):

Yeah. That's really good. Thanks for all your time. Really appreciate you joining. Thanks for the great work you're doing. I love telling people that I know you. You're really smart, kind, you're a physician, you're a really well rounded leader. And when you have an organization of that kind of consequence, it's encouraging to know that organizations and institutions that really matter to society are being led by really high caliber, high character people, and you fit that to a tee. So Lubbock is lucky to have you, Covenant is lucky to have you. And we really appreciate your time today on the podcast.

Dr. Amy Thompson (31:19):

Awesome thanks for having me.


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