'Leadership is learnable', says doctor on the COVID-19 frontline

'Leadership is learnable', says doctor on the COVID-19 frontline

There are few places right now where leadership and risk management are as paramount as in a hospital, especially if you're the director of an infectious diseases unit.

This is exactly the role of Dr Alex Chaudhuri from The Prince Charles Hospital (TPCH) in Brisbane, who also sees patients as an infectious disease physician while balancing his responsibility as a director during these exceptionally challenging times.

An entrepreneur and problem-solver by nature, Chaudhuri is passionate about innovating to improve the life of others and is currently working on a medical communications startup that has been in the works since late 2019, aimed at improving current systems for the benefit of doctors and patients alike. 

But it was the outbreak of COVID-19 that really stress-tested Chaudhuri's leadership, harnessing the vital skills he learned from the University of Queensland (UQ) MBA Program to assume further responsibility as technical lead for the hospital's response to the virus. 

One of his key functions in the role has been to provide advice to the hospital and community based on data, which has been delivered in large volumes very rapidly and with wide variances. 

Chaudhuri's task has been to make sense of the pandemic, managing the uncertainty based on principles of adaptability and trust while communicating effectively with stakeholders.

"One of the main challenges that I believe many leaders face is processing large amounts of data, make sense of it, and then communicating advice and decisions," he says.

"With COVID-19, we are working with some of the largest constantly changing data sets both in Australia and worldwide right now.

"There is a strong responsibility during this challenge time as a leader to help communicate the data in a meaningful way that presents a balanced approach to managing it and avoiding unnecessary panic."

He notes one of the main anxieties around COVID-19 in the hospital has been the risk to the staff members, given the information about how COVID-19 is spread only became clearer with time.

"It's impossible to isolate every patient without the hospital grinding to a halt, so how do you walk that tightrope by managing the risk of COVID-19 but also keep providing the best care we can provide to the other patients?"

The solution has to been to strive for best practice but finding the right level of utilisation of hospital resources.

He says managing a pandemic primarily needs skills in leadership and risk communication.

"One of the facets of the MBA was how to communicate, how to build trust, and how in an organisation you build adaptability and resilience," he says.

"The future of business needs skills in leadership and managing uncertainty, combined with clear thinking and analysis, and the UQ MBA gave me all of those things."

Dr Chaudhuri says before studying the MBA his main career focus was providing the best care at the bedside, but he realised that in modern medicine there are organisational imperatives that must be managed well in order to "amplify" that high quality of care across a clinic or even health services generally.

"The skills required to translate quality from the bedside to the whole organisation required an MBA, and what I got out of the MBA was the leadership and people management aspect -because health is essentially a people business," he says.

"Interestingly I realised that a P&L statement gives you a pretty good idea being a fundamental marker of the health of a business, but it doesn't necessarily tell you the problems in a business, particularly those that are people-driven.

"We know this in entrepreneurship that founders have a big impact on whether a startup becomes successful or not. Similarly, focusing on people be it employees, contractors or customers can determine success."

He explains the UQ MBA allowed him to draw on the experiences of leaders from the program's alumni - which he refers to as a "brains trust" - in a variety of sectors, and extrapolate their experience to his circumstances and goals.

"A theme that really appeals to me in the MBA is leadership, which I think is teachable and learnable," he says.

"The program also had a social enterprise component that really appealed to me, so there was some connection there to health, and the third thing is entrepreneurship which has always interested me."

Since late last year Chaudhuri has been developing an app called SureText, designed to improve the safety and flow of information between health professionals.

"One of the biggest problems we have in health is secure and inter-operable messaging between clinicians in Australia, so the startup intends to solve that problem by focusing on the needs of the user rather than the enterprise," he says.

"It's now at the stage of developing the application and then the plan is to launch this year. Development has been outsourced to a company, and design to another one."

Chaudhuri's experience is a prime example of how an MBA program can be useful across a wide range of sectors and career goals, taking life trajectories in a purposeful, fulfilling and successful direction. 

Ready to take the next step in your career? Register to attend the UQ MBA Information online webinar and interactive Q&A with MBA alumni on 20 May 2020 and then apply to study an MBA before the closing date on 30 June 2020.

This story was written in partnership with The University of Queensland Business School.

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