What prompted you to go into medicine?
Giesele Greene: There were several things. Two of my sisters were born with congenital heart defects. One died when she was nineteen. I was eleven at the time and witnessed her sudden death due to natural causes. The other sister had open-heart surgery, which was just developing then, when she was twelve. Initially my sister was untreatable, but the doctors arranged for her to be part of an early, experimental open-heart procedure study. They believed it would help her, and it did. She ended up living into her sixties.
Then, in high school, I worked as a receptionist in our doctor’s office to help cover my family’s healthcare bills. There I learned how physicians can make a difference in people’s lives. Academically, I was good in math and science, and I received great encouragement from several teachers to pursue a career in medicine.
You went to Northwestern University for your undergraduate work and then Howard University for medical school, right?
GG: That’s right. A valedictory scholarship from Tuesday Magazine provided 45 percent of my tuition, room, and board at Northwestern. Loans, work study, and part-time jobs made up the difference. To help pay for medical school, I joined the National Health Service Corps. The government paid my tuition and residential costs and then required me to work in a “health manpower shortage area.” Cleveland was where I did my residency and one of the HMSA cities, so I ended up working at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center.
How long were you there?
GG: Eleven years. I left the medical center in 1993 and became the medical director of Personal Physician Care Inc., one of the first minority-owned-and-operated HMOs in Ohio. I then worked for a number of different insurance companies before becoming the medical director of UnitedHealthcare of northern Ohio. For more than eighteen years, I also had an independent private practice, specializing in internal medicine and geriatrics.
How did you end up back at St. Vincent, and what are your primary responsibilities?
GG: St. Vincent is part of the Sisters of Charity Health System, which includes five Catholic hospitals, three grant-making foundations, two elder-care facilities, and six outreach organizations. I was recruited back in 2010 to become the chief medical officer of the entire system. I am responsible for quality of care, patient safety, clinical outcomes, and medical-staff oversight at the hospitals. I am proud to say that our hospitals’ and elder-care facilities’ quality of care and patient-safety ratings are high, and they have received national recognition.
You’ve tackled some major hospital improvements. Tell us about the overhaul of the electronic medical records system.
GG: At each of our five hospitals, I set up a steering committee and one of the lead physicians was named as chief medical information officer to manage the project. Each steering committee established five subgroups, chaired by physicians and facilitated by hospital staff. They were: (a) communications, which kept the staff informed of the project’s progress and resulting changes; (b) work flow and devices, which produced descriptions of how certain tasks would be performed electronically and what equipment was needed; (c) order sets, which created physician orders in accordance with evidence-based guidelines by specialty; (d) training and support, which determined who needed to be trained and then developed the necessary training programs; and (e) benefits and metrics, which established the parameters for measuring the project’s success.
The subgroups functioned for about two years, creating the model that is still in place today. Having a centralized and consistent procedure for the entire system has resulted in better-coordinated care and quality monitoring.
In addition to improving processes inside the hospitals, I understand you do a lot of work in the community through the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.
GG: That’s right. The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is dedicated to addressing the root causes of poverty, and I joined the foundation’s board prior to joining as chief medical officer. Let me tell you about just one of our projects. In 2009, the foundation launched the “Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood” initiative to create a pipeline of high-quality, coordinated health, social, community, and educational support to help transform the lives of Central neighborhood’s youngest residents. The Central neighborhood has the largest concentration of impoverished residents and public housing in the city, and it’s where the Sisters of Charity opened their first hospital, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, in 1865. On behalf of the foundation, I serve as the Promise Neighborhood Advisory Board chair.
I am also active in the Cleveland community in other ways beyond my work with the foundation. For example, I provide community service through various organizations, including Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and The Links Inc.
I understand you’re teaching an innovative course to medical students, too.
GG: Yes. I am an assistant clinical professor at two medical schools—Case Western Reserve University and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). I teach a course to first- and third-year medical students at NEOMED named “Reflective Medicine.” It encourages students to be more patient-centric and reflect on their own feelings. Assignments include reading about patient and doctor experiences and writing and talking about how the readings affect them. Students need a place where it’s okay to discuss their private thoughts and receive feedback and mentoring. There is also emphasis on working together as teams, since interdisciplinary medicine will become more common in the future.
As if this isn’t a full-enough schedule, you also ran a marathon, right?
GG: Well, “walk” would be a more accurate description. One of my very good friends underwent triple bypass surgery and went from being a very outgoing, adventurous woman to becoming afraid of life. Another friend and I found out that the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association was sponsoring the Power to End Stroke marathon in Kona, Hawaii, in June 2004. We thought participating in a twenty-six-mile walk might help her regain her self-assurance, so the two of us cajoled her into walking it with us. We started training in January, which, in Cleveland, means we were going out in some really crazy weather. We did the marathon, and each of us finished in a little over eight hours. We raised $16,000 for charity, but the real prize was that it ended up giving her back her confidence, strength, and desire to be physically active. She doesn’t hesitate anymore, and that is so rewarding to see. Even though that was the only marathon, we are all still avid walkers, and I now serve as a member of the Cleveland Metro Board of the American Heart Association.