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This past June, Markham Stouffville Hospital welcomed its new president and CEO, Jo-anne Marr. Healthy.Together. sat down with Ms Marr to talk about her passion for health care and her views on team building and leadership.

Can you share some of the highlights of your career to date?

I’ve had a real diversity of experiences over the last 30 years. I’ve worked in the community, in hospitals, acute as well as academic, and in the private sector. It has given me a good understanding of how the health sector works and just how complex it is. I have a strong clinical background and I’m a neurosurgical nurse by training. Coming up through the ranks, I had a lot of different frontline roles, so I understand very well the challenges as well as the joys that caregivers experience.

I’ve also been responsible for what I would describe as the business side of how a hospital runs—things like the physical plant and parking, including the parts that generate needed revenues for the clinical operations—all of which has given me a broad perspective and appreciation. I’ve been involved in leading many change initiatives over my career and those, too, have been diverse in nature. I’ve led change initiatives involving code of conduct, financial and budget turnarounds and clinical transformations such as improving patient experience and patient care redesign. I would say the latter, the clinical change projects, are closest to my heart because they require an understanding and knowledge of many health care issues and they’re focused on improving patient care and this is really the focus of what we do.

What keeps you engaged in health care? Why are you passionate about it?

I love that everyone is focused on caring for patients regardless of what we do in health care, whether we’re direct providers or not, we’re all caregivers.
Health care is all about people at the end of the day. How do we create the best possible experience for patients and how do we work with people to make this happen? I get energized every day when I connect with the people who make this work.

Health care is complex. I’ve found that in order to make improvements and to facilitate meaningful change, that no one piece of the system is the problem, nor is it the solution. To solve problems and challenges, we have to work together and across sectors and many times outside of health care.
I very much enjoy working to solve problems and discover solutions. I’m always looking for ways of doing things differently. In fact, there’s probably nothing that energizes me more than when somebody tells me, “Well, this is a problem you won’t be able to solve.”

What do you think makes a good leader?

Health care is a people business, so I think, ultimately, you have to, as a leader, be able to create and sustain really great relationships. It’s the secret sauce that makes everything else possible. Good leaders spend a lot of time listening, asking questions, inquiring and really getting to know people, what they’re about, what drives them, what they truly care about and then supporting and coaching them to do what they do best.

I think that leaders have to create a vision—where is an organization or team going—and they have to be build a strategy, a plan to get there. A leader has to have his or her finger on the pulse of the organization: the finances, the people, the strategy. The best way to do that, I believe, is to build and leverage a very strong leadership team. That means finding the right people, leveraging their best strengths and talents and aligning them around that plan. I believe that we’re all successful standing on the shoulders of those around us and we have to remember that. Keeping on top of operations is really a bit of a balance: jumping into the weeds when you need to support people or when there’s risk, but, at the same time, letting go and leveraging others to do what they do best.

What do you think makes a great health care team?

It doesn’t just happen by accident. Teams have to be nurtured, grown and developed. A great team will have people who are diverse in their strengths but with similar values and principles, allowing them to be aligned in terms of their approach. They should solve tough problems together by leveraging the strengths of one another and be able to speak with one voice when supporting a priority or decision. They will challenge one another vigorously yet respectfully.  When all of this comes together, you will have a really successful team that truly like each other and enjoy spending time together.

What are your first impressions of Markham Stouffville Hospital?

Markham Stouffville Hospital is an organization at a very exciting time in its history. It has a new physical structure, a new strategic plan, an engaged board, a great team and a supportive community. It’s a very friendly culture so I’m very much looking forward to starting this journey. It’s an organization that’s well positioned for continued future success.

Tell us a bit about your life outside of work?

I moved to York Region in the late fall because I’d been working in the area for some time and I thought it was important to live in the region where I was working. Living in the area and having a young daughter allows me to better understand what families are looking for and need in and from their community.
We have a cottage in the Bancroft area; I like spending time there all year round, but particularly in the summer and fall. I like music, all kinds of it, but jazz is a really big love of mine. I enjoy boating, cycling and swimming, photography and art. Relationships are very important to me, so I really work hard to try to make time for all those I care about.

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