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Texas Children's Hospital's Myra Davis on leadership, innovation, and the challenge of looking at things differently

The Houston-based hospital's chief information and innovation officer talks about leading a remote IT team during COVID-19 and lessons learned over a long career.

This Q&A series spotlights people who have done something extraordinary in their career and have pushed the envelope in their field. It provides a glimpse into their motivations and inspirations.

Myra Davis describes herself as a servant leader, approaching her role with humility and an emphasis on listening to and supporting her team. She starts each day at 4:30 a.m. to give herself time to meditate and work on her mental and physical strength, a routine she began years ago when her children were very young.

She has served the past 18 years of a long career in business as CIO and senior vice president at Texas Children's Hospital, an internationally respected and nationally ranked provider of pediatric and women's healthcare services. It is also a research center and teaching hospital for Baylor College of Medicine.

In 2019, Davis took on the additional role of chief innovation officer at the hospital. Drawing from more than 27 years in IT, Davis leads a team of about 520 IT professionals and is responsible for enhancing the operation and services of the hospital's information services department. Her leadership cultivates strong partnerships that drive the successful transformation and delivery of improved quality, safety, and patient outcomes.

A recipient of the 2019 Houston CIO of the Year for the nonprofit sector, Davis was also named one of the Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT by Health Data Management magazine.

Davis shares her thoughts on leading a remote IT team, how businesses can spark innovation, and how she takes care of herself during this unprecedented time.

What are the biggest challenges you see right now for patients, executives, and technologists with the tremendous amount of innovation needed in the healthcare industry?

First and foremost, the largest challenge is one outside of my direct domain, though hard to ignore: the staffing of our clinical team during a pandemic. From illness, or quarantine, or burnout, it's something I'm observing that's going to create some level of challenge down the road.

On the technology side, the challenge is to continue to keep all of our teams engaged. With the majority of team members working remotely, it's a completely different model. This affords us an opportunity to step back and think about how can we continue to keep those remote workers and teams engaged and closely aligned to what's happening on the front lines.

How do you support your team right now?

Every week, I give my team a snapshot of what's going on in the hospital environment using several examples and allowing data to speak to the reality of what we are seeing and experiencing. Then, I do a round robin: What is it that we can do to assist? An example could be to reduce disruption caused by any changes to our technology environments we have planned at that time, as even a minor change can impact an already strained time for our clinical partners. So we constantly have a pulse on everything and how our work affects that.

It's really important to stay informed about how the workforce is feeling, what they're going through, especially when you're remote. It can be hard to stay in touch with operations on the ground. Changes that we want to implement may seem simple and easy, like non-essential software updates, but may not be appreciated given the temperament of the clinical teams on the front lines who are dealing with so much other stress, exhaustion, and change.

How can businesses spark innovation?

Identify the problem you're trying to solve; it's important you understand it. Is the solution really a digital solution or, perhaps, some other type of a solution we need to deploy?

Have an appreciation for welcoming new ideas, and gather input from others whom you may have never connected with before. Listen to people across the company, from the front lines to executive level. Having a very diverse perspective is critical.


What lesson have you learned that you wish you would have known earlier in your career?

To be patient. Everything is not simple. If something appears to be easy to solve, pause and think. Clearly, you're not the first smart person to identify that potential solution, and there must be a reason why those who preceded you did not solve the issue that way.

Allow yourself the opportunity to discern, to use wisdom, to not jump to judgment, to really understand the problem specifically. That will allow you the opportunity to find other solutions. Again, you're not the first person to try to solve this problem, so you must be understanding and allow yourself to appreciate why it wasn't solved in the first place.

What's your No. 1 tip for pushing through plateaus?

You must take care of yourself mentally. Mental strength, mental endurance, that's key—particularly now. A plateau of working remote, a plateau of not seeing many people you've seen every day, then you go to not seeing them at all. To me, that's a plateau.

What keeps me going is a physical workout, meditation, and trying to stay grounded in the moment. Endurance and mental strength are critical to getting through any plateau.

Who or what inspires you and why?

My current inspiration is coming from our president and CEO, Mark A. Wallace. I'm marveling at how he's managing the disruption, not just in healthcare but at Texas Children's.

There's a lot that I'm taking away from this. I think we all should be in a continuous learning pattern; there's never a point where you should stop learning. So, during this time, I have a lot of admiration for what he's doing right now and how he's leading us.

Are there any highlights from his leadership you would like to share?

There are quite a few highlights. We are currently in wave two in Texas. In wave one, we made some immediate decisions to protect our workforce. Some of these included offering stipends to support our employees. He also made some courageous acts including reducing executive salaries where needed to assist us going forward and for the workforce. He's made other decisions to continue to provide support to those on the front lines.

Mr. Wallace was a major influencer with other CEOs, presidents, and colleagues in the Texas Medical Center in terms of helping them to understand that Texas Children's, while children- and women-based, can take care of adults too. We are a viable option to help get our community through this pandemic, and we stand ready to help.

I'm impressed by his compassion to stay true to the people who work for him, as well as his influence at both state and local levels. He's nonstop. And then, even during this time with unfortunate events coming out about racial injustice, he's made courageous steps there. He's taken a stance. And you just have to marvel at that and go, "Wow. If he can do it, why am I not doing it and what else can I be doing?" That alone is a significant motivator.

Do you have a personal motto?

The one I share with myself every day: The only person who can make a difference and make change is the one you're looking at in the mirror. That would be me.

How do you take a break, recharge, and take care of yourself?

It's a daily regimen for me. It starts at 4:30 a.m. It's my one hour and 30 minutes I get all to myself. I started when my children were younger—they're much older now—and I still do it. It's my me time.

What are you reading, watching, and listening to that you would recommend?

I'm reading Simon Sinek's book "The Infinite Game" again. And then for pleasure I just picked up "The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett. That's a pleasure read.

Simon Sinek's is really a pleasure read as well because it speaks to how organizations can promote themselves going forward by not thinking so [finitely] and allowing a different mindset. It's challenging me to look at things differently; that's always good too. It's a mental challenge.

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