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Risk Management Jun 30, 2022

How to Reach the Top of Risk Management

Risk management is difficult, and reaching the senior role is even harder. Learn how Denise Atwood achieves success as Chief Risk Officer.

Chief Risk Officers (CROs) evaluate the expectations of company stakeholders to make decisions to reduce the risk of litigation to their companies and employees. Still, healthcare workers with a law background need extensive experience and skills to become CROs. Jerrod Bailey, the CEO of Medplace, spoke with Chief Risk Officer Denise Atwood to learn more about what it takes to succeed as a CRO.  


Background + Experience  

As a corporate executive that manages all risks faced by a company, CROs need to have extensive knowledge of economics, healthcare, IT, and law in addition to their company's respective fields. A thorough understanding of these areas ensures that the CRO minimizes a company's blind spots. Advanced degrees are also common in this profession, and certifications like those provided by ASHRM can set potential CROs ahead of their competition. Additionally, many CROs have a minimum of 10 years of experience in a corporate role.  


Chief Risk Officers need to have excellent crisis management and communication skills and a sense of empathy. Atwood highlights the role of a CRO in educating team members and supporting patient families when communication with providers breaks down.  

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It's bringing a team together that if that provider is not comfortable discussing that unanticipated outcome with a family, we actually bring in their chair, to help with those discussions, and show them what it looks like in practice.

A good CRO must also have a willingness to take feedback. Atwood emphasized the need for risk managers to take feedback from patients and families to better understand their perception of the process and deliver the best healthcare possible.   


Certain personalities thrive in risk management. Overall, people who thrive in an environment of constant change and strong mediators will find success in the role. For CROs, facilitating conversations between people with starkly different attitudes is commonplace. Most importantly, CROs need to be resilient to fear of past lawsuits. Instead, a growth mindset is essential, as CROs need to learn from past mistakes, educate their peers and providers, and move forward. As Atwood explains, fear can hamper future decision-making.  


Skills from past occupations can work to a CRO's advantage. For example, Atwood describes using nursing triaging to handle risk management crises by ranking risk priorities according to their importance and addressing the top two first. 


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What that I've learned in my nursing and trauma background comes in handy because I teach my to team triage what's coming at us. Triage it and say which of these ten priorities are the top two priorities? And then we move from there.

Becoming a Chief Risk Officer  

With healthcare and law backgrounds, CROs can expect a solid grasp of the position. In Atwood's case, a foothold in the prospective company as a risk management consultant ultimately led to the job, already having experienced mitigating risks, answering questions, and  navigating state and federal laws. Recently, ASHRM published a toolkit for risk management that may also help those seeking the role.    


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