Madeline Bell, who recently was appointed president and CEO of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, looks forward to leading the 160-year-old pediatric institution where she has worked for 20 years. Known for inspired leadership and vision and a track record of excellence, Bell began her career in 1983 as a pediatric nurse at CHOP and then later left the organization to move into hospital administration. She returned to CHOP in 1995, where she has held numerous leadership positions. She helped develop the largest pediatric ambulatory network in the country with more than 50 locations, and implemented CHOP’s electronic medical record. She has a BSN from Villanova University and an MS degree in organizational dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Bell took over as CEO of CHOP July 1.
Nurse.com spoke to Bell about her top goals, the changes she has witnessed during the last few decades in nursing, and her new book, “The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Pennsylvania,” which documents the history of CHOP and is part of the Images of America Series published by Arcadia Publishing.
Q: We read that a major focus for you as president and CEO will be developing more hospital partnerships. Can you elaborate on that as well as other top priorities?
A: An important component of CHOP’s strategy has been building our capability to care for children in their own communities, closer to home. We are accomplishing this through partnerships with other hospitals. This allows us to provide CHOP-quality pediatric care in an environment that is more convenient for our families and at a lower cost to CHOP. In those situations where complex care is required, children can be transported to CHOP’s main hospital in Philadelphia. Implementing new and innovative strategies to deliver care in the best environment at the highest quality and lowest cost will continue to be a focus for CHOP.
Q: You have established a track record of excellence and leadership at CHOP. What contributions are you most proud of?
A: I am most proud of our efforts to reduce preventable harm to the children we serve. Our goal is to create a safe and highly reliable environment in which we practice medical care. We have been making significant progress in safety improvements, and I am extremely proud of the role that I have played in those efforts.
Q: What do you consider the top competencies required for successful leadership?
A: Empathy — a leader that is engaged in understanding what is happening on the front lines of care can provide the necessary guidance and instruction in a productive, not punitive way. Moreover, these are turbulent times for organizations and for their leaders, so it is vital that leaders be resilient and able to adapt in an ever-changing environment.
Q: When did you know you wanted to become a nurse? What was your aha moment?
A: I wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember. I recall an event when my brother fell off the swing set and suffered a large laceration on his leg. My mother was a bit squeamish around blood so I stepped in and managed the situation. It was then that I first realized that I was calm and confident in emergency situations. Soon after, I actually started telling people that I wanted to be a nurse.
Q: What major changes have you seen in nursing and healthcare?
A: When I look at CHOP nurses, I am in awe of their ability to balance technological skills with compassion and caring. When I was at the bedside, I carried small index cards with lists of what I needed to do. I actually calculated drip rates for IVs manually. Nurses today have evolved as professionals, performing roles in governance and research and a multitude of other areas that extend beyond patient care.
Q: How do you think your nursing background has helped to prepare you to be CEO?
A: My nursing training has taught me the importance of empathy for patients and their families. It’s taught me that the needs of the patient and the patient’s family are more important than anything else.
Q: What were some of the interesting facts you learned while working on “The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia?” Why did you write the book?
A: I love American history, and as the first children’s hospital in the nation, CHOP played an important role in the history of pediatric medicine. I especially enjoyed researching the evolving role of CHOP nurses throughout our 160-year history. In fact, I discovered that CHOP had a nursing school from 1895 to 1945, and in those early days, nursing students needed a letter from their clergyman attesting to their good moral character in order to gain admission. Students were only allowed a two-week vacation each year that was granted only if patient demands permitted time off. Finally, there is one amazing fact that I discovered that every nurse, regardless of where they work, should remember. During the Civil War and World War I, when most of our physicians were drafted, it was left to CHOP nurses to manage the hospital. They did a remarkable job then, and still do today.