Throughout his 20-plus year career, Ed Marx has had many difficult conversations. But perhaps none as complex, emotional, and raw as when he sat down with individual members of the leadership team in June and said three game-changing words:
“I have cancer.”
But for Marx, who has always prided himself on being transparent and authentic, it was critical that the news was delivered in the most beneficial way possible, which was through one-on-one conversations that enabled his colleagues and friends to have a genuine reaction. By keeping his team informed, Marx was able to continue to build trust — something CIOs and other leaders need now, more than ever.
Recently, we spoke with Marx about his cancer journey, from how he ensured his team was prepared to continue in his absence, to the insights he gained as a patient at his own organization. He also talks about his vision for digital transformation, the incredible impact volunteering can have, and the importance of empathy.
- Shadowing clinicians – “When it’s done right, it can have quite an impact.”
- Curriculum for teaching empathy
- Power of volunteering: “You can’t help but have your heart touched.”
- “Blurred lines” between IT, clinical and operations
- Documenting his cancer journey to “take something bad and turn it into something good.”
- Saving lives by spreading awareness
- Cleveland Clinic’s new PSA test
I believe it will provide us with the right tools. Because you might ask, what does it mean to be empathetic? How do you show that lever of care and insight? We’re going to learn those tools, and we’re going to practice them together.
Our jobs are difficult; we deal with a lot of politics and aggravation. If we allow ourselves to become hardened, we lose focus and purpose. By volunteering, shadowing, teaching, or doing a combination of the three, your heart remains soft.
If we want to remain relevant, we need to understand hospital operations. We need to understand what’s happening with our fellow caregivers and what they’re dealing with. We need to understand what our patients are looking for, because if we don’t, we’ll become irrelevant, and someone else will take our spot.
If nothing else, by being transparent, I was able to significantly impact 12 lives. That’s why it’s so important to share these things. We’re all on the same journey; we might as well help others and let them experience our experiences.
Gamble: Let’s talk a little more about empathy. In one of your blogs, you talked about some of the ways in which leaders can encourage empathy, one of which is by shadowing clinicians. What type of results have you seen from this?
Marx: It’s been tremendous. I’ve been doing it for probably 15 years, wherever I’ve had the opportunity to serve, I’ve introduced a program like that. We have one here called ‘Hearts and Minds.’ It’s only one day a year, but it’s a pretty significant day, and when things are done right and executed well, it can have quite an impact.
It might not have an impact on one person the first year, but maybe it does the third year. Imagine what it can ado after five years when everyone has spent five full days with a clinician, probably seeing patients. It’s truly transformational. There are so many examples I can give, but one in particular that comes to mind is a technical person who said to me, ‘I was really mad when this program came out. I have a lot of work to do; I don’t have time for this. But we were forced to do it, and so I did. I’ve serving been here 25 years, and I never knew we had patients.”
Of course he knew we had patients, but he never knew it. He never saw them. He then became the best database administrator we had. This experience transformed how he looked at work, and how he looked at his life.
Another thing we’re going to do, starting this month, is provide teaching. In combination with one day of rounding, we’ll do a half-day of teaching. We have a physician who’s an expert in the art of empathy care. She has created a curriculum that everyone is required to read. I’m really looking forward to it. I think that education, coupled with the experience of being on the floors, is going to make it that much more powerful.
It’ll be a great learning opportunity, and I believe it will provide us with the right tools. Because you might ask, what does it mean to be empathetic? How do you show that lever of care and insight? We’re going to learn those tools, and we’re going to practice them together in the session and learn how to apply them in a real-life setting.
It’ll be really interesting to see how it all pans out, but I think it will definitely be powerful.
Gamble: I’m sure. It’s interesting the difference it can make when you’re able to reinforce those learnings, rather than just teaching it once in a classroom setting.
Marx: And you can take it a step further by volunteering. I know not everyone has time to do it, especially when you have a family. But when I first started I actually had several children at home, and we volunteered together as a family. I still do it today; I spend about every other week on the floor where we do outpatient chemotherapy. Little did I know I’d become a patient myself.
But it’s so important for me to spend time with patients who are undergoing treatments. You can’t help but have your heart touched and softened. Because our jobs are difficult; we deal with a lot of politics and aggravation. If we allow ourselves to become hardened, we lose focus and purpose. By volunteering, shadowing, teaching, or doing a combination of the three, your heart remains soft. It remains open.
I get to spend time with people who are going through a difficult time in life. They may not have anyone with them; I usually spend time with patients who are alone. Just by taking with them, you realize what an incredible privilege it is serve here, to interact with others, and to show kindness and love.
Gamble: It’s funny, I’ve never heard someone say they regret taking time to volunteer. It’s one of those things you have to make time for.
Marx: When you’re able to take your eyes away from yourself and your organization, you realize your problems aren’t so big. But if you only focus on yourself; if you insist you don’t have time to volunteer or serve, your problems will only get magnified.
Gamble: Agreed. Now, as someone who’s spent many years in the CIO role, do you feel there’s more focus now on making sure IT teams understand the impact the tools they implement have on patient care and the patient experience?
Marx: I think the lines have blurred during the past decade or so, where it’s not just those in IT who are involved with IT initiatives; everyone’s involved in IT. And actually, during a recent discussion with our top 75 leaders, I said that if we want to remain relevant, we need to understand hospital operations. We need to understand what’s happening with our fellow caregivers and what they’re dealing with. We need to understand what our patients are looking for, because if we don’t, we’ll become irrelevant, and someone else will take our spot.
And so it really behooves us to be motivated to continue to learn and adopt new digital strategies that will enable better patient care, and a better lifestyle for our caregivers.
Gamble: Great points. I want to talk a bit about your blog, and the decision to share such a personal experience. I really admire your willingness to be candid. Did you have any reservations about putting it all out there, or did the potential to spread awareness outweigh all else?
Marx: That was my motivation. The way I saw it, I can do this in secret, although the rumors would get out regardless and most likely make the situation worse than it actually was. The main driver was to take something bad and turn it into something good. Honestly, I didn’t know what was going to happen; I didn’t know if I was going to die, or what the surgical outcome would be, but I wanted to make sure something positive came out of it.
And it did. As it turned out, 12 different individuals got a PSA test after reading the blog. A few of them had elevated levels and were diagnosed with cancer. Some had lower levels, which they were able to treat with less invasive methods, but some had to undergo a prostectomy.
By reading about what I went through, they were able to learn from my experience, and because I had a good outcome, it provided them with hope. Actually, I visited with one of those individuals. I went to his home with my family and we prayed with him.
If nothing else, by being transparent, I was able to significantly impact 12 lives. That’s why it’s so important to share these things. We’re all on the same journey; we might as well help others and let them experience our experiences. I’m grateful to those who have shared their experiences with me and enabled me to learn from their mistakes and make better decisions.
Gamble: Right. And I know firsthand it’s not always easy to get personal and let so many people into your world. But it can touch lives, and possibly even save lives, and so it’s really important.
Marx: One other thing I wanted to add is that by being part of Cleveland Clinic, I was able to undergo the IsoPSA, a new test that was developed here about a year and a half ago. The IsoPSA has shown to be more accurate in predicting prostate cancer risk than the standard PSA, and has cut down on the amount of biopsies, which is significant.
Historically, PSA tests have been hit or miss, which has resulted in a lot of frustration. The IsoPSA utilizes artificial intelligence and has the predictive capability to indicate whether a patient has cancer. In fact, when my scores came back high, the first thing I did was to take the IsoPSA, and it was able to quickly deliver results. If people realize something like this is available, it can really save a lot of time.
Gamble: That’s amazing. And it really speaks to the groundbreaking work being done at Cleveland Clinic. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak about your experience, and for your willingness, as always, to be so transparent. I hope to chat with you again soon.
Marx: Thank you, Kate.