Dr. JoAnn Wood Leads from Ground Level

Dr. JoAnn Wood reflects on the importance of being present and supportive as CMO of Deaconess Health System

When chief medical officer at Deaconess Health System Dr. JoAnn Wood reflects on the well-being of the physicians and caretakers with whom she’s tasked with overseeing, it’s not hard to pick up on an understandable sense of frustration. The health system continues to push back surgeries and elective procedures due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The frustration comes with the fact that this wave is different—it was preventable.

“We’re dealing with a pretty high volume at present,” Wood says. “It’s been harder for our employees this time around because we see people who didn’t get vaccinated and they’re the ones who are dying, and it’s preventable.”

dr joann wood
Dr. JoAnn Wood, VP and Chief Medical Officer, Deaconess Health SystemPhoto by David Cummings, Deaconess Health System

The CMO who came to Deaconess in the middle of the first COVID-19 surge sees her tired team. She sees frontline workers who may as well have lived at the hospital for the last year-and-a-half. And she knows that no matter what efforts the leadership team executes on their behalf, unless the numbers go down, physicians and healthcare workers will continue to be working hours exponentially past their norms.

Wood says that the best lesson she’s learned about leading, one particularly important during the last year-and-a-half, is one she learned from her father, a power plant superintendent.

“My dad always told me that he might not have an MBA, but he had an MBWA: management by walking around,” Wood recalls about her late father. “He warned me that if I choose a leadership position where I was responsible for a large number of people and I just stayed in my office, I would ultimately fail, because walking around with intent is just a critical aspect of leadership.”

The Deaconess leadership team takes that walk every Thursday with the goal of working to bridge gaps, express gratitude, and do everything they can to support its healthcare teams. Wood considers it a standard of leadership, asking intentional questions to those she interacts with and holding herself accountable on following through.

Accountability is an absolute must for Wood, and it’s part of the reason why she came to Deaconess. “You learn a lot about an organization when you see it handling crises, and I’ll tell you, Deaconess is an extremely agile organization, and the leadership team I saw here takes accountability seriously and is quick to modify an approach in order to affect a goal,” Wood explains. “I’ve been so impressed with what I’ve seen so far.”

Upon arriving, Wood said that meeting physicians was her number one priority. It makes sense for a CMO who says that serving physicians is the most joyful part of her job. And while introducing herself to Deaconess’ physicians may sound easy in theory, Wood says that the quickly growing institution’s multiple cites made it challenging, especially since she was determined to make meaningful connections with her team.

“It’s been harder for our employees this time around because we see people who didn’t get vaccinated and they’re the ones who are dying, and it’s preventable.”

“I think of my role as a partner, even if I may be their boss,” Wood explains. “I don’t think doctors go to medical school to follow. They’re all leaders, and so I see it as my responsibility to determine strategy and help to continue to develop our physicians.”

Wood joined Deaconess after spending eight years as CMO for Baptist Memorial Care, an organization well known for developing all of its talent, not just physicians. It’s where Wood perfected her ability to use the fewest possible resources to attain a goal, all while being thoughtful about how to achieve it.

One skill Wood says that she says she’s had help in sharpening over the years is patience. That help, too, came from her family. Wood’s younger brother Alan was born with Down syndrome, and Wood says her brother, who now lives with her and her husband, has been the best teacher of patience and love that anyone could ever ask for.

A by-product of Alan’s diagnoses includes severe hearing loss, but Wood says her brother’s artistic talents continually impress her. “He’s been a blessing for me,” Wood says. “I’ve framed his art, and it’s something he loves doing. I’m afraid he’s stuck with me forever,” she adds, laughing.

Wood had a great deal of interaction with doctors growing up with both Alan and her own type 1 diabetes diagnosis. “I think that had a big influence on my decision to go into medicine,” Wood explains. “You go to the hospital and you watch your brother get better. And for me, as a kid, I didn’t even understand I was sick until I started feeling better. I just remember thinking that doctors were so incredible, and that I wanted to do that for someone else.”

But it remains that right now, those doctors, nurses, and other staff that Wood leads are also in need of care and attention, as are the rest of healthcare workers across the US at present. “In fact, I want to take this opportunity to plead for people to go get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Wood states.

“We have to continue to focus on the fact that we remain in the middle of a pandemic right now,” Wood says. “The first time around, you hated it so much for people, but it wasn’t preventable at the time. This time is something else completely, and while I don’t know if we’ve been successful, the leadership team continues to try and be physically present on the wards alongside our team members to thank them, to support them, and to serve them.”


Sound Physicians wishes to congratulate JoAnn Wood for her exemplary healthcare contributions. We are proud to collaborate with JoAnn as we serve the Deaconess Health System.