Luther Cole of Health Stream: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent…

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Luther Cole of Health Stream: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

I’m a strong believer in how vision matters. You asked me “Why healthcare?” earlier, and I think that if I were doing these same tasks in another industry, like construction or finance, it just wouldn’t have the same “jazz” or “zing” for me. If you were to walk around the HealthStream office and ask people why they’re there, more than 90% of them would tie in their answer to the mission and the vision of the company.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Luther Cale, Vice President, Clinical Programs at HealthStream.

Luther has been a leader within HealthStream during its start-up, growth, and enterprise phases, and he has served as a leader in multiple roles at HealthStream, including sales, marketing, business development, and product management, all focused on top-line and bottom-line growth and performance.

In his current role, Luther oversees all aspects of HealthStream’s clinical programs business, which helps to develop the people that deliver the care throughout the U.S. healthcare industry. He has a passion for launching and growing new solutions in the marketplace and changing innovating to bring positive change.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I had planned to become a surgeon ever since I was young. My first experience in the healthcare industry was through training in operating rooms and labs where I saw heart surgeries, brain surgeries, amputations, etc. For a variety of reasons, I eventually decided that becoming a surgeon was not the right path for me, but I still wanted to make a difference in healthcare. That’s when I decided to investigate the business and technology side of healthcare.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 1996, I joined HealthStream when it was a new company making its mark on the booming healthcare industry in Nashville. After all, Nashville is coined, “The Healthcare Industry Capital.” It was an exciting time to join because I was there through HealthStream’s start-up, growth, and enterprise phases. I’ve held multiple leadership positions throughout my time and have enjoyed watching HealthStream grow into the industry-leading company it is today.

I have worked in multiple roles at the company, including sales, marketing, business development and product management. In my current role as Vice President, Clinical Programs, I am energized because I get to bring new ideas and products to market that directly connect with saving more lives and help healthcare organizations improve patient care.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

HealthStream has disrupted and moved the entire industry of resuscitation education and outcomes forward. For 50 years, there was only one recognized provider of CPR training. HealthStream wanted to challenge that by bringing choice and true innovations for greater resuscitation education flexibility and technological advancement. This is especially important considering that over 200,000 cardiac arrests happen in American hospitals each year. Nearly three-quarters of these are fatal but do not need to be.

In addition, there is a major discrepancy between resuscitation survival rates between hospitals. Hospitals may receive the same training, but one organization will have a survival rate of 26% while another has a survival rate of 42%. In 2019, HealthStream teamed up with the American Red Cross to modernize resuscitation education with the introduction of the American Red Cross Resuscitation SuiteTM. This solution added some needed innovation to the healthcare space because it meets healthcare organizations where they are, in terms of time, energy and resources to give their clinicians the tools to provide better care.

The past few years have been extremely challenging for healthcare professionals. Clinician turnover and burnout have left little energy and time for additional training. With this in mind, we developed a way for BLS, ALS, & PALS certifications to be flexible while still offering high-performance CPR training. This program provides personalized plans to each learner to ensure that their time is well spent. Organizations can deliver this program in an instructorless, blended or fully instructor-led format. Learners also have 24/7 access to training materials so they can work on their certification on their own time. Everything was built to be mobile-first, so healthcare professionals can train whenever, wherever. We designed the program this way to give healthcare workers one less thing to worry about.

The Red Cross Resuscitation Suite uses Brayden Pro manikins to give learners real-time feedback on their performance. The manikin assesses the speed and depth of compressions, which is displayed on an accompanying tablet. They also are accurate to a depth of 1mm. We think of them as an instructor that never sleeps. An additional innovation we introduced is a VR program specific to training team leaders. This program includes simulations designed to parallel the stressful nature of coordinating multiple people during resuscitation events.

We are proud that the Red Cross Resuscitation Suite recently celebrated achieving one million certifications across BLS, ALS, and PALS. Healthcare providers across the country are saving time, money and lives as a result of these programs. Every patient deserves the peace to know that they’ll receive the same level of care no matter which hospital they choose to go to.

One of the ways we’re continuing to improve outcomes and expand resuscitation technology in today’s age is through HealthStream’s Innovation Council. This invitation-only council was founded by CEO Robert Frist of HealthStream and CEO Gail McGovern of the American Red Cross, who convene the nation’s experts in Washington, D.C., to provide input into a road map to what is actually needed to move the needle to improve resuscitation outcomes. We can’t wait to get together again this November, as there are several life-changing innovations we plan to review there and introduce into the market next year.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Starting out as a kid in my 20s, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the industry. If there was an event or learning opportunity that I wanted to go to, I would find a way to convince someone to let me stand in a hallway so I could watch. There once was a huge event with several hundred hospital COOs, and the keynote speaker couldn’t make it. Someone asked me to fill in to give a speech, which I immediately said yes to, thinking I’d have hours to prepare. Unfortunately, I was pulled in right then and there, standing in front of all these people and writing down some points on my way up to the podium while my mouth went dry! I have no idea what I said once I got up there, but I was just happy to have made it through.

Since then, I have never been unprepared for public speaking. Pretty much anywhere I go I always have at least three talking points laid out in my head or on a notecard in case I need to give a speech.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Robert Frist, CEO of HealthStream, has taught me the most that I know about business and how to have an impact on the world. But the most important lesson he taught me by example was how to be a leader by caring about people. A while back, I was going through a tough time after my partner passed away from cancer, and he called me and said he was going to drive down to Birmingham from Nashville to spend time with me and make sure I was okay. I told him that he didn’t have to and that I had a great support system of family surrounding me, but he insisted. He canceled all his meetings that day to spend time with me and ask me questions about my partner and her life and all the art that she had created.

This is an act of kindness and leadership that I will never forget. In fact, I always look for ways to pay it forward and to make sure that team members, partners, and customers know that I care about them as people and am there for them.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

For me, I think it’s important to partner with the organizations that you’re trying to help improve. HealthStream has put into place a program we call the Innovation Labs, a research and development program. Through this lab program, we try new products directly in customer environments; some are well-received, while others aren’t the right fit at the right time. We get feedback from customers and clinicians on how to improve the products and how to make them better to be deployed at scale. We give them sneak peeks into our roadmap, and they give us feedback on their priorities. It is a symbiotic relationship that makes sure our innovations can take root in the real world.

Once, we were piloting a new VR program in a room with healthcare executives, and the Chief Nursing Officer took about five minutes to get the key interactions down. Once she did that, she loved it and even said, “If I can do this, anyone can do it.” However, based on her experience she did suggest that we add a brief tutorial, which we did. Sometimes, it is those little tweaks that can make the difference between success and failure.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I’m a strong believer in how vision matters. You asked me “Why healthcare?” earlier, and I think that if I were doing these same tasks in another industry, like construction or finance, it just wouldn’t have the same “jazz” or “zing” for me. If you were to walk around the HealthStream office and ask people why they’re there, more than 90% of them would tie in their answer to the mission and the vision of the company.

My father was an orthodontist, and when I was growing up, he would express how much he loved what he did. Not only did he like working with his hands, but he also loved seeing the reaction on his patients’ faces when they got their braces off and saw their beautiful smiles. He loved what he did and taught me to do something I enjoy doing because I’m going to be doing it for my entire life, which is some of the best advice I’ve received.

I often think about Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches and life. He chose to do something of great importance and personal sacrifice, which is something that always brings me back to what matters.

Also, I’m a huge proponent of experimenting. I think trying new things is important to figure out what you want in life, and a lot of adults get nervous to try new things. Just know that it’s going to be a journey and it’s not an overnight success, but it’s worth it to figure out what you love.

We all want to help the people who are directly delivering patient care. In my case with resuscitation, the direct line is to save more lives. There is absolutely nothing more rewarding than waking up each morning and knowing that whatever I do that day, whether it’s easy or hard, it could result in saving someone’s life. That’s what makes it worth it for me.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Two ways. We’re going to move earlier in the process and train clinicians to recognize the signs of clinical deterioration that lead to resuscitation events in the first place. By recognizing the signs and intervening much sooner, we can save as many lives as we can by improving the quality of resuscitation. And number two, we’re going to do a much better job using data to improve both the training and the outcomes, the same way the airline industry has done in improving airline safety.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Two books come to mind. A Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber, who is an integral philosopher. The title alone pulled me in, but it really set me on a path of reading about integral approaches to business, politics, science, and spirituality. The second book is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne. It’s a much older book, but I read it every few years as a reminder to focus on controlling what is in my sphere of influence and letting go of the things that aren’t in my control.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Build a life you don’t need to escape from.” I’m not sure who said it first, but the general idea of loving what you do really resonates with me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

On the professional side, I would love for every individual, family, and community to know life-saving CPR and emergency response skills. You just never know when these skills can be used to save a life, maybe even of your own family members. I get stories every week about this, and they move me every time. On the personal side, I would love to inspire a movement where people took more control over their own health. There is so much we as individuals can do in terms of what we put in our bodies (or don’t) and how we move our bodies and nourish our minds and emotions and connections that can make a HUGE difference on quality of life.

How can our readers follow you online?


Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Luther Cole of Health Stream: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.