As a medical doctor who has worked in hospitals and clinics locally and abroad, Nellis Beyers has seen his fair share of health care systems that don’t function all that well – and the experience has shaped him.
“I became curious about how health care systems worked – or didn’t – and how processes could be improved upon,” he says. It’s a journey that has seen him move away from clinical practice and into management where he now finds himself playing a key role at one of South Africa’s most iconic hospitals.
As Medical Services Manager for the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Beyers gets to implement his belief that people’s natural abilities combined with appropriate processes can add up to one smooth-running hospital.
“It is basically what used to be called the hospital superintendent’s position,” he explains, while listing his duties, which range from facilitating the day-to-day operations, to checks and balances on governance issues, overseeing disciplinary inquiries, financial reporting, managing quality complaints, attending to medical legal matters, liaising with stakeholders as well as general problem solving in and around the hospital.
“The job description is quite broad,” he admits. “Basically it refers to the business part of the hospital.” He acknowledges that many people would call this kind of work somewhat boring, but to him it is anything but. “I find it energising,” he says with a laugh. “I can help to create situations and fix problems that make it easier for doctors to do their job and deliver a better service. This improves access to care and that benefits so many people.”
The work that goes into keeping a hospital running smoothly is often invisible to others, says Beyers. Even doctors and nurses can be oblivious to the fancy footwork that happens behind the scenes. “Sometimes it can be something as small as sorting out a foreign specialist’s contract to ensure that he or she is able to be on the team in order to learn and perform life-saving surgeries.” In other instances, it can be to see to it that specialists, like ophthalmologists, have a very particular consumable needed for a surgery – even if that procedure is only performed three times a year.
Although the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital is a State hospital, it also has private funding and NGO partners for some projects, which means everyone has a different slant on strategy. In addition to managing relationships with staff and patients – many of whom come from challenging socio-economic circumstances - Beyers needs to manage partnerships with organisations like the Smile Foundation, which funds reconstructive surgery for children, and the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Foundation, which partners with corporates such as Vodacom to enable children with congenital heart surgery to receive life-saving operations.
Beyers completed his MBA at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) in 2016 and says he was fortunate that it gave him insights into managing this kind of complexity. One of the highlights for him was being challenged in his thinking and being given the tools to work well with others. “The structured group work teaches you how to work with people to find solutions. Book knowledge can’t help you here, you must learn how to interact.”
He plans to put these skills to good use as he helps the hospital navigate the challenges of delivering an excellent health care service in an emerging economy. The hospital already has a very good reputation and is known worldwide for its standards, and Beyers is ambitious to advance this even further.
“So much can be done to improve our services by simply making small changes and adjustments and taking a systems thinking approach, especially in the management of people, and leveraging behavioural change,” he maintains.
“I’m grateful to work with a team that is focused on patient care. It’s this individual care that continues to grow the already powerful brand and I’m privileged to be part of that. We truly make a difference in children’s lives.”