Rural healthcare is facing a crisis. Since 2010, 107 U.S. hospitals have closed, most of them rural, due to aging populations and rising costs. Yet in many cases, no other healthcare options exist for miles, sometimes hours.
As CEO of KSB Hospital in Dixon, Illinois (about 90 minutes outside Chicago), Dave Schreiner understands the importance of local healthcare options. His system employs 1000 of the area’s 45,000 residents and provides 275,000 outpatient visits a year through their 8 clinics, in addition to in-patient services at their 80-bed hospital. Thankfully, KSB Hospital is thriving. But he knows some of his counterparts in rural healthcare systems are not: at a recent gathering of an American Hospital Association committee designed to address rural healthcare, he learned of one system who had an average in-patient census of just two people per night.
“How can these systems survive?” Schreiner asks. “And yet, they’re important. Getting to another hospital system may mean life-flighting your patient two or three hours.”
In April of 2019, Schreiner began his doctoral studies in Benedictine University’s Ph.D. program in values-driven leadership. Now, he’s thinking about how he can dedicate his dissertation research to understanding what makes rural healthcare systems successful.
“What are successful systems doing?” he asks. “Are they just lucky because they have a good payer mix, or are they really driving the culture?”
From his own experience, Schreiner suspects that culture plays a big part in a system’s success. He grows excited as he talks about building a healthcare system’s culture to be focused on community wellbeing rather than sick care in the hospital, and on making the system a place where talented medical professionals want to work.
“I believe it’s the way you interact at every opportunity,” he says.
Finding professional solutions and personal fulfillment in doctoral studies
Schreiner started at KSB Hospital 30 years ago, as the director of medical imaging. “I’d always been in a spot where promotions came every three or four years. My ambition was always the next step,” he recalls. Once he was named the chief operations officer, he began to eye the CEO suite. He was promoted to the top position in 2011; with no plans to leave KSB, Schreiner wondered how he could keep growing.
A friend told him about the doctoral program. “When I saw the curriculum, that just landed me,” Schreiner says. “I thought, ‘Wow. That’s exactly what I need, and I wasn’t even looking for it.’”
Now, a few months into his doctoral studies, Schreiner is learning to use his time more efficiently than ever in order to balance the academic workload with his duties as head of the hospital system. He’s also applying what he’s learned at work.
“I have a 1000-person petri dish,” Schreiner says. “My goal is to take what I learn in the Ph.D. program and bring it back here.”
He’s doing that already. Schreiner says he’s finding examples in his work life of the concepts he read about in journal articles and discussed in class. It’s also changing the way he participates in meetings.
“I’m used to being in the situation where they expect me to give answers quickly. Now I’m trying to slow that down. Ask more questions. Listen more. Focus. Be present.” It’s hard to break old habits, he says, but he’s already seeing results as he directs his attention and invites others to help create solutions.
The Ph.D./D.B.A. program in values-driven leadership is a three-year program; students take two years of classes, then spend their third year focused on their own dissertation research. Schreiner is still early in the program, but he already knows he wants his research to serve the nation’s rural healthcare system by identifying what makes successful systems work. “I want to implement these ideas,” he says with enthusiasm.
For more on our doctoral program, visit http://cvdl.ben.edu/doctorate. To learn how our program helps executives turn their ideas into dissertations, see our 2-minute video below: