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7 Questions with David Berger
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7 Questions with David Berger
Name: David Berger, MD, MHCM
Current title: CEO
Current organization: University Hospital of Brooklyn - Downstate
David H. Berger, MD, MHCM is Chief Executive Officer of University Hospital of Brooklyn, the main teaching affiliate of SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University. Dr. Berger is also Professor (tenured) in the Department of Surgery at Downstate. Between 2019-2020 Dr. Berger served as the Chief Operating Officer at the University of Florida – Central Florida. Dr. Berger is an expert in patient flow, operating room throughput, quality and patient safety. He has extensive experience identifying cutting edge healthcare technology and implementing the technology effectively in hospitals. Dr. Berger previously served as the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, Chief Medical Officer of the Baylor College of Medicine McNair Facility and Operative Care Line Executive of the Michael. E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. Dr. Berger is a native of New York, where he received his medical degree (1984) from the State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn. Dr. Berger completed a General Surgery residency at SUNY-Brooklyn and fellowship in Surgical Oncology at the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Berger completed a Master of Science in Health Care Management at Harvard University in 2007. Dr. Berger has over 200 publications. He is the Founding Editor of Perioperative Care and Operating Room Management, a multidisciplinary Elsevier journal. Dr. Berger is Past-President of the Association for Academic Surgery and the Association of VA Surgeons.
Dr. Berger is married to his wife of 37 years Adrianne Saffir-Berger. David and Adrianne have four children Stephanie, Rachel, Daniella, and Isaac. He serves on the board of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of New York City and the Association for Academic Surgery Foundation.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Building a high performing culture.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Becoming the leader of an organization is a journey not a brief story. In medicine you are promoted to a position of leadership by being a great clinician, a great researcher, or a great educator (or a combination of the three). It is then what you learn when you get that first position that continues to move you forward. The key traits that help you succeed are self actualization, resilience, ethics, compassion, and emotional intelligence.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I am up early. First is to try to exercise. Get into the office before seven and try to clear emails. Then spend one hour thinking, reading, catching up on current events. A large part of the rest of the day is spent in meetings. I have standing weekly meetings with my direct reports and a two hour weekly meeting with the team. I try to spend an hour walking the halls of the hospital. Since I am in early I try to leave by 6pm. On the ride home I listen to a podcast. My preferred podcast is Rabbi Gordon on Rambam. When I get home I greet my wife and we have dinner together. I try to decompress and leave work at the door. In bed by 9pm and 30 minutes of TV.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Leadership is all about how you work with people. It isn't about you, it is about others.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
There are two books with the same lesson; Good to Great, and the first 90 days. These books both emphasize how getting the right people around you is the key to being successful.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
First you need to hire the right team. I like to hire for ability and ethics. Hire good people who share your values. Work with your leadership team to create team values. Most importantly are transparency and accountability. Not just to me but to the entire team. Once you have built the leadership team you then set the mission,vision, and values for the organization. You mentor and coach your leadership team so they can coach their direct reports. Then you start to communicate the goals and objectives in a positive manner throughout the organization. It is important to develop training and educational opportunities throughout the organization. Reward high performers. Try to promote and give opportunities from within. Train, train, train. Mentor, mentor, mentor.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
My current organization has faced difficult times over the last three to fours. Two marquee programs faced quality issues and the hospital was designated Covid only during the height of the pandemic in NYC. There many workers burnt out and disconnected. This was reflected in the past participation of only 10% (300 people) of staff and faculty in the culture of safety survey. I felt it was important to improve participation in order to get the pulse of the organization I was now leading. My team did an amazing job and nearly 1800 people, 6 times the previous number completed this survey. This led me to believe we were on the right track in re-engaging our workforce.