One CMIO’s Honor System

Bill Rieger, CIO, Flagler Hospital

Bill Rieger, CIO, Flagler Hospital

Have you ever been to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier? Ever watch those soldiers patrol the flame, uniforms impeccably creased and pressed, shoes shined like mirrors, brass cleaned and reflecting? When they first get the job, they are excited, like anyone who starts a new job. They walk and send a message to the onlookers; they walk and are proud to serve their country.

But after the newness wears off and they’ve spent some time walking in the rain, snow, sleet, or other challenging conditions, things change for them. They have to find a different reason to walk. The motivation from onlookers wears off. Their desire to serve is still there, but that alone does not keep them going. They have to find a deeper meaning.

They eventually learn to walk for honor. They shine their shoes for honor. They press their uniform and head out in the rain for honor. They do all of this not for their own honor, but to honor someone they have never met and never will meet. They do this, literally, to honor the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Once their tour at the tomb is over, they move to another duty station and continue on in their career. This sense of honor, however, never leaves them.

I asked our CMIO why he wears a bow tie every day, why his shoes are always shined, why his clothes are always impeccable, and why he shows respect to everyone he speaks with. He answered by telling me the story of the tomb. The experience at the tomb instilled in him so deeply this sense of honor that even to this day he shows honor to those around him. I am privileged to write about my clinical hero, Dr. Michael Sanders, CMIO at Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine, Florida.

Dr. Sanders started his medical career 30 years ago when he did his residency at George Washington University. This is where he learned to wear a bow tie. As a resident, he was told never to wear a tie in the ED, as unstable patients could pull it. He wanted to honor his patients by dressing up for them, so because wearing a tie was not acceptable, he switched to a bow tie, and has been wearing one ever since.

After his time in the Army and before and during medical school, Dr. Sanders worked in both the transportation and banking industries as a computer programmer. Eventually, after medical school, he moved to St. Augustine and began his career in private practice. He has been actively involved in the community, with the hospital board, with the medical staff, and with a Catholic charity providing free medical services to the underprivileged in our community. When he began his private practice, he was frustrated with paper records; so, being a computer programmer, he wrote his own EMR system. He was actively using this system until he began his current role 18 months ago.

Because Dr. Sanders has shown utmost respect to those around him, he has gained the utmost respect of the physicians in the community. In his role as CMIO, he is leading our physician staff through a transformation — not just to an EMR, but to evidence-based medicine. His profound leadership has paved the way to a reduction from 800 individualized order sets to 210 consolidated and evidenced-based order sets. He has worked tirelessly with the physician team to gain consensus on these order sets and review and implement them. Although he misses patient care, he understands that the critical work he is now doing will allow him to have impact on a greater number of patients.

What makes Dr. Sanders a clinical hero? All the while, as he has been building order sets, collaborating with physicians, gaining support from the medical staff and hospital administration, and leading a team of analysts, he has always taken time to say hello and let everyone know they are valued.

He does this with everyone; not just other leaders and people of influence, but everyone. He frequently has team members in his office seeking advice about a personal or family illness. He simply understands that everyone is valuable and should be valued. I have learned a tremendous amount from Dr. Sanders. Not only have I learned about medicine, but I have learned to love my children better, learned to love my wife sweeter, and learned to love God deeper.

Spending time with Dr. Sanders not only makes me a better professional, it makes me a better person. What better legacy is there than to impact someone’s life in such a positive way? Our community and our organization are very blessed to have Dr. Sanders in our midst. He is a man of honor, integrity, and character; a man after God’s own heart.

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Do you have a clinical all-star you’d like to recognize? We all know that successful implementations don’t happen without a great deal of hard work and dedication from the clinical team. However, sometimes there are individuals whose efforts go above and beyond the call of duty. If you’d like to shine a light on your clinical all-star(s), please contact Kate Gamble.

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