Ekta Vyas isn’t working simply for the paycheck.
Reminders of her higher purpose have surrounded the human resources veteran throughout career serving at academic medical centers and premium research universities, such as Stanford University Medical Center, University of California (UC) Davis Health, and now Keck Medicine of University of Southern California (USC). Her continued love of learning also sees her teaching MBA courses as an adjunct management faculty at San Jose State University’s (SJSU) College of Business.
Over her twenty-eight-year career, the thought leader developed immense passion for strong leadership and transformational change in healthcare. “HR can elevate a high-performing culture and facilitate empowering the workforce to meet serious organizational challenges,” she says. “HR has to do more than simply align to an organization. We have to be proactive enough to figure out the evolving nature of a progressively changing industry and position our organizations to meet the emerging needs of the future.”
Vyas believes leaders ‘emotional intelligence (EI) determines an organization’s success, noting the significant challenge goes beyond intellectual capabilities. In her doctoral research, the scholar practitioner examined the effects of emotionally intelligent leaders on staff engagement during periods of dynamic transformational change.
She found a focus on compassion and empathy—not just budgets and patient satisfaction scores—ultimately yields the best and most long-lasting results. The industry needs conscious change leaders capable of cocreating a new economy with their workforce, her doctoral dissertation asserted.
Before joining UC Davis Health as the organization’s deputy chief human resources officer (CHRO) in 2020, Vyas spent fourteen years in key roles at Stanford Healthcare and Stanford Children’s Health. She spearheaded a DEI program for Stanford Children’s, led lean process improvements, built a recruitment infrastructure, introduced workforce analytics, and managed a team that filled nearly 500 new positions to double the size of Stanford’s pediatric hospital.
The sought-after-speaker came to Stanford from SJSU and previously worked as an HR and OD consultant targeting organizational design and employee engagement projects. After such deep and rewarding exposure, she can’t imagine moving into another field.
“Healthcare is challenging, chaotic, and complex,” she says. “The mission and purpose of organizations here surpass anything else on the face of the Earth, because we are prolonging and saving human lives.”
In 2020, Vyas joined UC Davis, as it reeled from the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing social and political unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. A transition that only reaffirmed her place in the industry.
She analyzed organizational culture, engaged a consultant for a listening tour with employees to enhance the UC Davis Health culture of inclusivity and its brand as an employer of choice. During this time, the HR lead successfully made the case to create the role of director for institutional culture and climate for UCD Medical Center and Ambulatory Clinics.
As UC Davis and other healthcare systems navigated the pandemic, Vyas led the development of a digital workplace program (DWP) for UCDH. In partnership with IT and Space Planning, Vyas’ team collaborated with Press Ganey and Gensler to develop a framework for remote and hybrid work options informed by operational necessities and space planning challenges.
Now well acknowledged in the industry as DWP at UCDH, the evidence-based program leveraged learnings from a pilot conducted with 1,500 employees across 20 departments through surveys and focus groups. DWP provides a long-term, win-win-win to decrease employee burnout, increase engagement, and reduce overhead spending on site space.
In times marked by volatility and uncertainty, Vyas says HR leaders have to change their thinking. “Costs are rising, people are stressed, technology is changing, and challenges are here to stay. But there is still big projected growth in our industry,” she explains. “HR leaders have to know their workforce and organization like never before. People strategies have to be forward-thinking and not just aligned to business strategies, but also informing the business proactively.”
Throughout her career, Vyas touched every program in healthcare and academic HR. Recruitment, selection, compensation, total rewards, change management and OD, HR operations, labor negotiations, and everything in between. As such, she recognizes effective, modern HR leaders go beyond tactics, forming relationships with organizational leadership and making the department a true strategic partner.
“We want our organizations to stay competitive and continue to do cutting edge work and research as they deliver the best care,” she explains. “That means we need the best and the brightest people on our teams and should continue to strengthen the professional competence of the discipline of HR.”
Real transformational leaders form a shared vision, empower people, streamline processes for efficiencies of scale, and develop new capabilities to meet emerging needs—all with high levels of EI.
Now another significant milestone sees Vyas joining Keck Medicine of USC as their Health System CHRO. The premier academic medical institution and top research facility operates four hospitals in the Los Angeles area and more than eighty outpatient locations throughout Southern and Central California.
To help the company’s growth trajectory, the CHRO will create and execute system-level people strategies during a period of expansion. Her immediate priority is to seamlessly integrate the workforce of USC Arcadia Hospital, formerly known as Methodist Hospital of Southern California, which the health system acquired in July 2022.
Moving forward, Ekta Vyas does so with the same drive and motivation underscoring her entire career. “I get to work in places where miracles happen,” she says. “People get referred to us for care when they’ve lost hope, and they can’t get treatment anywhere else. My colleagues prolong their lives or cure issues considered incurable just a few years ago. To have even a small role in that huge impact is a joy and a privilege.”