Lead the Way

Above: CEO of Yale New Haven Health Northeast Medical Group, Prathibha Varkey, recharges on a trip to Norway.

Prathibha Varkey grew up “all over”—born in Brooklyn, raised in India, followed by a stint in Connecticut, then Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, and now back here. In that time, she collected a sack of professional degrees—MBBS, MPH, MHPE, MBA—and two impressive titles: president and CEO of Yale New Haven Health Northeast Medical Group and senior vice president at Yale New Haven Health System. Responsible for the strategic, financial, operational and clinical oversight of more than 2,000 employees at Northeast Medical Group, including nearly 750 clinicians, her days are, as she undersells it, “Nothing typical.” Read on for this leader’s insights on the current challenges in the health system and finding the magic of change.

“It provides a beautiful opportunity to inspire and make things better. I was previously a professor of medicine and of preventive medicine at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, where I worked for twelve years, and I had a very fulfilling academic career, including publishing multiple textbooks. I moved to Austin, Texas, to be closer to family in 2013 and was CEO of the Seton Clinical enterprise, and then moved back to Connecticut to be part of an inspiring academic health system at Yale New Haven Health, where I had trained almost twenty years back!”

“I don’t think of ceilings—they are limiting. I also don’t believe in competing with others—also limiting. I just want to be the best version of who I can be, and inspire people and improve processes to be the best they can be, and have fun while I am at it.”

“Payment and healthcare reform have resulted in a lot of fast-paced change in the healthcare industry, including more practices and clinics desiring to be part of larger healthcare systems. Reform has brought about a renewed focus on quality and patient safety as well as preventive care and a mindfulness to work toward cost-effective care. Navigating and leading this change successfully, while keeping healthcare professionals inspired and preventing burnout, are amongst the top concerns of most healthcare executives.”

“People influence my decisions. We are about people—being present and with our community and patients in times of stress and illness, and also when they are hopeful and want to focus on health and wellness. We are also about the people who make our institution great—our clinicians and our staff.”

“I take deep pleasure in spending time with friends and family, hiking, sailing, traveling, exploring new places and listening to a wide variety of music. I used to be the lead guitarist in a band in high school and recently picked up the jazz drums. And I used to be an actor but now spend time on the other side of the stage marveling at the talent! I also enjoy dancing and was into classical Indian dancing—more recently I have been into ballroom, swing and Latin.”

“I have become more patient and resilient in the midst of complexity. I am also more fulfilled and relaxed, and I relish people and their inherent sense of humor…people, at their core, are very similar; differences are what make magic in the world.”

“Take frequent vacations, cherish friends and family, and seek advice from those who you trust. Discover new challenges to keep you motivated and engaged, follow your heart and passion, and don’t ever give up. Work hard, be authentic, and be open to possibilities.”