Chicago-based healthcare leader Chia-Shing Yang has been through a lot over the last few years. Like all of us, the coronavirus pandemic reshaped her professional life, and in her case, on a nearly daily basis for two years, it presented challenge after challenge for her and the teams she leads as Regional Chief Medical Officer for Sound Physicians.
From March 2020 until the end of 2022, her in-patient practice took care of 6% of all COVID patients in the U.S. That influx of the afflicted prompted her to drastically shift gears and change how she set and achieved her goals. While her organization had made a name for itself by providing the highest-quality care years earlier, Yang suddenly faced a host of unexpected issues, such as ensuring the health of her doctors and other medical professionals tending to the sick, procuring protective equipment, and taking a wholly new approach to managing the logistics for treating the virus under weekly shifting guidelines.
The successes of that trying experience, Yang says, were the result of a team effort, as “everything was just moving so fast.” But adopting innovative practices from lessons learned during that trying time hasn’t yet proven to be a forgone conclusion in her field.
“Healthcare is famously known as an industry to move a little slower than, say, tech, as an example. We’re still going through it industrywide with some of those growing pains of learning how to evolve faster,” she insists. “We can feel it.”
Pointing to the many recent stories in the news about hospitals going bankrupt and health systems posting huge losses, quarter after quarter, Yang says a sense of urgency has impacted the industry: “If you compare this to the last 20 years, it’s definitely a market shift.”
While Yang is on the verge of what may prove to be a new age of medical care emerging from the long shadow of a global virus event that many of us are still attempting to process and move past, her self-admitted optimism serves as a driving force for what she and her team are accomplishing together. As she continues to be called on for her insights, leadership, and ability to mentor people both inside and outside of her organization, that inspirational approach is the cumulative result of her concern for those she leads, her sensitivity and attention to correct the pervasive societal inequities in healthcare, and her wealth of learning experiences that date back to her formative business years at McIntire through her time as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine at Texas A&M University. Her rich background informs the work Yang is doing today.
Early on as a UVA student, she was torn between medicine and business. Having completed her prerequisites for pre-medicine, she still yearned to explore another course of study.
“I liked the aspect of problem solving, but each area solves problems in such different ways: Healthcare solves what’s going on with an individual, and business deals with environments and markets that we’ve created ourselves,” she says. “When I think of finances, it’s a construct completely made by humans. But seeing a patient? That’s biology.”
And Biology was also Yang’s chosen major. An Echols Scholar, she was able to work with her adviser, UVA Professor Emeritus Jim Childress, to craft a study plan that she believes resembles a combination of bioethics and philosophy. There was no existing program like it at UVA at the time (unlike the Biotechnology Track of the M.S. in Commerce Program, which launched in 2022).
Her interest was stoked by examining “systems of care” and tackling issues related to the private healthcare market in the U.S. “I thought that I could possibly tie these two disciplines together.”
Yet during the fall semester of her fourth year, she found herself at another crossroads.
In addition to being accepted into medical school, she received job offers in finance, including one she found particularly tempting. Looking for guidance, she relied on the counsel of her McIntire adviser, Professor Richard DeMong. Yang explained the situation, having looked at the ROI of the finance position versus her intended career as a physician.
“He said it was a unique opportunity that doesn’t come along for a lot of folks,” she remembers of his assessment of the situation, an appraisal that certainly didn’t make her decision any easier. But with DeMong’s help, she came to a well-considered conclusion: “It wasn’t like I couldn’t use finance anywhere. Stepping back from that immediate job offer—and what even had me coming to McIntire in the first place—wasn’t an epiphany so much as it was putting me back on a track that I carved out for myself. From a purely personal finance perspective, taking the job out of McIntire would have been fiscally intuitive, but there were longer-term goals,” Yang says. “It was perspective—and really great advising.”
She would continue to pursue a career in medicine.
The Unexpected Coach
Yang’s professional life has been shaped not only by leading teams and creating avenues to support excellent patient care, it’s also been defined by her efforts to incorporate teaching and leadership development into everything she does. It’s a commitment she’s dedicated a great deal of her time and attention to over the years.
She sometimes wonders if that’s not the bulk of her work. “It’s something I care a lot about. It’s incredibly important because of all the changes within healthcare and trying to move at a faster pace, with its associated pressures. One of the ways forward has to involve mentoring and coaching folks into the right roles and making sure that they are able to really become who they want to become,” Yang says.
Of course, she taught as part of the Texas A&M faculty, and in her current role, a large number of her teams at Sound Physicians are also teaching teams affiliated with academic institutions. Her responsibilities with the organization also include formal mentoring and coaching people who report directly to her.
“Then there is what I call ‘informal mentoring’ outside of my immediate organization as well,” Yang explains. She’s lent her expertise to others at Chief, a private networking organization designed for women in positions of executive leadership. She’s also been a part of an advisory board for a venture capital firm called The 98, which focuses on helping women entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurial tech space.
“It’s interesting,” Yang muses. “I never really fully comprehended just how much coaching, mentoring, and education that I would be doing throughout the course of my career. At the same time, it’s definitely something I’ve grown to embrace because it can be a huge force multiplier.”
Facing the Future
Her view of helping others comes back to bettering outcomes for others. In her position leading the Sound Physicians practice, she is driven to prioritize the well-being of her doctors and do whatever possible to prevent burnout from the rigors of the job, “because they are a critical, crucial resource across the nation.” She’s also intent on addressing what she calls “the increasingly stark social determinants of healthcare for individual patients.” While she’s heartened by the additional publicity and research on the topic, she’s concerned that the problem is so complex that it will take much more effort by many spheres to bring about meaningful change.
One potential source could come from those with business backgrounds.
“In medicine, one of the greatest applied sciences, we take what’s theoretical, what’s been found in research, and we apply it at that very individual level to individual patients,” Yang says. “In a way, a lot of business education is the same: It’s large theories, but the trick is in applying it to a particular circumstance to find a way that’s executable and moves the ball forward. That is innovation, because it’s innovation on a very concrete level and it’s also incredibly measurable.”
Yang says that understanding how systems can work, especially in specific markets, can make all of the difference: “What is the hyper-local market and the resource sphere that this individual patient lives in? They might live in Chicago, which has all these great resources, but is that what that individual person, or that community, or neighborhood actually has realistic access to?”
It’s situations such as these where Yang sees a glaring need for innovation—to get patients what they need on the individual level—and one that a Commerce background may help to tackle. “Increasing that access is crucial, and that is the kind of problem solving that is the core of business.”