This month, President and Executive Director of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Dr. Pierre Gfeller marks his first year on the job. Kate Shingler sat down with him to discuss the milestone and what’s next.
A family physician by training, Dr. Gfeller has more than 37 years of experience in the health and social services sector, including more than two decades as a manager. He has developed an expertise in managing change, and he has demonstrated success in bringing together groups with diverse interests to create positive working relationships and effective partnerships. The MUHC’s CEO holds a doctorate in medicine from McGill University and an MBA from the Université du Québec à Montréal and Paris-Dauphine. He also has a graduate degree in Public Health from Laval University.
In honour of Dr. Gfeller’s milestone anniversary, I sat down with him last month to talk about his work as head of the MUHC, and some of the opportunities his organization faces in the future.
Q: How would you describe your experience so far?
A: It has been thrilling, it has been very exciting. I like my new job, I like it a lot. I like the people, and the institution. We provide fantastic services to the population, the hospital is even more specialized than I thought it was. My interactions with all of the stakeholders – patients, staff, doctors, board members, foundations – has been very positive. I think it’s a wonderful place to work, to be a CEO. At the same time we do have challenges, like all other institutions, but for me it’s been a great year. I’m really happy I decided to come to the MUHC.
Q: What are some of the main challenges you foresee?
A: All institutions in Quebec will have a common challenge in the future, which will be the lack of sufficient manpower. Unemployment is at a record historical low in Quebec, so we are really competing for talent, not only hospital vs. hospital, we are competing with the other sectors in the industry. At the present moment, our situation is somewhat better than other institutions elsewhere in Quebec. There are some who have recently been forced to temporarily shut down services. That hasn’t happened here at the MUHC as much, and forced overtime only happens infrequently. We have to be vigilant, that’s why we are reviewing the way we deal with our people. So major changes are upcoming in human resources. We understand how important our staff is to the community.
Q: What is the MUHC’s new mission when it comes to Human Resources?
A: We would like to support our managers a bit better. We would like to be closer to our staff. We want to remain an employer of choice. I think we are already. I think the fact that we are bilingual is an advantage. For many Francophone nurses and other professionals the MUHC is a good place to improve their English. Rather than going to work in the States or somewhere else, you just have to come to the MUHC. I was also struck by how bilingual we are. I thought at first I would be speaking much more English than I am actually speaking.
Q: Do you see the MUHC as representative of the city it serves?
A: It is of course. We have workers and people who work with us of all nationalities, backgrounds and religions. It’s really a microcosm of the great city that Montreal is.
Q: What role do foundations play in supporting this hospital?
A: The foundations play a primordial role, they are really, really important. They raise a lot of money, and really help us. We have to coordinate what we are doing with our foundations, and make sure our goals are aligned. Donors should be linked to the patients and their needs through the organization and the foundations. We are only intermediates, we are only catalysts.
Q: What has surprised you this past year?
A: I found on many occasions that patients were sent to us from ultra-specialized hospitals. We do things that are not done in some other places. We get very complicated cases. Great medical team, great staff, great nursing staff – all professionals. It really is a fantastic hospital!