Welcome to our Women’s History Month series on Skimm’d from the Couch - where we’re bringing you the women who made history this past year.
Meet: Dr. Laura Forese. Dr. Forese is the COO of New York Presbyterian, one of the largest not-for-profit hospital networks in the country. And one that’s been instrumental in caring for COVID-19 patients. Also under her leadership, the hospital rolled out a comprehensive paid parental leave plan that includes extended leave for up to six months and continued benefits coverage. Oh, and we forgot to mention that she’s an orthopedic surgeon.
On Going From Doctor to Patient
Carly: In your thirties, you underwent treatment for breast cancer and you all of a sudden were very much on the other side of the doctor patient relationship.
Dr. Forese: That was a tough time. It was strange being on the other side of that. At that point, I had been a doctor for a number of years. I was taking care of lots of patients and I was surprised. I shouldn't have been surprised. I have a family history of breast cancer, but I was surprised that it hit me too. And then to go through that experience, it was a long year, lots of surgery, chemo, radiation.
I was very fortunate. I'm a doctor. My husband's a doctor, also a surgeon. We had lots of advantages. I had an incredibly supportive family, friends, and work environment, and I still found it hard. I think the most important issue that I took away from that is how hard it is to be a patient and to navigate the system. And while I would never wish something like that on anyone, I think it made me better at my job.
Carly: ....I'm curious how going through your own medical trauma and personal crisis changed you as a doctor.
Dr. Forese: It really is hard to be a patient. You’re going through lots of emotions. Often patients are in pain. It's scary. You feel very vulnerable. It can be very hard to absorb everything that someone is telling you…. I still remember it many years after going through all those experiences. I remember how scared I was.
And so now part of my job as a hospital executive is to help the team take care of patients. I'm not doing it directly, but we're all thinking about what's the experience that patients have. How do we make it easier? How do we make it better for the family? Those are the kinds of things that I felt differently about having been through that myself.
Danielle: So we are one year out from the beginning of this pandemic. Take us back in your mind...how were you communicating with your team at that time? And I think that it's really interesting looking at this from a management perspective. We talk about the importance and value of transparency. But also what is it like to have to be transparent when the information is so dire?
Dr. Forese: In early March of last year, New York Presbyterian had the first patient who had to be hospitalized for COVID. It was something that we had been preparing for. We knew that this disease was out there, but we had no sense of what it was going to turn into. And so on that very first day, our CEO and I got onto a broadcast for our entire organization and said, “We were expecting to have a patient with COVID. Now we have it. Here's what's going to happen. We're going to give you information." But we also said there's a lot we don't know. And spontaneously, I said at the end of that first broadcast, "I'll be back tomorrow."
…. As I look back on what that was, our team ran through walls. They just did. And every day people came back, even with so much uncertainty. And people were scared and it was on me and the rest of the leadership team to say, "We're going to be here with you. We're going to tell you what we know. We'll be back tomorrow to tell you what has changed and whatever happens, we're going to be here together."
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