Ep 26: Clinically Led and Professionally Managed

with Amy Compton-Phillips, M.D.

April 7, 2021


Share Episode
Share on email
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on facebook


Amy Compton-Phillips, M.D.
President, Clinical Care, Providence

Amy Compton-Phillips, M.D., is an internationally respected healthcare executive, innovator, speaker and author serving as president of clinical care for Providence. She is responsible for improving health, care and value outcomes delivered by the 51 hospitals, 1,085 clinics, and 120,000 caregivers of the $25 billion health system.

Dr. Compton-Phillips serves on the boards of WellCare, the Institute of Systems Biology, Lumedic, Multiscale Health Networks, and chairs the High Value Healthcare Collaborative.

Prior to joining Providence in 2015, Dr. Compton- Phillips served 22 years at Kaiser Permanente. She began as a front-line internist, and through a succession of roles spent her last years there as chief quality officer. Her main focus was on improving healthcare value at scale.

Dr. Compton-Phillips holds a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and earned her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She is a board-certified internist, with strong interests in innovation and wellness.


Leading is being willing to say and do the hard things that allow us to move forward in a different way.



Sanjula Jain  0:03

Her Story is a program that explores women, leadership, and health care.


Today, I’m delighted to welcome Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, president of clinical care at Providence. Amy leads the clinical enterprise for one of the largest not-for-profit health systems in the country. Amy, thanks for being with us today.


Amy Compton-Phillips  0:26

It is my pleasure to be here. Thank you for asking.


Sanjula Jain  0:29

I know you’re based in Seattle, but before you moved out west, you were actually an East coaster. Tell us a little bit about where you grew up and how you thought about your career early on.


Amy Compton-Phillips  0:38

Actually, I was born and raised in Missouri. My family all still lives there, so I’m the only wayward child, and I never wanted to do anything other than be a doctor. Nobody in my family was a doctor, but I was a M*A*S*H addict and B.J. Hunnicutt in M*A*S*H went to Hopkins, so I decided Hopkins must be where doctors go to school. I applied and went to undergrad there and then stayed out on the East Coast for about 30 years for medical school. I was on my own dime, so I managed to graduate, work a little bit, get residency in Maryland, and be able to afford to go to the University of Maryland med school. Then I met my husband and stayed there for like I said almost 30 years.


Sanjula Jain  1:16

Right in my stomping grounds. We have the DC connection in common. Your career is fascinating because you’ve worked at two of the largest health systems in the country. Of anyone I’ve met, you’re an exemplar of “patient at the center” and everything about care delivery systems. Do you consider yourself to be an accidental or intentional leader?


Amy Compton-Phillips  1:36

I absolutely think I’m an accidental leader. A lot of women go on this path. I joined Kaiser Permanente straight out of residency because it resonated with me how they were thinking about putting the patient at the center and doctors were able to just practice medicine. It was a great fit for me with my ethos and how the reason I went into healthcare was to make lives better. I felt like that was a way I could do it without having to think about the business of medicine. Early in at Kaiser, what I found was this incredible receptivity to people who had ideas and people who were willing to speak up. Even though it was a large organization, I worked in a small unit of Kaiser Permanente on the East Coast. I was able to have conversations with leaders and they would listen and they would take input. Then the more I spoke up, the more they said, “Hey, Amy, would you do this? You’re willing to say something. Would you be willing to ____?” The fact I was able to lean in and engage allowed them to say, “Hey, maybe you have some leadership capacity.” They started sending me to classes and sending me to trainings and asking me to do more and more. Because of their recognition of interest and engagement as a leadership quality, they invested in me and my career started to blossom.


Sanjula Jain  2:55

That’s great. As you and I’ve talked about, I teach med students over at Hopkins, and one of the questions I get a lot is, “How do you make the decision when to forfeit clinical practice to take on more of those administrative leadership roles?” Tell us a little bit about your decision-making process as you’re working through the ranks at Kaiser and ultimately to the chief quality officer. How did you make those trade-offs from clinical to administrative?


Amy Compton-Phillips  3:17

It was a securitas path. The reason I went into medicine as I said, is to make lives better. There’s something that is so intrinsically rewarding about touching patients. It took me a long time to give up touching patients. In fact, at one point, I stepped back from administrative tasks. I started out as a frontline clinician, and then I ended up being a department chief of internal medicine. Then I was asked to run medical offices. Around that same time, I had my second child and I was finding juggling the clinical care, the administrative responsibilities, and raising two kids with a husband who had a busy job overwhelming. I said, “I have to give up something. What is the thing that I’m willing to give up?” I decided I was willing to give up administrative tasks and I went back to halftime work, just seeing patients. When you work half time, that’s two and a half days a week. You actually work three days a week, so I finally said, “Hey, will you pay me for the other half-day?” Then they said, “Well, would you do a little bit of administrative work in the meantime?” I ended up doing it and it kept creeping back up. I finally got to four days a week and started taking on more administrative tasks. Around the same time, I took a bigger job that I had cut back. It is an iterative process. I did not give up touching patients until I moved cross country to take the national job of the chief quality officer. At that point, I missed it so much I ended up volunteering in hospice because, in administration, you’re playing the long game. Everything you do has “make a small change today in hopes that a year from now something takes hold and makes a big-scale change.” With clinical care, you go in and you make somebody’s life better right there. There was something for me that was intrinsically rewarding about seeing patients so it was hard to let go of.


Sanjula Jain  5:10

I can imagine. You and I were talking, and we’ll talk about this momentarily, but you’re volunteering in the COVID vaccine clinic, too. It’s stupendous that you’re spending so much time trying to find that niche for patient care where you can. That’s terrific. From Kaiser, you went to Providence after spending 20+ years at Kaiser. What prompted that decision?


Amy Compton-Phillips  5:32

It’s a great question because I will always cherish my time at Kaiser Permanente and think of them as an absolutely wonderful organization. I deeply miss all my colleagues there. That said, when I joined Kaiser, Kaiser covered about 4% of the American population and I think it’s a fantastic model of care. When I left Kaiser, Kaiser covered about 4% of the American population. My personal mission is to make great health and great care affordable and available for everyone in the U.S. If I want to work on that, I need to do that beyond 4% of the American population. How can I contribute to making this the world we want to live in? The tool I can impact is healthcare, so let’s figure out how we get to the other 96% of people in the U.S. What we figured out at Kaiser Permanente was how to do great care at an affordable price in a way that’s accessible, seamless, and easy.


Sanjula Jain  6:23

I know at Providence you’ve been a big champion of bringing in the role of data and technology to transform clinical care and the quality of outcomes. You’ve gotten behind a variety of instrumental initiatives. We would be here for hours for you to list them all. I know Truvada was a big one most recently, but I think the one worth highlighting for our audiences is that your team led the response for the first U.S. COVID patient over a year ago now. Tell us about that. How did you think through that? How did you feel about it?


Amy Compton-Phillips  6:58

It was a pretty interesting moment. I come to the role with a belief that the 20th-century economy was all about the oil field. In the 21st century, data is the oil of our economy. How we use data and understanding how to take this incredible volume of information in and then leverage it to change what we do is the task we have ahead of us. We were thinking about what was going on. We are always sensing what’s going on. Since Ebola, we’ve learned you have to pay attention beyond your own borders, so we knew this virus was circulating over in China. When we got a patient who said, “I came from Wuhan, China and I have a fever and a cough,” we knew to be ready for it. By the next day, we were able to turn on an alert in our electronic medical record across 51 hospitals, seven states, and 1,000 medical clinics that said “screen everybody for travel.” As soon as that hit, we were able to put our contingency plans that this might be something big in place. Then, as it became obvious that this was going to be a bigger thing, we didn’t say, “How are we going to scale up getting patients in?” It had a very human-centered design focus. We said, “If I’m a person at home and I Google ‘do I have COVID,’ how will we come up with the answer and how will we meet their needs?” Taking that human-centered approach, we developed this whole algorithm to have a chatbot that goes through and answers questions. If people triage out “yes, they might have COVID,” let’s offer them “do you want to come in person, or do you want an electronic, FaceTime-style zoom visit with your doctor?” Let’s do that in a way that we can charge for it so we stay in business because we know this is going to be a financial as well as a medical hit to the country. If they do triage out “yes,” how are we going to get them tested? If we do get them tested and they have it, are we going to put them in the hospital or where are we going to care for them? We thought through the entire system. We worked with Microsoft to figure out the workflow. The CDC liked it so much they ended up taking it and making it available nationally, which was great because this was a societal problem to solve, not just a Providence problem to solve. We ended up doing really well with ensuring that our doctors got to continue to care for patients, our health care system got to continue being able to care for everybody, not just people with COVID. We went from 70,000 telehealth visits—and I know other health systems have done this as well—in 2019 up to 2 million in 2020, so it was a pretty remarkable scale. We took care of about 20,000 people at home with COVID because we set up home monitoring early on. We’re trying to think about how do we use the data, the information the tools of the 21st century so we can do things in a much more patient-centric way than they did during the flu pandemic of the 20th century.


Sanjula Jain  9:52

That’s remarkable. Kudos to you and the entire Providence team. As you know, being a health services researcher, my whole mantra is in health care we’re data rich but information poor. What you’ve been able to do is help connect those dots in a way that it’s usable both internally as a system, but also at the patient level. Hats off to you all on that. One of the other things that you spent a lot of time doing this past year is, outside of Providence, you’ve been a national voice with your commentaries on CNN, for example. I think that’s an incredible platform for you to communicate to the patient at large. As you think through everything you’ve seen in the last few months, what do you envision or see as the opportunities for the post-pandemic healthcare system?


Amy Compton-Phillips  10:35

The pandemic was, first of all, horrible. We lost 500,000 American lives, so I am not saying that the pandemic in any way, shape, or form was good. It has been something that we wish never happened and we never want to repeat. That said, in every crisis is opportunity, so how do we learn from what happened so that we never have it happen again? Before the pandemic, we were on a trajectory where healthcare was too expensive, poorly distributed, it had generated incredibly health inequities across communities and those were made very visible during the year that was. The way I think about it, I’m a sailor for fun, so I feel like healthcare was unmoored. We picked up the anchors and we started moving things around. Before those anchors get dropped and we moore ourselves into a new organization, we can be very intentional. We can be very intentional in doing that in a way that we get much better health equity by allowing primary care for all. How do we set that up so everybody has access to some essential services? Including things like vaccinations that we want to make sure is free,  available, and affordable for everyone. At the same time, let’s set that up in a way that we can provide better care at a lower cost through these kinds of distributed access points, that you’re not requiring very high capital intensive infrastructure like hospitals to be able to provide most care. Instead, you can do it at a much lower cost infrastructure by distributing care outward. By the way, that’ll make it much more accessible to people in rural communities and other health care deserts. How do we start moving knowledge, not people? Telehealth is never going back in the tube. The toothpaste is out, so how do we make telehealth part of the normal way we deliver care and technology? Then, people are still going to get cancer. People are still going to have major trauma where they need multiple people, so hospitals will always be part of the ecosystem, but how do we do that with centers of excellence so we have destination medicine for the highly complex things? That means we don’t have to do it everywhere, which means we might be able to have a lower-cost infrastructure. That is the thinking as we move forward. We need fantastic clinicians with thriving careers providing great patient-centric care to communities everywhere in a way that is affordable. We need to allow the health of the nation to be in a better place than it was before 2020.


Sanjula Jain  13:07

As you think about that transition from the pre-pandemic state, to where we are now, to that ideal state you just described, do you think that’s going to require different leadership competencies for those of us who are working in healthcare or those who aspire to be in health care? How do you see that dynamic changing?


Amy Compton-Phillips  13:23

Before 2020, you saw tech companies, insurance companies, EMR companies, and electronic health record companies work on diving into care delivery. Sometimes it kind of worked, but a lot of times it didn’t. Healthcare has been the third rail. A big part of that is because they were working outside of the healthcare system trying to combat disruptors in the way they’ve disrupted publishing industries and the newspaper industry. Healthcare is more complicated than that. The leadership moment now is to say how do we make sure the people of healthcare—the doctors, the nurses, the healthcare administrators that have deep expertise in health care—are part of the disruption and are partnering with other organizations to change the entire ecosystem? The leadership moment then is making sure that those people with deep healthcare knowledge—the physicians, the nurses, the respiratory therapists—have the business skills and hutzpah to stand eye-to-eye and make sure we are able to create. Not locked into the models of what we have done, but to be willing to embrace the disruption we know we need to get the healthcare infrastructure in the U.S. to a much better place.


Sanjula Jain  14:38

You have this fabulous saying that I love that says that “you should think about being clinically led and professionally managed.” Tell us a little bit more about that philosophy.


Amy Compton-Phillips  14:47

That’s how we’re thinking about it. Because there’s such knowledge needed about how we implement change and healthcare, you have to know what it takes to take care of patients. That’s what the “clinically led” is about. It’s not that clinicians are the bosses who have everything, but they know what we need to do with care. “Professionally managed” is there’s also a great skill set in the business side of healthcare, so “clinically led professionally managed.” The third element there is “human-focused,” making sure we have this triad. We have to figure out how to provide care in a business sustainable way so we’re delivering the outcomes we need for the patients and the communities we serve. That’s the clinically led, professionally managed, human-focused care that we’re working on providing.


Sanjula Jain  15:31

I love that. I think we should brand that as the “Dr. Amy Leadership Philosophy.” That’s spot on. Shifting gears a little bit to your personal journey, as you’ve worked your way through the ranks, what would you consider your first leadership success?


Amy Compton-Phillips  15:45

My first leadership position was, again, I was young. I was a baby doc. I had just joined and was—again because I was willing to speak up and say something—asked to be the head of the Internal Medicine Department in our group. I started doing that, but that was more like a title. The first leadership moment I had, where I actually felt like, “Hmm, this is what leadership feels like,” is a different story. I was a little further in my journey. I had titles before then. I should remember what I was. I think I was running one of the markets we had and I was asked to fly across the country and join a meeting per day in San Francisco. I was living in the DC metro area and I flew out to San Francisco. They talked to us for eight hours, presented lots of really interesting PowerPoints, and at the end of the day said, “What’d you think?” I’m this 32-year-old woman with all these senior leaders. I was looking around nervously and was like, “Great information. Thank you for sharing it with us, but you guys could have emailed that to me and I would have saved a trip 3,000 miles back and forth.” They said, “Oh, wow, thank you.” I went away going, “Well, they’re never asking me back again. I never should have said anything.” I was second-guessing myself and kicking myself in my own shins. About a week later, somebody called me and said, “We’d like you to take this other big role.” I was like, “I thought you guys were gonna fire me. Why are you calling me?” They said, “Because you were willing to say something. You said something. You didn’t complain.” I was polite, but I was willing to say the hard thing—which I think a lot of other people were thinking but they didn’t say it—because I wanted to make sure we were using our time wisely. That was my leadership moment, not my management moment because I had been asked to manage things before. Leading is being willing to say and do the hard things that allow us to move forward in a different way.


Sanjula Jain  17:42

I think that distinction between management and leadership is so often confused, but you’re exactly right. That is such a powerful moment. You and I haven’t known each other very long, but over the years of working with many of your Providence colleagues and in prep for this interview, even meeting many of the people who work for you, that sentiment is so explicit and so palpable. I can see that everyone who works with you or touches you channels that. What about mentors? Think about young Amy thinking about med school to where you are now, what role have mentors played in your journey?


Amy Compton-Phillips  18:15

Mentors have been really important for me, and I have been less intentional about mentors. Now that I know, I’m much more intentional about mentoring others than I was about finding mentors. Mentors found me, which I will thank them forever and ever. When I was coming up through the management, leadership ranks, virtually every other leader was a man, so most of my mentors have been men. They helped me do good things. One, they were intentional about reaching out to me, which was great. Two, they gave me sage advice and helped counsel me through the many decisions that we all have. I remember one moment when I was working again in Maryland. I had two kids in elementary school, we were redoing our house, I just had my kitchen destroyed, my husband’s company had been bought by another company and he had to stay there for a couple of years to be able to earn more. I got a call from the headquarters saying, “Hey, are you interested in taking a job out here? It’s this dream job you’ve always wanted. We’d love to have you move cross country take the job.” I had to say no. Like, “I can’t. I’m not at a point in my life that I can do that.” I went into my mentor and I said, “I can’t believe that. That was my dream job. I have doomed my career to living in a smaller space than I want to. I’m not going to make the impact I want to out of my career.” He said, “Amy, don’t worry about it. Once they know your name, they’ll call you back. You’re okay. Just keep doing what you’re doing and there will always other opportunities.” I never would have had that sense of balance, but my mentor was able to help me through. I met other mentors that have really helped, not just help me know how to improve myself, but also created opportunities for me. It’s such a huge focus that mentorship is probably one of the best gifts we can pass on.


Sanjula Jain  20:19

I could not agree more. I want to come back on one of those threads that you mentioned about the family decisions in a minute, but take the converse of that. Whether it’s mentors or colleagues, what’s the most difficult piece of feedback you’ve gotten?


Amy Compton-Phillips  20:31

I have two difficult pieces of feedback I’ve gotten, so I’ll tell you both stories. One was very early on, like my first management job. We took this personality assessment thing and I was like, “Cool, I have a good personality. I know I’m gonna ace this. I’m a doctor, I ace all their tests.” I took the test and it said I was very directive, that my type was I was going to tell everybody what to do. I was like, “I don’t tell people what to do, this is so wrong.” I ended up going to the person administering the test and going, “Your test is totally wrong. I am not directive. This is absolutely wrong.” Well, let’s do a little bit of self-analysis, right? It was really good. It’s very insight-producing to do that kind of test. It wasn’t another human being telling me which, at that point in my career, I might not have reacted as well to. It was some piece of paper where you filled in little circles, that must be right. It was a great way to glean insight on myself, so that’s one when I didn’t want to hear it but it was incredibly impactful. One even more important happened during what was probably the hardest year of my professional career when I went from knowing how to do my job in a geographic region where I knew a lot of people and I had a lot of relationships developed. I’d work there for 17 years. I knew my way around and figured it out. I took a new job, a new national job. The skillset that let me be successful in my regional job didn’t translate into my national job. I tell people all the time, “They should have fired me.” I was not doing my job. I didn’t know how to get things done at a national level. I needed to figure it out and one of the things that helped me figure it out was another one of these tests as a group. We did the team-building thing and everybody took an assessment of how you see yourself. There were four quadrants: different things of your four-quadrant personality, how you see yourself, and how others see you. How I saw myself was in one quadrant, a bottom left quadrant, and how everyone else saw me was in the upper right quadrant. I’m like, “Oh, the problem is I’m not being myself. The reason I can’t be successful here is I’m trying to conform to some vision of what I think people think I should be, instead of just being me,” so that piece of feedback was incredibly helpful because I decided “I’m going to be nothing but me from now on and not try to fit anybody else’s mold. If being me isn’t right, then I’m not right for the job, but the issue shouldn’t be that I change me.”


Sanjula Jain  21:34

I love that. I’m a big junkie of those personality tests, so you’re giving me an idea that maybe on this show we should have everyone say what their personality strengths are. Building on that thought a little bit, have you found yourself in each new role you’ve taken or broader portfolio you’ve assumed having to do that self-reflection or inventory check of what are these additional skills or areas of knowledge that I need to dig into a little bit more? That you have to prepare yourself for those roles? How have you thought about your own personal development journey?


Amy Compton-Phillips  23:42

We all have our own personality types and one thing I am is intensely curious, so I haven’t had to do lots of “I am preparing for this role, therefore I will do this.” It’s much more like, “What can I read?” “What do I not know today?” I’m one of those super wonky people. I go for walks every day and I listen to The Great Courses or the latest audible version of some cool book that I wanted to see. It might be on the history of the Roman Empire, it might be on economics, it might be on Healthcare Management, it might be on the tech industry. I find that, at this point in my career, having that broad openness to general knowledge is really important. Now, earlier in my career, I was much more focused on saying, “How do I lead through influence if I don’t have direct control?” That was a very tactical thing. Really, really important to learn. It depends on where you are in your journey to figure out what gaps you have and how to close those gaps. Now I’m at the point that I get to learn whatever I want to, which is everything.


Sanjula Jain  24:48

That’s great. I love it. As you think back about your journey, was there a point when you realized that your leadership path was going to be different because you were a woman? Did you ever have a moment where you felt like you were the only one in the room?


Amy Compton-Phillips  25:02

I have been very lucky. Like I said, I was the first woman in a few things, but not the very first. That was probably my mother’s generation. I’m a little bit later than being the very first, but I was one of very few women around. There were certainly a lot fewer of us in the hallway, the one anecdote you heard me mention before so I can describe what it was like: You don’t feel like you’re filling a quota but still, you’re not quite the same. You’re not one of the guys going out for beers after work out. I was at a job at the corporate headquarters on the 27th floor. You had your office on that floor and you had to have the special security badge to get in. It was a big job, it was a cool job, but a lot of work is done in the hallways. People would come out of their office and they’d be talking in the hallways. All the other people I worked with were tall men, so I’d go out in the hallways and they’d be having conversations up here and I’d be down here and I’d say something in the conversation and it wouldn’t get heard. They kept having the conversation up here, so I bought a whole bunch of platform shoes. I had a drawer full so I could have a pair to match any outfit I wore to work that day. Anytime I went in the hallway, I’d pop on my tall shoes so I was up at the same height. If there was a conversation in the hallway, I was looking at people eye-to-eye. My mantra now is, as a woman leader, sometimes you just need to pull out the tall shoes.


Sanjula Jain  26:30

That’s great. That should be the name of your book one day. A question on that: Today, what shoes you wear to work?


Amy Compton-Phillips  26:36

Comfy ones. It’s a great thing about being in the Pacific Northwest. Everyone expects you to be you. Cute little boots that are waterproof.


Sanjula Jain  26:45

I love it! One of the other things, speaking about women representation, is we’re going through this transition in the industry where we’re trying to bring on more women voices in the boardroom. You sit on a couple of boards yourself. What advice do you have for other women who are eager to serve on a board but don’t know where to start? Or how to get on a board? What does that process look like?


Amy Compton-Phillips  27:04

Yeah, boards need more women. Boards that have women on them tend to be more successful than boards that aren’t. When we have boards that are representative of the communities the company serves, the companies are better at serving their missions. It is a great thing. Anytime you make generalizations, you end up with an “-ism.” Something that has seemed like a truism to me, and something that’s been very true of me, is that for me to do things, I have been asked. I find that women wait to be asked. Men raise their hands. Men say, “Hey, pick me.” Women are like, “Oh, you want me?” It’s a real difference. If you’re working on being on a board, join a networking group. There are several organizations—one that I’ve done talks for, so I know it exists, is called Sharp Heels—but there are other organizations out there that help you get ready for boards, that help you join boards. It’s useful to hone your skills and start volunteering for them. There are volunteer boards out there that are always looking for people. Get your skillset done, but raise your hand, don’t wait.


Sanjula Jain  28:16

That’s great advice. I know many guests on the show have raised that question—where do you even start—so it’s good to know that there are networks out there to support that. Going back to a point you alluded to earlier, you have a beautiful family, you have a dual-career couple. What’s been the most difficult personal or professional decision or trade-off you’ve had to make in your life?


Amy Compton-Phillips  28:37

I feel incredibly lucky, so probably what’s been my most difficult doesn’t even remotely compare to colleagues of mine who have been raising children with one parent, for example. I have two and I happen to have a marriage that’s less than 31 years now. We actually still really like each other as friends, so the difficulties I faced are probably significantly different than difficulties others have faced, but part of it’s been how do we balance out what’s important? When I was younger, my husband’s career was the one we thought was going to help set our finances into the future because we both grew up with families where moms were teachers and our dads both worked because that’s what it took to raise a family. We didn’t really have any money. That said, we wanted a better life for our kids, so my husband’s job was going to be the one. I went halftime, he went to work, and I did more of the parenting. Later, when I got the job nationally, he cut back to halftime and I went on to do the full job. Those kinds of decisions are how do we do that together? How do we focus on the kids and focus on the jobs? Our answer was one of us has to work a little bit less because two super busy jobs are incompatible for our family with putting the time into the children that we wanted to. It’s such a juggle and the lesson that we learned is saying yes to everything means doing everything badly. In order for us to do anything well, we had to learn how to say no to some things. My biggest take home is to be willing to say no and your life will be better.


Sanjula Jain  30:16

Very good advice. To that point, I know you have two college kids that are home with you right now visiting and you’re managing the health of a big part of this country. You’re juggling a lot of responsibility. What do you do for yourself? Just to de-stress or what’s your outlet?


Amy Compton-Phillips  30:32

First of all, I am an N of one and I have the most amazing team of people I get to work with who do the real work. That said, I’m big on “if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of other people,” which I firmly believe, so I exercise every day. It is my mental health defense. My husband’s and my routine is to sit down in this chair overlooking the water where we have a great view at 5:00 every day and talk about the day and decompress and figure out what’s important, what do we need to do. Between exercise and having a human being to communicate with—and by the way, getting recharged every time I talk to my kids who bring joy to my life—it makes life much better.


Sanjula Jain  31:17

You talked about being a curious person. I think we both agree that leadership is a lifelong learning process. Is there something you believed early on in your career that you no longer believe? Whether it relates to being a successful leader or being successful clinician, is there any philosophy you thought early on but don’t anymore?


Amy Compton-Phillips  31:35

I’m not sure. I think I’ve just gotten more so. Part of my philosophy is I’m wedded to figuring out outcomes and not as wedded to a path. I’m much more flexible on a path. I think that’s where people get locked into a certain path. I think health and health care is something that is here to make lives better. If I think about my job as making lives better, then being locked into making lives better doesn’t mean I have to be the boss of this or I have to own that. Making lives better means, “Oh, sometimes I support this being done here and that can get there.” As long as I stay focused on the outcome, rigidity is not part of the life I lead.


Sanjula Jain  32:24

You shared an interesting story earlier that I’ll let you share with our audience about your early days of clinical training. It makes me think, what do you see as your edge or the one characteristic that makes you you?


Amy Compton-Phillips  32:37

It’s resilience and not letting what people say stand in your way. I think the story you’re referring to is when I had a moment in med school when I was doing infectious disease rotation. We had this young woman come in. She was a news anchor, this vibrant, young person who ended up being comatose from encephalitis of inflammation in the brain where she was in a coma. Nobody had any idea how she went from being perfectly fine one day to being comatose the next, other than an infection, so we were combing through the literature—this was the pre-Google days, we had to do a literature search—combing through the literature thinking what are the things this could be? Where has she been in her newscasting role? Could she have gotten exposed to anything? I came back after reading a review done not that long before in the New England Journal about how many cases of rabies presented as encephalitis without a history of a bite and without the foaming at the mouth. She was on a ventilator at this point, so can you tell she foaming at the mouth? I said, “Could it be rabies,” thinking it was a legitimate question, and the Dean of the School who happened to be the head of infectious disease happened to be on our rotation. He literally patted me on the head and said, “Oh, Amy, you are so cute.” Of course, I wanted to kick him in the shins. I didn’t, but I said, “Okay, thank you for letting me know. Could it be rabies? I need an answer to the question.” I know he looked condescendingly at me, but let’s focus on the real problem here. The problem is we don’t know what’s going on with this woman. Could this be rabies? That ability to say, “Let’s not focus on the stuff that doesn’t matter.” Him being this blonde male student versus academically questioning “what could be wrong with this person” was frustrating, but I can’t deal with that frustration. I need to solve the problem. Focusing on the problem helps build resilience.


Sanjula Jain  34:33

That’s an amazing story. I love that so much. The final question then. You have a lot more chapters of your book to write but, as you think about your leadership legacy, what would be the title of your autobiography?


Amy Compton-Phillips  34:46

Maybe it’s Tall Shoes. There is always a way if you know what you want to get done in a way that’s respectful of every person around you and not directly challenging. Sometimes directly challenging causes lots of trouble, but there are ways to get it done. How do we respectfully help every human being around us accomplish the goals we want in life? So Tall Shoes.


Sanjula Jain  35:14

Whenever you’re ready for that next project, I think you’ve got the title right there. Amy, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. You are an extraordinary leader in the industry. Thank you for all that you do and for continuing to push us forward in thinking about things very differently and innovatively. I’m really excited to share your story with our audiences.


Amy Compton-Phillips  35:33

It’s absolutely been my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.


Sanjula Jain  35:37

Her Story is a podcast produced by Think Medium. For more leadership stories from inspiring women across healthcare, tune in every Wednesday. Please subscribe to Her Story on Apple Podcasts, YouTube, or wherever you’re listening right now. You can also view Her Story episodes and video and access exclusive content on our website at ThinkMedium.com. Be sure to rate and review Her Story so we can continue bringing you insights from influential women across the country. If you enjoyed this episode, we appreciate you spreading the word to your friends, family, colleagues, and mentors who might be interested. For questions and suggestions, please contact us at herstory@thinkmedium.com. Thanks for listening.

Subscribe for Updates​

For exclusive access to Think Medium content and program updates, subscribe here.