For nearly 20 years, Herman Williams, M.D., has served as a senior physician executive in national hospital systems and health care consulting organizations. He has led initiatives in a diverse range of health care facilities, ranging from community, academic, urban, rural, for-profit and non-for profit.
In his current role as president of his own consulting firm, Dr. Williams brings specialized expertise in medical staff consulting and strategy. He works with physicians to improve their efficiency in meeting compliance and regulatory standards. He also assists medical staffs in bylaws development, contemporary peer review, policy and procedures, credentialing matters, clinical documentation, revenue cycle efficiency, and establishing physician-hospital partnerships.
Dr. Williams is a motivational speaker and the author of the book, “CLEAR! Living The Life You Didn’t Dream Of.” He is also a certified coach at the PCC level with the International Coach Federation.
What inspired you to go into health care? Tell us a little bit about your career journey.
I’ve always known I wanted to help people, so I knew I would end up in a helping profession. My parents were social workers, so I was exposed to health care at an early age. In high school, I set my sights on becoming a physician. I was blessed with opportunities to make this dream a reality and obtained a great education throughout college, medical school and my residency in orthopedic surgery.
However, this is where I learned the vital lesson that life does not always go as planned. During my residency, I had a cardiac arrest but was blessed to be resuscitated by four fellow anesthesia residents. As such, I immediately became a candidate for a surgically implantable defibrillator. It was there to save my life, but unfortunately shocked me over 45 times in the first six months post-surgery. Suddenly, being a surgeon was no longer a possibility for me. At the time, this was devastating. After all that hard work and study, I was left wondering what I was going to do next.
As often is the case, when one door closes, another one opens. You just have to look for the other path. At that time, there were very few physicians in consulting and management, and I discovered there was a need for such expertise in the health care business. I transitioned quickly into health care consulting and went to work for Arthur Anderson. From there, I went on to hold executive positions in several large health systems up until 2018. I have since moved back into health care consulting. Today, I love my work helping medical staffs achieve better quality, credentialling and leadership skills. I also work with many large healthcare providers as a professional coach and strategic planner.
In recent years, you have written a book and began speaking throughout the country. Tell us more about these new endeavors.
Every time I would tell people about my story of going into cardiac arrest and the aftermath, they would tell me, “You should write a book it.” So, I finally did! Just as the title says, I am living the life I “didn’t” dream of. What a challenging, but blessed life it has been. Having such a huge goal of becoming a surgeon taken away from me has given me the compassion to be an effective leader and appreciation for other people’s difficult journeys. Accepting a new life plan and making it as fulfilling as possible has bean a beautiful experience.
Also, some people think of life as either easy or hard. In my view, this is flawed. Life is always hard and less hard! I have accepted the fact that life is hard, But I’ve found peace and happiness with my struggles and don’t waste time looking for the “easy” path. After surviving a cardiac arrest and a stroke, I am focusing on doing the most I can to help others appreciate the gift of life. When you figure out how to create joy in this hard life, I think you will find Happiness.
What problem do you most want to solve in health care?
One area I’m focused on now is health equity. This is just one symptom of a bigger problem of racism and discrimination that our society still suffers from. There is a lot of work to be done, and much of it needs to be done one person at a time. We all have a responsibility, and there are things we can all do to make this society the best it can be. If we are not working toward a solution to end inequity, then we are complicit with the status quo. I try to lead by example, and work to make things better for future generations. I hope that sharing my story lifts others up and inspires them to make the world a more equitable place.
How did the Fellows program influence your career?
Investing in the Fellows program has influenced my career tremendously, particularly regarding the relationships I have formed since I graduated from the program. Fellows has oriented me to this health care community in a way I wasn’t before and has led to my service on several boards and collaborations that I otherwise would never have had.
How do you think the Nashville Health Care Council continues to play a meaningful role in shaping the health care industry?
I’ve been particularly impressed with the Council’s work to increase DEI in the health care industry. Unlike many other organizations, They have put tremendous resources forth to establish a strategic workplan, create measurable goals and take action to meaningfully effect change.
You devote a lot of time to nonprofit organizations through board service and mentorship. Can you tell me about some of your favorite organizations you support?
My work with the American Heart Association is particularly important to me. As I mentioned earlier, as a survivor of cardiac arrest and stroke, I have made an intentional commitment to serve this organization. I’ve personally benefitted from their research and clinical trials. Also, their work to expand bystander CPR training is particularly important since I have been resuscitated three times over 30 years secondary to bystanders who made the decision to help a stranger. I have been blessed with the opportunity to be the incoming President of the Middle TN AHA for 2023.
I also devote time to serve on the board of the Tri-State Minority Supplier Development Council, which advances opportunities to match minority businesses with Fortune 500 companies.
What books would you recommend that have shaped your business thinking?
Dr. Richard Williams has written extensively on eliminating health care disparities, and I would recommend his book, “Healthcare Disparities at the Crossroads with Healthcare Reform” for a better understanding of how health inequity came about.
A fun book that actually influenced the writing of my book is The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness: A True Story by Joel ben Izzy. It is an inspiring story about resilience and determination after a major life event.