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In The C-Suite: ChristianaCare CEO Dr. Janice Nevin

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ChristianaCare CEO Dr. Janice Nevin | PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTIANACARE

WILMINGTON – Before one phone call in 2002, Dr. Janice Nevin believed her career would steadily ascend the ranks at the Thomas Jefferson University Medical College in Philadelphia.

It was Dr. Joseph Lieberman, ChristianaCare’s retiring chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, who called and told her, “You really need to take a look at this job.” Out of respect, Nevin decided to visit ChristianaCare even though she was happy training family doctors as the residency director at what is now known as the Sidney Kimmel Medical College.

“I got home that night, and I told my husband, ‘I hope I’m fortunate to get the job, because I’ve never been at an organization that so purely lives its mission to serve the community,’” Nevin said. “That is absolutely my personal mission when it comes to health care.”

Eighteen years later, Nevin is now the CEO and president of ChristianaCare. She ascended to the position in 2014, becoming the first woman to lead Delaware’s largest hospital system. After becoming the Family and Community Medicine department chair, doors opened to programs in the world of executive leadership, but Nevin said the biggest turning point was the opportunity to serve as the top leader of ChristianaCare’s Wilmington campus amid a $210 million transformation.

“A lot of the joy being at the Wilmington campus was being able to connect with the people on the front lines,” she said. “They understand the challenges and they often have great ideas on how to solve the problems … After that experience, I did have a conversation with my predecessor on what I wanted to do next. He thought it might be a clinical leadership track, but no, I was ready to take a different approach and become that efficient executive leader.”

Nevin always wanted to become a doctor, having been fascinated as a child with a friend’s father’s work as a general practitioner. But she had some doubts during a prerequisite physics class at Harvard University, wondering how it fit in with taking care of people.

 “It was clear that over time, if someone was going to be healthy, it needed to be a function and not the care they received,” she said. “It’s [about] the place in which they lived, their access to food and the ability to care for behavioral health issues. It was about the system.”

Incorporating a focus on the history of public health in her undergrad education led Nevin back to health care, and she eventually entered family medicine. While that path surprised her at the time, Nevin said it made sense in overlapping her holistic view of health. She absolutely loved being a family physician, calling it “pure and authentic” to hear patients’ stories and seeing how she could make a difference in their lives.

At ChristianaCare, she uses that perspective to guide a health care system that impacts millions of people in the greater Delaware region.

Nevin’s experiences convinced her to revise the hospital’s core values – and she wanted to hear from all 12,000 employees in that process, something that had never been done. The leadership team dispatched 400 ambassadors to talk to all employees about how their work impacted their ward.

What Nevin heard back was surprising: ChristianaCare’s staff said they were guided by love and excellence.

“[Love] is not something really talked about in health care, even though [the field] is about compassion and the needs of others,” she said. “And when you lead with love, you can do some of the things that are the hardest to do. It’s the final ingredient to excellence if you’re going to achieve the outcomes that people deserve.”

That message of compassion and quick action led ChristianaCare through the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, when the hospital system organized the first mass-testing event within two days of Delaware’s first confirmed case. Her No. 1 priority was the safety and well-being of her team, but she was heartened to see that ChristianaCare was immediately ready to work.

“The phrase I heard over and over was ‘this is what we do in health care.’ What I saw emerge is a sense of confidence that was driven by our values and supported by transparency and communication,” Nevin said. “There wasn’t a single part of the organization that did not play a part. Everyone was truly in this together.”

Looking ahead, Nevin said that technology will play a pivotal role in where health care heads next and that voice recognition software is the next frontier. The pandemic has already driven change at an exponential rate, like ChristianaCare shifting its CareVio, a system designed to monitor chronic conditions, to monitor COVID-positive patients via texts and phone calls.

“Right now, health care is very transactional, and that is not how people live their lives. There can be a way to use that technology every day to provide that support using data,” she said. “But COVID has also shown us how important that human touch is. Technology has the ability to help us be more impactful, but that human interaction is also essential.”

Although work in many ways is her passion, Nevin also practices yoga to help de-stress and has started exploring mindful meditation during the pandemic. She also loves reading and swapping book suggestions with her two daughters who live in New York and Charleston, S.C. Recently the family did a Zoom painting session to try something new.

If Nevin could offer any message to her younger self, it would be confidence and courage.

“Particularly for women in leadership, I think courage and confidence is one of the challenges to know what you’re being asked to do and when you see an opportunity, take it.”

By Katie Tabeling

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