By Mike Tierney
For the AJC
In hindsight, Dr. Brion Randolph should have known he was destined to become an oncologist. He was named after the cancer-stricken football player in the tear-jerker film “Brian’s Song,” though with a slightly altered spelling.
Yet the son of a military surgeon earned a degree in nuclear engineering and was climbing the career ladder at a nuclear power plant before changing directions. At only his second hospital in a full-time role, Randolph has risen to chief of medical oncology for Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan.
The native of Columbia, S.C., relishes the collaborative atmosphere, where all personnel feel they have a stake in patients’ well-being. [Hence, the reference to employees as “stakeholders.”]
To illustrate, he pointed out that clinic nurses are authorized to respond to phone messages from patients on basic questions such as whether to ingest a particular medicine and the dosage. He becomes freed up for other duties.
“That gives the patient greater satisfaction because they are not waiting for an answer on what to do,” he said.
He also appreciates the work-life balance that is stressed for the 900-some staffers at the three-year-old facility.
“[Practicing] medicine takes away a lot of your family time,” said Randolph, a father of two. ” A good thing about here is, they try to give some of it back.”
Randolph devotes considerable time on initial meetings with patients, explaining their illness and laying out treatment options. Admittedly shy in some settings, he enjoys the personal interaction with cancer sufferers.
Another scenario in which Randolph is anything but reserved is with a marching band. At the University of Tennessee, he served two years as drum major and filled the role last year with the alumni version. He was an All-America classical clarinetist in high school and played the instrument in college.
Now, as oncology chief at age 42, he can toot his own horn.
Q. Your colleagues at CTCA mention several factors in viewing the hospital as a desirable place to work. What reasons stand out for you?
A. Teamwork and collegiality. This is the first time I’ve ever been somewhere where I feel like I know the administration as well as I know my nurses. That’s a big part of what I think makes this a unique place. The clinicians, the nurses, the janitors — everyone has that opportunity to participate in the quality and lean process of making our workplace more efficient. It is so centered around the patients and what they value. And that comes across by, if I have an idea and the administration sees that it will improve the quality of patient care, they will resource that. Normally, you are paralyzed because you have to go through so many layers.
Q. What are some examples?
A. Recently, we would have trouble with, where a patient called in, sometimes there would be a disconnect on getting an appointment and the clinical team being aware of what their needs are when they get here. One of my nurses is involved in a project that looks at that work flow and how to make it more efficient for that patient.
Another is, we recognized a problem to where there was a delay on a patient that needs to be admitted to the hospital for their chemotherapy. I know they are coming maybe two or three weeks in advance. Yet I’ll see them in clinic, and there would be six hours between them leaving my room and starting their chemotherapy. So one of my nurses is involved in a project looking at that [time delay] that is waste in that system. The patients see me and wants to start their chemo now.
Q. At the hospital, is there a connection between employees treated well and, as a result, patients being treated well?
A. Definitely. There is a lot of emphasis on healthy living here [for employees]. When I first interviewed, one of the comments [from an executive] was, “If you are not well-rested when you come in in the morning, you can’t be your best when you try to come up with a treatment plan.” … They stand behind that.
We have experienced a lot of growth over time and, with that, comes growth pains where you try to figure out how to manage that. Our administration has been helpful. As our number of patients has grown, I’ve gotten more nursing staff.
Q. There seems to be a lot of meetings here, beginning each day with the “daily alignment” in each department. Is that a bit too much?
A. They all serve a purpose. They’ve all been very useful. For example, the new patient meetings help us formulate a plan. … Having that kind of dialogue before the patient steps foot into my office or the building is very critical to what we provide.
We will periodically step back and ask, Are we getting any meaning out of this meeting? We did that recently [with one]. We thought it was starting to become too much of a scripted meeting and we revamped it.
Q. At the alignments, things like birthdays are announced. I can see where that’s helpful to most of the hospital staff. But is it too time-consuming for the doctors?
A. No. I left where I was before because I felt that, to take care of the patient, it takes a community. The whole village has to be engaged for that person to have the best possible experience. I think that’s where the hope come from.
One thing I realized earlier in my career, while I’m blessed with the tools and the knowledge about the disease, what’s in the textbook is not just what makes people well. It goes beyond that. I also need the others working with me to be engaged… . So those alignments are important because they help me connect with others in the building and help my patients.
What’s different here is that they’re not “my” patients. They are “our” patients. As a doctor, it takes a little getting used to.
Q. So what happened to your pursuit of a career in nuclear engineering?
A. In that process of volunteering [at a hospital while undecided about career direction], I got to have patient interaction. And I kind of fell in love with the people side of things. It was kind of nice to understand the technology and math that goes behind [the practice of medicine], but I really enjoyed communicating with patients and getting to know their story.
I haven’t looked back after making that decision [to switch careers]. It was easy in terms of what my heart told me to do… . It was a little tough to say I’m going to leave [a potentially lucrative job] and go back and start all over again.
Q. Still playing the clarinet?
A. I wish I did. I don’t have time… . I want to pick it back up. I’m scared to. The hard part is, I was such a perfectionist about it. If I can’t devote the time I need to, it’s not as satisfying.
Sometimes, I think I really missed my calling there. There’s some parallels. There’s an art to medicine — how you tell someone bad news, give them options and hope.
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