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Perspective: 4 Mantras of Top Clinical Leaders

Originally published November 9, 2022

Last updated November 15, 2022

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Photo of Dr. John Oghalai, MD

What makes a clinical leader truly exceptional? The task may seem daunting, but the solutions are often simple, says John Oghalai, MD.

During more than two decades as an academic otolaryngologist — as well as five years as a department chair at the Keck School of Medicine of USC — I’ve observed a wide range of leadership styles.

Today, I apply them not only to keep our organization efficient but also to elevate the patient experience, so team members are equipped to deliver world-class care every day.

Here are a few ways I do it:

1. Set a positive example for everyone to follow

I remind my staff that acts both large and small can make a big impact. They might be routine, such as giving directions to a lost hospital visitor, or major (setting aside time to apply for a big grant proposal).

2. Hire teams with diversity of experience and thought

I recruit energetic colleagues with diverse backgrounds and skill sets to help take our enterprise to the next level — and to foster ongoing collaboration that best serves the needs of all patients.

Dr. John Oghalai, working in a lab
John Oghalai, MD, on characteristics of strong clinical leadership (Photos by Chris Shinn)

3. Never settle for status quo

I pursue big-picture projects that could change our patients’ lives while also keeping daily tasks under control. Yes, these are unprecedented times, but it’s no reason to ignore radical ideas.

4. Acknowledge a mistake — and make it right

I remain accountable. Strong leaders are humble, and they know when to admit they’re wrong. They also offer unwavering support to the whole, regardless of any new demands or pivots they face.

Smart leaders champion these values, no matter their line of work. I’m privileged to deliver the concepts at Keck Medicine of USC, where they are critical for every person — and every step — in the care journey.

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John Oghalai, MD
John Oghalai, MD, is chair of the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

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USC Health Magazine 2024 Issue #1

Read the current issue

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