LAURA ROBERTSON: Driving better patient care from the business side


Laura RobertsonIf you’ve ever spent time in the hospital, well, you know who really runs the place. Nurses work the front lines, serving as intermediaries between patients and their physicians and families.
Laura Robertson began work as a registered nurse taking care of critically ill patients in the cardiac intensive care unit (ICU). Her career blossomed, and she emerged as a leader among her peers. Fascinated with sharpening the business side of health care to better serve patients, Robertson pursued an MBA—and ultimately her position as CEO of Banner Heart Hospital in Mesa.

Vicki: Why did you choose to become a nurse?

Laura: I grew up in a health care environment; my dad was a physician, my mom a nurse. And when I was growing up he’d take me to the hospital, to go on rounds. I was just inspired by the impact that he made on people.

Vicki: What did you enjoy most about nursing?

Laura: I was a cardiac ICU nurse and so the patients come in very sick, very unstable. And the ability to really impact their survival, their long-term life, working with their families…[those were] definitely the most amazing aspects of nursing for me.

Vicki: What inspired you to switch gears and pursue a graduate degree in business?

Laura: Certainly as a nurse you have all the clinical expertise, but health care is a business, and so that was ultimately what drove my decision to go into business. I thought I could impact a greater number of people if I understood clearly the aspect from a business side to really draw better care.

Vicki: So what did you learn on the floor as a nurse that you bring to the table as a CEO?

Laura: It’s all about the patient. I think at times we can lose that. Being a clinician and really being motivated to make a difference in a patient’s life…I think that’s probably the clearest thing I bring to the picture.

Vicki: Talk about heart disease and the recent campaigns urging women to be aware of their risks.

Laura: Cardiac disease was considered a man’s disease. If you think about it from a marketing standpoint, who do they show? They show the man that’s overweight or the man that’s smoking. There’s definitely a gender difference. If a man walks into an emergency room, they’re automatically going to think that the man’s at risk for heart disease.

Vicki: Even medical professionals?

Laura: Absolutely. We’re just starting to drive more focus on early prevention and early treatment for women. Another aspect of women’s heart disease that’s unique is the symptoms aren’t always classic—the crushing chest pain, the left arm numbness. Women can present with something as subtle as fatigue. You know, “I’m more tired” or “I can’t do as much as I used to.” It’s not as clear that they might be having chest pain or a heart attack.

Vicki: And the reason?

Laura: Women tend to be caregivers. We know women drive the medical decisions in the household. It’s always interesting to me that they’ll push their husbands to the doctor and for physicals and those types of preventive type care, and they’re less likely to do that for themselves.

Vicki: And they’re all over the kids’ care.

Laura: Absolutely. They’re taking care of every one else but themselves. And so that’s why when you look at women’s heart care, to really drive that prevention early on to women is a need in the community.

Vicki: If you were tapped to give your two cents to law makers about how to change the health care system, what would you say?

Laura: I don’t think there’s any simple answer. It’s a multi-faceted issue. The costs in health care are skyrocketing.

Vicki: As a CEO, how do you strike a balance between reducing costs and caring for patients?

Laura: You look for costs that aren’t necessary. Just like if you’re in your home environment—what aspects are optional? Working with other entities, working with physicians, really driving good care, that’s a key component.

Vicki: Any cross-over skills you’ve learned from your career that apply at home as you raise your three children?

Laura: I think my kids probably see a ton of benefit. I think just the general message that you can be an active mom and have a career as a woman is a great message. I know that they recognize that.

Vicki: And what have they taught you?

Laura: That individuals are different. You can have three kids from the same parents and they’re all different, just like life. Through the years it’s been fun. They’ve taught me a ton. RAK


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