Last Fri, I attended a one-day Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Strategic Planning Retreat. DFCI leadership, physicians, researchers, administrative staffs, as well as DFCI-affiliated leaders at neighboring Harvard schools and hospitals, totaling over 100 people, gathered at the Boston Colonnade Hotel. Although this was the 3rd strategic planning retreat (previous two in 2003 and 2007, respectively) since Ed Benz took the helm of DFCI in 2000, it was the first one I am senior enough to have the privilege of attending. I was quite surprised and moved by how visionary, effective, and great an institution DFCI is.
DFCI president Ed Benz first gave an hour-long presentation, like a prep-talk to the breakout sessions that were to follow. Since 2000, DFCI has had over 70% growth in employees and space, and has doubled, tripled, and quintupled our revenues in fundraising, research funding, and patient care, respectively. Any leadership with this growth should congratulate themselves on their achievements. Yet, Ed pointed out several potential dangerous trends that could hurt our future growth: healthcare and insurance reforms to cut cost and limit profitability, shrinking federal funding resources, competitions for patients and clinical trials from other institutions, and plateaued amount of unrestricted donations. Before the breakout discussions, Ed charged the groups to identify what we need to do to ensure the success of DFCI in the next ten years.
Three hours of breakout discussions ensued, each hour with five parallel discussion groups and shuffled group members. This turned out to be the most active and effective discussions I have experienced. Facilitated by two senior members (one faculty and one administrator), the groups went through each questions such as (discussed in my groups): in 5-10 years, what will make DFCI uniquely superior to our competitors, what are the measurable benchmarks of success, how can DFCI get more drug trials from pharmaceutical companies, how to improve our clinical efficiency for patients, what other cancer hospitals are doing better than us in certain aspect, what area can we cut to free up resources for the rest, how to be profitable when drugs are more targeted for sub-populations, how do we retain research nurses or junior clinical faculty to build a career here? Some questions spawned off from discussions in previous questions, and they all centered on the main questions: what constitutes success for DFCI in the future and how to get there. The discussion leaders really encouraged everyone’s participation, avoided monopolizing speeches, and kept good momentum and timing. The participants, at this senior level were all really smart and articulate. They did not just raise issues, but actively brainstormed potential solutions to the issues.
At the end of day, I had a much better understanding about the issues DFCI is facing, and could see a few consensus areas on how we could improve. I had so much more appreciation of the DFCI leadership and my colleagues, and I was really proud of being part of DFCI. It was a very beneficial experience, and I am thinking of having annual strategic planning retreat for my lab in the future.