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Leading Care: Janet Hadar and UNC Hospitals

In this interview, Janet Hadar '90 BSN, MSN, MBA, FACHE discusses her leadership in advancing nurses and health care through administrative roles. 

She is President of UNC Hospitals, the flagship medical center for the University of North Carolina’s statewide health care system.  The 1,000 bed hospital, with its 13,000 employees, sits in the heart of UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, home to one of the largest clinical and research enterprises in the nation.

Janet Hadar

How did you rise to this leadership position?

Upon graduating from Villanova, I started my career as a bedside nurse in Philadelphia. I then went on to pursue a graduate degree in nursing and practiced for several years as a nurse practitioner.  I then obtained an MBA and began my career with UNC in 2002.  This led to some terrific opportunities in administrative roles leading clinical operations and subsequent promotions. After serving as the Senior Vice President for Operations for UNC Hospitals for several years, I was asked to serve as President.   For me, professional success has been the result of hard work, good timing, great colleagues, certainly some luck, and a strong educational foundation.

Who influenced you?

There hasn’t been a single person who’s influenced me, but rather many and in different ways.  Earlier in my career I reported to a nurse executive who was smart, bold and a risk taker.  She certainly imparted many of her leadership skills and philosophies as did my recent CEO who was a kind and thoughtful leader.

Why are you enthusiastic about your work in this role?

I’ve been in healthcare for over 30 years and I can say today that I still have the enthusiasm that I had 30 years ago.  Leading an academic medical center, I’m in an environment that surrounds me with so many bright and intellectually stimulating individuals.  I get to work with a terrific team to build clinical programs and partnerships that have lasting impact on the health of our community.  I also have the privilege of playing a role in the success of others through mentorship.  Not everyone feels professionally fulfilled 30+ years into a career.  I’m grateful that I do.

What are the issues you deal with and what’s the biggest challenge in your area?

The economic and political influence on health care is creating rapid consolidation in the industry, driving alternative payment models and ultimately an overall decline in reimbursement.  Health care providers must be swift in adapting to the frequently changing landscape & establish innovative models of care delivery that improve quality, reduce harm and lower costs. 

More acutely, leading a medical center that is still getting through a pandemic provides an abundance of challenges. COVID created quite an upheaval in our industry.  Right now, I’m preoccupied with the mental health and wellness of our clinical workforce.  Many are physically and emotionally exhausted.  We’ve seen men and women alike choose to leave the profession at a time when the demand for health care workers is quite high.  Organizations are only as strong as their talent. This remains top of mind for me.

How are you effective in your role? What’s critical to your success in the role?

Critical to success is setting a clear vision for an organization and ensuring that all who have the ability to contribute to achieving the vision understand the roles that they play. Effective communication, which really is more about listening to understand than speaking, is also essential.  I also think it’s important that leaders make time for interests outside of work. I enjoy spending time with my family, traveling, and cycling.  

How does innovation fit into your role as leader?

Under our present system, just doing our best or working harder isn’t enough.  We need disruptive innovation.  As a leader, I’m accountable for creating and fostering an environment where out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged and supported. Great ideas are seldom mine. I ensure that resources are marshalled and the infrastructure necessary to execute on great ideas is in place.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently on your rise to this position or while in it?

Experience has been my best teacher.  I’ve made mistakes and I have observed the errors of others, but every experience – good or bad – has shaped who I am and how I lead.  I don’t have any regrets about learning from successes as well as mistakes.

What’s your advice to someone who wants to be a leader in their area of interest?

Work hard, be humble and be solution-oriented.  Invite dissent and take some risks knowing that you’ll fail at times.  We all fail.  View failure as a temporary setback and spend more time reflecting and thinking about the right next move.  

What is your leadership philosophy?

One has to be a good colleague to be a good leader.  Work hard every day to set a tone that inspires and motivates others and be mindful that teams benefit from a culture of respect, support for risk-taking, and shared responsibility for failures. 

What’s your hope for our profession?

I have tremendous optimism for the nursing profession. We’re poised to lead change in health care delivery, disparities, policy and more.  If we acknowledge and understand the social and economic realities of health care, the profession is well positioned to make meaningful contributions to those we serve and to the broader industry.  I’m also hopeful that our youth will be inspired by the work that nurses do and choose it as a career.   

What thoughts would you like to add about the effect of the pandemic on your work? Do you foresee changes in the future, including opportunities for nurses where they can have a positive impact?

In spite of the misery that it has created, I have to acknowledge that there have been some positive changes coming from the pandemic.  COVID illuminated the gaps in traditional health care delivery both in our state and across the nation.  To address this, UNC Health is intensifying efforts to provide health in a more equitable way.  I’m excited about this.  We’re leveraging the relationships we made with community and faith organizations at the height of the pandemic to get into historically underserved communities and overcome some of these gaps.  This work is consistent with UNC Health’s mission to improve the health and well-being of all North Carolinians and others we serve. 

We’re living in a time during which health care is evolving rapidly.  There are many unknowns.  However, we know that health care has to be safe, accessible to all and that it has to be more affordable.  At the same time, we can’t lose the compassion and empathy that’s central to the role of a nurse. Individuals with a nursing background have the most interactions with patients, understand the obstacles preventing one from getting the best care possible, know how to reduce harm and witness firsthand the inefficiencies in health care. For these reasons, I believe nurses are best positioned to navigate these seemingly conflicting forces of quality, safety, affordability, and access.