The Beyond the Practice Interview Series has been created to give you an insight and advantage into the professional side of anesthesia through interviews conducted with leaders in the industry. Todd Decuir CRNA is a Chief Anesthetist with over 6 years of experience in the role at The University of Kansas Health System, St. Francis Campus in Topeka Kansas. His leadership qualities quickly landed him a position on TeamHealth’s National APC Council as a representative for all advanced provider clinicians in the organization. He was kind enough to join us and share his story and some advice.
BagMask: What were some of the steps and things that led you from a staff anesthetist down the road to Chief Anesthetist?
Todd: It’s kind of interesting because I never really was looking to become a Chief Anesthetist. It was back when I first started, seven or eight months into the job that we went from being hospital employees to becoming employees of the small anesthesia group that was contracted to provide anesthesia at the hospital. It was at this time we lost our Chief CRNA and for the next three and half years we, the 18 of us CRNA’s, just reported directly to the Medical Director.
A couple times, I would bring something to the medical director, just a problem or a question I had for him. And I could tell he would be frustrated and I said, “What are you frustrated about? I’m just asking a question.” He replied, “Oh, I get this question all the time.” And I started to wonder why we didn’t have a chief in our group? I mean, it just makes sense. You’re not going to get bombarded by six people asking the same question. I was not trying to get the job by any stretch of the imagination. I didn’t think I would be the right person for the job at that point in my career. In fact, I offered two candidates to him when I made that suggestion, but nothing came of it.
Fast forward, we were taken over by TeamHealth which was about four years after I had started working at that facility. They interviewed each one of us. One of the questions that they were asking, it wasn’t direct, but I could tell what they were shooting for was basically who would you like to see as Chief Anesthetist of the department?
I answered honestly at the time who I thought would be great for the position. And apparently, my name was brought up numerous times during those interviews and TeamHealth approached me about it and asked if I would be interested in the job. I was just put into the position by my peers. And gain, it was not anything that I was shooting for. I never spoke as though I wanted to be chief. It was just kind of something that fell in my lap, I guess you could say.
However, when I look back there were instances during our period without a Chief Anesthetist that problems would pop up that I played a role in their resolutions that contributed to me being recommended. For example, when we were transitioning from hospital employment to the small anesthesia group, myself and two other people, represented our department while we were seeking legal counsel with regard to contract negotiations.
We also had a problem with our pay and I put a document together addressing the issue and sent it to all the CRNAs making sure everybody was on board with my recommendations. I then forwarded it to the medical director. And I think possibly it was little things like that, that over time maybe made my peers think I might be good for the job.
BagMask: So it sounds like taking initiative really helped build confidence within the group that this is somebody they could get behind. He’s really looking out for our best interests. And so when they made you the chief, this brand new position, you’ve never really had any leadership experience. What sort of challenges did you face that first year?
Todd: Well, as you know, at the time I’d been there for only four years. There were 16 of us at this point and among those 16 there were probably about 10 people who had more experience than me. So here I am, I’m younger than many of the people in our group and I’ve got less experience than many of the people in our group. And so the challenge for me was just gaining the respect of people. But I guess somehow it was built-in because they had asked me to be the chief, but still in my own mind I had to mentally get there and say okay, “I’m the chief of this group now.”
That was a little bit of a challenge within my own mind. But, I never really saw it as I’m the “boss kind of a thing” and even still, to this day, I don’t see it that way. I more see it as me serving. And it sounds kind of cliche, but I strive to be a servant leader. I need to serve for the betterment of the group and that’s been my goal the entire time.
BagMask: No, it’s great to hear because that’s one of the ways you can really engage your group. How do you try to empower them to reach their goals?
Todd: It’s kind of like I always draw from — and this might be corny — but I always draw from my years of sports. I played soccer much of my life and you play as team. There maybe one guy who is faster than everybody else. And there’s one guy who has more technical skills than anybody else, etc, etc, right? And the same is true in an anesthesia department. There are certain people who have certain attributes that lend to success in different areas. And we all have roles within the department. As an example, one of our team members is great as an educator, so she works with the students.
Right now, we’re transitioning onto Epic. And I mean, I’m not the most technically savvy person, but there are a couple of guys in the group who are more technologically inclined than most of us. So I’ve kind of tasked them with taking it on becoming super users for Epic. So I’ll try to find people’s interests and their strengths, and weaknesses for that matter, and try to give them roles within the department. And I think that really helps keep people engaged. They feel like they’re contributing as part of the team.
BagMask: Absolutely. So since you’re one of the older guys on the totem pole now, sounds like you’ve done a lot of recruiting and job interviews over the past couple years. What advice can you share with somebody looking to land a job? And what are some things to avoid, that you’ve seen?
Todd: I think some of the things you can avoid, first of all, it’s a bit of a tough question. I can remember my first interview, as the interviewer anyway, and it was nerve-racking for me probably more so than it was for the guy I was interviewing. But you get used to it when you do it a lot.
One of the biggest things to me that is a big turn off is when I’m interviewing somebody and they seem to make the whole interview about what I can do or what our department can do for them. And that’s not any particular word or phrase, it’s just kind of a general sense you can get from some people.
I’d rather see somebody coming in and showing me what they can do to help make our department better. Because again, it’s a team and I’m trying to figure out where this person will fit into the team. And if they don’t fit and they seem to me like they are a little narcissistic or self-centered it turns me off pretty quick.
BagMask: Last question. What is your hope for all the job seekers out there?
Todd: My hope for them? Well, in a few words, that they can find what they’re looking for because that’s a somewhat a difficult task. It’s not all about what job that pays the best, gives you the best hours, or the best benefits. There are so many intangibles like culture of the anesthesia group and the character of surgeons you will be working alongside, among others. I hope those job seekers take everything into account and find the best all-around fit for them.