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Leading in Oncology Through Change

By Barbara Schmidtman, PhD

June 30, 2022

Change is inevitable in our lives, both personally and professionally. We change as we grow older, as we learn, and as we are exposed to new people, places, and things. Among all of this, processing change can be difficult. I have heard throughout my career that managing and adapting to change are two of the most stressful and intimidating elements of leadership. But this shouldn’t be the case.

A 2016 Harvard Business Review discussed strategies to help individuals with adapting to change. Its author suggested that people should find the humor in change, discuss the issue at hand rather than their feelings, not stress about stress, and accept the past while fighting for the future. Of these points, the last strategy in the article really stood out to me: “don’t expect stability.” When I reflect on this comment, I think about the accelerated changes humanity has undergone over the last century. From the invention of motor vehicles to landing on the moon, change is what has allowed for this immense, fast-paced growth.

So what is the alternative to change? In my opinion, an antonym of change is to be stuck. The thought of being the same person today as who I was five to ten years ago is frightening. When I think about being stuck, I think about someone or something that never moves, despite the desire to progress. When I was a little girl, my father used to tell me to never have resentment because it will grow roots within you and keep you “stuck.” Therefore, resentment doesn’t allow us to process change. And it’s the positive changes that can bring good things to our lives or our teams.

On a Macro-Level

Change not only impacts the individual, but rather has an affect among all of those around us. For example, if I change something at home, that decision can impact my family and any other person that is a part of my personal life. I like to refer to this as a ripple effect. And the same principle can be applied to our professional lives. Thus, it is important to be thoughtful and deliberate as changes occur in the workplace. When implanting change in healthcare, or anywhere, it’s important to ask who will be affected and how it will impact them. Within cancer teams, we undergo changes all the time, from new methods of treatment and welcoming new team members to all the complexities associated with cancer care delivery. Change always happens and that change allows our patients to experience state-of-the-art, cutting-edge oncology advancements.

This is why it’s so important for healthcare providers and their teams to learn how to affectively adapt to change together. Remaining positive in adverse situations allows us, as individuals, to grow and help others realize and achieve their potential. Additionally, effectively adapting to change sets an example that will show others how to positively embrace change.

Patients Are the Example

Finally, imagine the amount of change that our patients with cancer go through as they are suddenly affected by their diagnosis that could last for the remainder of their lives. As we work in cancer care, patients’ feelings take the forefront of our thoughts. Patients must embrace the sudden changes in their lives, often accompanied by fear, anxiety, and stress and coupled with the thoughts of how to fight for their lives and pay for their treatment. As our patients show us day-to-day, all healthcare professionals should also be able to embrace life’s changes, too.

Barbara Schmidtman, PhD, has worked in healthcare for more than 20 years in a variety of professional and clinical roles. Currently, she is the executive director of cancer health at Spectrum Health West Michigan in Grand Rapids. Dr. Schmidtman is the ACCC Workforce Subcommittee Chair, a subgroup of the association's Governmental Affairs Committee. Dr. Schmidtman earned her Ph.D. in business administration from Northcentral University, where she specialized in industrial organizational psychology. Dr. Schmidtman’s doctoral studies focused on physician behaviors and how demonstrated physician leadership affects individuals and teams—either positively or negatively. Dr. Schmidtman has a passion for speaking locally and nationally on leadership styles and approaches.

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