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7 Questions on Leadership with Daniel F. McCarter

Name: Daniel F. McCarter

Title: National Director of Primary Care Advancement

Organisation: ChenMed

Dr. Dan McCarter currently serves as the National Director of Primary Care Advancement at ChenMed. Prior to this role, he spent two years as the Market CMO in Richmond, Virginia, overseeing operations at JenCare Senior Medical Center, a subsidiary of ChenMed. Dr. McCarter's journey with ChenMed followed a rewarding 27-year career at the University of Virginia.

In 1990, Dr. McCarter established Stoney Creek Family Practice, one of the first satellite teaching practices within the UVA health system to implement electronic health records. His leadership led the practice to achieve Level 3 patient-centered medical home certification.

Throughout his extensive career, Dr. McCarter held various administrative positions at the University of Virginia, including Vice-Chair of Family Medicine, Medical Director of Regional Primary Care, Associate Chief Medical Officer for Ambulatory Services, and Medical Director for WellVirginia ACO, a Track 1 MSSP. He also served as the course director for the Virginia Population Health Summit in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Dr. McCarter has presented at numerous local, national and regional conferences. In 2020, Dr. McCarter participated in the Starfield IV summit on Family Medicine Resident Education. In 2023 he was on the Pisacano Memorial Lecture Panel at American Academy of Family Physicians Resident Leadership Summit. He currently co-chairs the Virginia Academy of Family Physicians Resident and Student Committee. Additionally, he maintains a teaching appointment within the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Daniel's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

It really depends on the point in my career under discussion. I think that the biggest challenge, which has also been the greatest benefit, is the understanding that all of us together are smarter than any one of us. This has held true in whatever group I have been a part of. So, when problems arise, figuring out the appropriate team members to bring together to solve the problem at hand, defining the problem, and then gathering input from everyone, along with a way to aggregate the information, becomes one of the most important skills to learn. It may seem like it takes more time, but ultimately, it saves time and improves buy-in.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Every physician is, by definition, a leader. The question is, “Have they learned what they need to know to lead effectively?” My first role was establishing a rural academic practice right out of residency. This involved supplying, hiring, and training staff and implementing an Electronic Health Record (EHR) (before the internet, which might not have been my smartest decision but provided valuable learning opportunities). Like the EHR, I had successes and failures, both of which motivated me to continue learning and find different ways to deal with problems and influence people.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I wake up at 4:50 AM, meditate, exercise, and eat breakfast. Then, I start working at 7:00 to 7:30 AM. I schedule my day through until 5:00 PM or later, usually with a 30-minute lunch break. I attempt to schedule at least two 2-hour blocks a week for uninterrupted deeper work. My routine schedule extends to 5:00 PM, but it's not uncommon to have evening meetings 1-2 days a week. I try to go to bed by 10:00 PM and avoid looking at my phone between bedtime and when I start work.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

There are so many lessons, making it hard to pick just one. One lesson that keeps coming back to me is from a book by Gay Hendricks on golf. He describes two ways of looking at the world: classical "Newtonian" physics, where every action has an opposite and equal reaction (A leads to B leads to C), and quantum "Einsteinian" physics, where how we are in the world changes the world we are in. This is especially relevant to leaders because while many leaders are great individual performers, great leaders must support and mentor their teams to produce great work. This often means never getting credit for it. The same words can be supportive and affirming in one instance but critical in another, so how the leader interacts with the world has a significant impact on the world they are in and the results their team produces.

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?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey first came out when I was a resident. I have returned to many of its concepts repeatedly over the years. It's like climbing a spiral staircase; you encounter the habits repeatedly as you ascend. While I've read many other great leadership books, almost all of them directly or indirectly touch on one or more of the seven habits. Lately, the habit that has been most on my mind is Habit Number 3 – "Put First Things First" – making time to work on things that are important but not urgent. With the increasing ubiquity of electronic distractions, it takes more effort to maintain focus on things that are important but not immediately due today.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If you are a leader, at some point, someone will bring you an outrageous situation that you feel requires immediate action. My advice is to take a breath. There are always multiple sides to every story, so when you hear of a problem (unless it is a life-and-death situation), take the time to find the other sides of the story before acting. To paraphrase Stephen Covey, "Respond rather than React." It saves a lot of angst and rework.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

When I was finishing residency and was asked to set up and run a satellite practice, I went to talk with my mentor, Dr. Lewis Barnett, who was also the chair of the department and would be my boss in that role. I expressed misgivings about just finishing residency and not feeling prepared to be a faculty member at a medical school. He gave me valuable advice that has stood the test of time. He explained that being a professor or a leader did not require me to know all the answers; it did require me to be honest and admit when I did not know the answers and then role model how to go about searching for the answers. He called it being the "lead learner." I've thought about that many times over the years, and each time I stepped into a new role, it was vital not to fake certainty but to be open to asking questions and listening carefully for answers. It helps not only figure out the “lay of the land”, but also establish credibility with teams.

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