Redonda Miller attended the University as a medical student and became the first female president of Hopkins Hospital in 2016. In an interview with The News-Letter, she discussed her approach to leadership, how it informs the operations of the hospital and the insights she’s gained from her career.
The News-Letter: In previous interviews you’ve discussed your childhood in Ohio, your decision to pursue medicine and your journey in higher education. How do these experiences shape your goals as chief executive officer of Hopkins Hospital?
Redonda Miller: I come from a small town in southern Ohio, near Kentucky and West Virginia. In my high school class, not many graduates went on to a four-year college. My parents were school teachers, and I never thought that I would end up being a physician, let alone have the privilege to work at Hopkins Hospital. The notion of the art of the possible was really instilled in me through that journey. I still live and breathe that philosophy every day in the sense that I'm surrounded by people who are discoverers, innovators and scientists. Anything is possible.
N-L: How do your interactions with the Baltimore community inform your decisions at the hospital?
RM: We feel a real sense of responsibility to be in and of the community of East Baltimore. One way we incorporate the community into our work is by seeking the input of our neighbors through community health needs assessments. Every three years, we conduct everything from surveys to focus groups to interviews with community and religious leaders and ask them to tell us about the challenges they face and what health-care-related priorities they would like us to help them address. While conditions such as diabetes and hypertension still arise, we now also hear that food insecurity, a lack of stable housing and the need for better access to behavioral health care are even more important. That feedback plays a crucial role in helping us determine the best way to invest in programs that help our communities.
N-L: You have 11,000 employees — how do you approach this leadership role?
RM: I have learned that communication is absolutely key. People want to know where we are headed as an organization. Even during challenging times, there is a sense of reassurance that comes with understanding what is happening and how the hospital is responding. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was important for us to explain, “This is how we're keeping you safe.”
Another important part of leading is to be present. As a leader of the hospital, you should be in the departments and on the units, asking staff on the front line what's important to them. How can I help? Our clinical staff have no choice but to work onsite in the hospital. You can’t take care of patients from home. Our leaders should be here too.
N-L: What lessons have you learned as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated career, and how can women apply this to their own professional paths?
RM: You might imagine that I’m often asked how it feels to be the first woman president of the hospital. I have to be honest, I never viewed the world through the eyes of gender. From medical school on, there have always been more men than women in my field. Whether that was right or not, I just set goals for myself and then worked as hard as I could to achieve those goals. But when I pause and reflect, there is one thing I've noticed, and that is sometimes women don’t take as many risks with their careers. We don’t always raise our hands and say, “Choose me. I can do this.” I always encourage women to think about what you could do and don’t be shy about applying for a job or role you really want. Put your name out there, and you may be surprised at the positive response.
N-L: In your experience dealing with different demands and responsibilities, what strategies do you use to set boundaries between work and home?
RM: It can be difficult to strike the right work-life balance. I find that it all comes down to priorities and what is important to you at a particular point in your life. My two daughters are my priority, so I make sure to carve out the time I need to care for them and support them in their passions. You’ll often find me on the soccer field or in the audience for a musical performance. Time spent with my girls is nonnegotiable.
I may not see as many movies as I would like or have time to binge watch sappy, dramatic television shows, but that's okay. I'll have plenty of time in a few years to do all that. Right now what makes me happy is being able to focus on work while also being there for my kids.
N-L: Whether it be in high profile positions such as yours or in their day-to-day lives, many people grapple with imposter syndrome. Do you have any insights on how to address this mindset?
RM: One reality of executive leadership is that as your responsibility increases, your content expertise decreases. That’s because the areas you oversee are now broader and include a wider variety of functions.
As the profile of your position increases, it is crucial that you put together a team of experts in a wide array of topics and fields who can provide the data and guidance you need to make the most informed decisions.
Remember, you’re not expected to know everything about everything. You’ve been chosen for your position because of your leadership skills. You just have to embrace that.
N-L: How do you think students can make the most of the long academic road to becoming a doctor, and what would be your advice to a student questioning whether medicine is the right path for them?
RM: I really encourage students to take the opportunity to learn about different aspects of medicine and seek outside opportunities. Growing up, my only notion of a doctor was the local practitioner in southern Ohio. At Hopkins, there are so many pathways in medicine. Some colleagues are working in pharmacy and biotech, others are outstanding teachers, and some of them even became administrators. When you're training, certainly learn the content well, as it will help you in any career path. But you may not be able to decide which path is for you based on what you read in a book. The person who is teaching you physiology may also be an amazing researcher. Ask them about their career. What's it like to do research in this lab? What excites you about your work? Be curious.
N-L: If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
RM: There’s a song by Journey called “Don't Stop Believing” that hearkens back to the idea that so much is possible if you just believe in it. And I'm not talking about me personally. It really encapsulates the culture here at Hopkins Hospital. People didn’t stop believing that we would get through COVID-19. Not only did we do that, we cared for some of the sickest people across the Mid-Atlantic region, and ours was among the lowest COVID-19 mortality in the country. As another example, our faculty and staff believe they can find better ways to treat cancer, heart failure, ALS and many other diseases and conditions. And then they work hard to make it happen. That's the environment here, and it's such a privilege to work at the Hopkins Hospital.