Interview with Steph Ouelette
VP Strategic Partnerships, Middlesex Hospital Alliance
by Todd Stepanuik
T. Stepanuik: Steph, can you provide an overview of your background and career.
S. Ouelette: I completed an undergraduate degree in Business, specializing in Management Information Systems. Upon graduation, I worked for 5 years in the IT department of a large insurance company, with roles in technical support, computer programming, and training. While I enjoyed my role, I desired a career path which was broader and more strategic, so I returned to school to pursue my MBA. During this program, I had a 4 month internship at a large academic hospital, which gave me a taste of health care administration. Upon graduation from the MBA program, I returned to the same hospital organization and initially worked as Business Manager for their Pediatric and Women’s Health portfolio, and later as Director of an IT shared services department supporting the deployment of electronic patient records systems in regional hospitals. I then joined one of our province’s largest primary care teams as Director of Operations and HR, and more recently became VP of Strategic Partnerships in a local community hospital.
T. Stepanuik: As you reflect what has been one of the most important lessons you have learned during your career?
S. Ouelette: I often base my day-to-day interactions with individuals and teams on a quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s oftentimes the little things that count in the eyes of the people whom you serve as leader.
T. Stepanuik: When you consider your current role what lessons have you learned as an executive leader?
S. Ouelette: First and foremost, leadership presence is key, as staff look to leaders for guidance, support, and reassurance. How you portray that presence in a confident, composed, credible, authentic, focused, and charismatic manner can make or break your ability to successfully lead teams. Second, an executive leader needs to realize that he or she doesn’t have all the answers in many of the leadership scenarios that occur on a daily basis, nor do they have time to focus solely on one issue when competing priorities arise. As such, stakeholder engagement and task delegation become even more critical components of an executive leader’s toolbox.
T. Stepanuik: A challenge for many of us is achieving balance in our lives. How have you been successful in balancing work with family?
S. Ouelette: Without a doubt, balancing work and family is a constant challenge, particularly as evening meetings compete with my children’s commitments. Balancing this requires effective time management and negotiation with my spouse. To the extent possible, I’ve also made a conscious effort to minimize the amount of screen time (e-mails, etc.) on evenings and weekends. Lastly, I enjoy volunteering in the community and am presently Board Chair of our local Children’s Museum. That said, I’ve realized that I had to make choices and turn down opportunities to volunteer in additional organizations.
T. Stepanuik: As you are aware there is a lot of discussion regarding health hubs. The Government of Ontario’s Patients First Action Plan identifies the interest of providers to move forward with the planning and implementation of locally driven hub models. Please share your experience given your role with integration of rural services and the learnings associated with such.
S. Ouelette: In our rural health setting, I felt it was important to properly frame the “health hub” model in an appropriate context for patients, staff and stakeholders. First, we deliberately started using the term “Health Village” and consistently use that terminology since it resonates better with our community. As hospital-based acute and emergency services are only one part of a rural health hub model, it’s important for board members of current and emerging rural health hubs to all share in that common language to avoid siloed thinking. Second, in engaging with local primary care teams (Family Health Teams, Community Health Centres) on the model, we ensured that the hospital was part of the solution, and not the sole driver in the partnership. Initial meetings have been based on looking at each organization’s quality improvement plan, and looking for common ground to develop joint programs. Third, in developing relationship with potential new tenants in our hospital, we took our time in ensuring the new services aligned and complemented our current basket of services, all the while engaging with a local advisory committee to ensure our approaches were sound.
T. Stepanuik: Given your involvement with Hubs tell us about the most challenging aspect of leading such.
S. Ouelette: In leading the “health village” journey, there is a need to continuously remind stakeholders of the vision, particularly that it is a “long game”. Many of our participating organizations will continue to have their own separate planning cycles and funding sources, so it will take some time to align all of those components. As a result, a tremendous amount of deliberate planning, effort, patience, perseverance, and trust will be required to bring different organizations together in the spirit of partnership. In time, the health village and its partners will only succeed if the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, which will generate cost savings and improve both the patient care experience and health of the overall population.
T. Stepanuik: What is the best advice you have ever received?
S. Ouelette: By nature, I tend to be a risk-avoider. However, I have been encouraged to take more calculated risks whether it’s on the personal, work, or career track front. Only by taking these risks can one truly learn and grow.
T. Stepanuik: In your current role at MHA what has been the most rewarding experience?
S. Ouelette: In developing partnerships, I have most enjoyed connecting and guiding various internal and external stakeholders in various initiatives, and seeing these projects come to fruition in their intended spirit and vision of the “health village”.