CIO Advice from Marty Paslick: 'Healthcare Professionals First, Then Technologists'

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By CereCore | Jul 5, 2024

4 minute read EHR/EMR| Blog| Client Perspectives| IT Strategy

In a recent interview on The CereCore Podcast, Marty Paslick, former Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of HCA Healthcare, shared experiences from his nearly four decades in healthcare technology and leadership. He passed along advice about 

  • Adapting to complexity 
  • Balancing innovation with operational stability and the year he called for “quiet”  
  • Discovering your leadership style  
  • Communicating with leaders and employees alike and sharing bad news, good news, mistakes, and weaknesses 

And, he told a story about storytelling and how it was a leadership mentoring attempt that didn’t unfold as expected. 

Stream the full episode to hear Marty’s experience and wisdom firsthand. 


Glean valuable insights from this excerpt of the conversation between Marty Paslick and Phil Sobol, vice president of business development of CereCore. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Phil Sobol: Marty, you had an amazing career at HCA Healthcare. What is the story of your career journey? 

Marty Paslick: People ask me—how do you become a CIO? And my answer is typically, I have no idea. However, the beauty of HCA Healthcare is that it is a place that has tremendous opportunity. If you have the right character, the right work ethic, the ability to see opportunities and do things that are greater than what you are asked to do, then there is this probability, not even a possibility, but a probability that the company will continue to ask you to do bigger and larger and more significant things.  

The course of my career is that I have been fortunate enough to take those opportunities when presented to me and ask myself—is there something larger, something more creative I can do with the opportunity that presents itself?  

I always say our technologists do not see themselves as technologists. They see themselves as healthcare professionals first, and then technologists. And when you look at yourself like that, and you see what was needed during COVID, people worked in ways that would just bring tears to people's eyes, because they knew that was their moment to make a huge difference for people in need. 

Sobol: I’ve heard you talk about the concept of quiet operations, but at the same point, continual improvement. What’s the secret to achieving and balancing those two healthcare IT fundamentals?  

Paslick: Over the last three to five years, we have not had the luxury of being in one camp or the other anymore, at least here at HCA Healthcare. At HCA, they want the pedal pushed on both sides—to continue to maintain a highly technical, resilient organization and be extremely innovative.  

I think the key to that from a leadership perspective is one, this is my style, might not be someone else's, but you cannot afford to be an administrator. You can’t simply be a facilitator. You must be in the game with your staff. You must know the details, at least a significant enough detail, to be actively participating in the direction you want to go. 

There was one year when I came out and said, look, we have got so many things going on the innovative side that we have to have a high emphasis on quiet.  

Quiet can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. We use that single word to create lots of tactics and strategies about how we were going to build "quiet" in the organization.  

I think we will always be in a place, especially with the importance of technology in our organizations, where you have to have the ability to do both extremely well. 

Sobol: I would love to hear about your approach to building and maintaining authentic relationships, because they are absolutely critical when it comes to achieving and supporting the mission of the health system. 

Paslick: Every leader and CIO has their own style. What is most important is to be true to your own style. When you try to be someone else, that’s the first bad step.  

I try to keep things simple. So, simple to me means don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be as genuine as you can be. Be able to demonstrate empathy for everybody's position.   

Don’t think about circumstances from an IT perspective. Think about it from their perspectives.  

It’s critical for leaders to be able to shoot straight with people. I had a good friend once say, my only rule for my organization is tell me bad news as quickly as you would tell me good news. That is a really good strategy to follow.  

And so, when we have had bad news to report, I didn’t try to control the narrative. I didn’t try to manipulate or choreograph a response. If anything, I was brutally honest about weaknesses in our organization or mistakes that we had made. 

The last email I sent to our leaders before I retired was about reminding them you are not alone. We all journey down a leadership path. Let’s do this together. I think when you can get your leadership team to not just think about their own style but think about it as part of a bigger leadership initiative, that’s another little secret formula. 

Sobol: You are known to be a storyteller. Is that something that came naturally to you? How have you seen storytelling help in your communications to the organization? 

Paslick: So much of my leadership style I learned because I was not born with certain skills. Again, back to creating habits. I had to create several habits to mitigate things I knew I did not have as a leader. 

Storytelling wasn’t one of those. My mom is one of the greatest storytellers I have ever been around.  

I think you have to be careful about storytelling. It is not easy as it sometimes looks. I made this mistake one time. I had a division CIO who had done a strategy update for his leaders and was very black and white about the discussion. I could tell halfway through the conversation he had lost them. 

Afterwards, I was trying to provide some feedback, and I said, perhaps you should think about telling it like a story next time. Next time, oh my, if the first one was bad, I threw this poor CIO right into the dumpster, because he was attempting to use a technique he just did not have the skill to use.  

This gets back to leaders and CIOs understanding what they do the best. Now, if they believe they have those skills, they should leverage them. Because I have met lots of people that are excellent storytellers, but there is something in their brain that tells them that the workplace is not the place to use that skill.  

My encouragement is—you do not have to go jump into the deep end of the pool here. Test yourself in small situations and gather feedback on whether it does or doesn’t work. 

Hear Marty Paslick share the story of how he learned the fundamentals of leadership from someone you’d least expect. 

  Stream the full episode

Find more on healthcare IT leadership 

Download more podcast episodes

Hear perspectives from other healthcare leaders on The CereCore Podcast:

Why EHR Optimization Is Worth The Effort And Budget

Bob Gronberg, Assistant Vice President of MEDITECH Professional Services; John Walsh, Manager of MEDITECH Professional Services; and Stephanie Murray, Senior Director of Epic Services at CereCore


Fostering a Culture of Innovation and Growth

Shahzad Fakhar, Vice President Field Operations – Information Technology Group at HCA Healthcare


A Look Back: Decisions that Led to a Unified EHR with MEDITECH Expanse

Thomas Kurtz, Ph.D., Chief Administrative Officer at Memorial Healthcare 


Scaling an IT Department to Support Growth (and Why Managed Services Makes Sense)

Varun Gadhok, Chief Information Officer at Surgery Partners


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