Next Up Podcast: Modern Healthcare’s editor Aurora Aguilar talks new content direction
Hello and welcome to Modern Healthcare’s Next Up, the podcast for emerging healthcare leaders. My name is Kadesha Smith. I’m your host, and I’m also the CEO of CareContent, a digital strategy agency for healthcare organizations.
We’re having this special edition because Modern Healthcare has made some big changes, and we’re talking to editor-in-chief Aurora Aguilar about what readers can expect.
First, you’ll notice that Modern Healthcare has rebranded as MH. The print magazine is shifting from a weekly publication to twice monthly. And readers will also notice that the magazine’s content has a heavy focus on leadership development and preparing the next generation of healthcare leaders.
But why — after 45 years — is Modern Healthcare making such big changes?
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Hello, Aurora. How are you?
AURORA AGUILAR: I’m well, Kadesha. How are you doing?
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Good. It is so good to have another conversation with you.
So, we are here to talk about a change in direction for Modern Healthcare. The magazine has been around, coming up on 45 years. How is the magazine changing, and what is the focus going to be?
AURORA AGUILAR: Over the past 45 years, our magazine has mostly consisted of news and trends. So, the stories that we have reported on have been more developed than what you would see online, but still pretty centered on what was going on in the industry at any given week.
It was a weekly publication. It has been for many, many decades. Just very, very beneficial to our audience, we were told. But that could sometimes be dated by the time it reached our busy readers.
So, we got some feedback. We really listened to our audience and gauged their opinions — often through surveys, polls, and other feedback that’s provided at our events and conferences and webinars. And what we heard time and time again was that leaders needed advice on how to manage their staff and their organizations, especially after the year that we just all experienced. There’s been a lot of tumult and many disrupted relationships. And opportunities to collaborate didn’t come as frequently during the early part of the pandemic because people were just scrambling to figure out how to just make sure that they were taking care of patients and that they were staying safe.
But the most innovative organizations chose to really embrace the moment and reflect, and even if it was remotely, collaborate more. So, that’s what we did. Our leadership team began meeting pretty regularly. We really banded together during this period. And with the guidance of our publisher, Fawn Lopez, we were encouraged to think big. So, she kept telling us to think of ourselves as a start-up — a 45-year-old start-up.
So, this was the editorial department’s big idea. We thought: Give people the leadership advice that we have so often been entrusted with through our contact with some of the industry’s heavy hitters.
For those last 45 years, we’ve really been able to gain credibility as far as knowing the industry really well and being able to relay the situations that are happening at companies throughout the country, fairly and balanced. For example, some of the most popular content last year came from interviews and strategy sessions with veterans like Michael Dowling, who offered advice on how to come out stronger during the pandemic. He was someone that you spoke with, and that did really well.
So, that connection to those, kind of, established leaders that have been in different types of organizations — government, and you know, the private and the public sector — all of those people come with a lot of history. A lot of lessons to teach. Good and bad situations that have happened to them. And they really trust us because we are in the position of educating.
And so, all of the stories that we’ve written on how to strategize out of these tough times were really what engaged readers the most. We looked very closely at the data on audience behavior, and we saw that those were the ones that really just through the roof, as far as traffic. So we figured, “Let’s give them more of what they’re asking for.” And I think — and I hope everybody that has gotten a chance to look at it so far — sees new content in a very beautifully redesigned magazine.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Awesome. That is exciting. And that’s a huge change. That’s like a huge shift in focus.
AURORA AGUILAR: It is a shift. But if you really think about it, every organization needs to evolve, and that’s what this is for us. It’s an evolution. Our mission remains the same. It’s always been the same for the past 45 years. Broadly speaking, it’s been to empower executives to do their jobs better. And we’ve built our reputation on the basis of providing objective and thorough news and analysis that really reflects, and in some cases, forecasts what’s happening in the industry.
So, now we’re doing the same for philosophies on leadership and strategies, and improving the businesses of healthcare. This allows us to invite the most progressive thought leaders in and outside of the industry to weigh in on what they’re seeing, how they are thinking about and dealing with challenges they’re facing, and, in some cases, share what they’ve learned. So, we really think that it’s going to allow us to build a bridge of knowledge between established leaders and those that are still rising in the ranks.
What readers should expect is sophisticated and provocative thought leadership. What we want to build is a community of leaders that aren’t just brought together by their appreciation for the news that we report — but also for joining together in the quest to become influential in improving the business of healthcare. And that happens by becoming the best leaders that they can to their staffs, their organizations, and their communities as a whole.
So, I think one of the other things our readers can expect is a holistic experience. Our news will continue to feed their minds. This content in the magazine can feed the hunger to improve individually and as organizations. And then our events, our webinars, all of the opportunities that we have to connect can continue to facilitate relationships and connections.
What this shift does really, Kadesha, is deliver on that promise to empower healthcare leaders to improve the business.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Excellent. So then, this is not just a shift in the magazine’s content. It looks like it represents an overall shift at what it’s delivering through the website, the events, the magazine, and the other touchpoints.
AURORA AGUILAR: Yes. Again, thinking back on what our mission has been — it hasn’t changed. It is about empowering the healthcare leader. And I think the part that was not as upfront and not as visible were those opportunities to really learn from some of the people that we have talked to. And even from ourselves. Our reporters and our editors, and all the people that work on staff. In some cases, we’ve got some people that have worked for Modern Healthcare for three decades. And so, there’s a lot of institutional knowledge.
There’s a lot of things that we have heard and, you know, seen across different companies and over different eras of leadership. Opportunities to really be able to teach our audience what it is that we have learned and what they might be seeing happening in their companies in the future.
And so, from the magazine adding more of that leadership development content, to us increasing the opportunities that we have for connections through webinars, through conferences, and also increasing our presence online — all of those things are meant to just give people more. The campaign that you might have seen to date has introduced some of these changes, is about more. And it’s about really giving our audience more of what it is that they’re asking for.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Yeah. The Next Up episode that is coming out on April 17th — we spoke with Dr. Gary Little. When he signed off, he said, “Right now, I need peer learning.” That was something that he’s finding a lot of value in, so this is perfect timing.
AURORA AGUILAR: That’s what we’re hearing a lot of. I mean, it was an unsettling time this past year, and people are really thirsting for connection and for opportunities to commiserate, in some cases, because things have not been easy. But in other cases, to celebrate what are the learnings and the things that have really come through as a result of all of this tragedy. And I think that there have really been some beautiful moments of valor and courage and, you know, resilience that has just been outstanding.
So, when something like this happens on a global scale, and everyone can be pretty much able to identify with some of the things that you’ve been through, and when you are also in a situation where you were in the industry and so much relied on this industry managing this pandemic well — I can see why people would want to see some opportunities to be able to learn from their peers. And I think that it’s about not just, sort of, identifying problems and trying to come up with solutions, but also celebrating some of the wins.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: That’s right. So, as the editor-in-chief, you see everything that’s going on with the magazine. You’re conducting this orchestra. What is your favorite part of this new approach and the new magazine?
AURORA AGUILAR: I’ve been an editor for almost four years, and it’s given me an opportunity to meet so many great people in this industry. The mission’s there. You don’t really get into healthcare because you want an easy job. At all. Especially after the last year. And the fact that we can play a part in making people think differently about how to go about doing something that impacts so many people across the country is really humbling. So, my favorite parts of the new magazine are the ones that really shed light into what drives someone to do better for themselves, their employees, and their patients.
So many moments where you just feel inspired, and hopefully reflective of why it is that you got into this industry throughout the magazine, and I really enjoyed that. I learned, myself, so much from our thought leadership piece this week that spoke to the importance of over-communicating during moments of crisis or major change.
That really resonated with me because I was leading our staff through this big change. And what they needed to hear from me was why we were making the change, what the goal was, and how I was going to support them through it. It really made me think about how one person internalizes that information and takes that in versus another person. And whether one person is visual and wants to get it in an email, or another person wants to talk it out.
And how important that is to make sure that everyone is on board and aiming toward the same goal that you are aiming towards. So, how people consume information was a point in Dr. DeRienzo’s thought leadership piece. And he said, “You know, it’s our job as leaders to make sure that people understand and are on board.” And that really resonated with me.
He also talked about just trusting. Trusting that you’ve chosen the right people and getting out of their way. We’ve had so many leaders say this before. When you’re pressed for time and resources like so many organizations were during the pandemic, it was doubly important to trust people to make their own decisions.
And to also encourage your staff to see opportunities for themselves to grow in these moments. We’ve all talked about the Zoom exhaustion and how so many meetings could be emails. But I think that over the past year, what I’ve heard a lot about and what I certainly understood for myself and for my staff, was that connection, those opportunities to have, even if they were small, little touchpoints — are so important to make sure that trust remained and that people felt like they were all on the same ship headed in the same direction.
So, we had those lessons in the thought leadership piece, but also in our reporters — Tara’s, Mike’s, and Ginger’s stories. Really salient ways in which you can become a stronger and more influential leader. And again, I think it goes beyond healthcare and what you can really take away from these lessons, and they certainly were my favorite parts in the magazine.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: If you’re an up-and-coming leader — if you’re a woman leader — why, at this point, should you read Modern Healthcare?
AURORA AGUILAR: One of the things that was most beneficial to me as an aspiring journalist was learning from people that were active in the industry. I went to Columbia College here in Chicago, and that’s one of their selling points — that you’re being taught by people who are working in the industry at that moment. So, they could teach me not just about ethics, operations, and trends that were going on in media, but they could also teach me about the victories and the challenges, and all the things that they were sort of learning as they were practicing this craft.
That’s what I think of us as being able to provide. The complexity and scope of healthcare can be daunting at any point. And in addition to learning how to run huge organizations, leaders have to do introspective work. They have to work on themselves. They have to be there to support their staff. We can help with that.
Again, we can be that bridge and leverage the reputation that we have that gives us access to really high-profile leaders. Having them trust us to tell us what went right, what went wrong, and what’s coming up in their worlds. Up-and-coming leaders can benefit from this advice. There’s a lot of turnover in the industry right now. There are people that either retired early or just decided that healthcare was not for them at this point, right now. There’s also — because there are so many new companies that are coming into the sphere — have now left openings in other organizations in healthcare. So, by connecting with us, being proactive about becoming a part of this community, they can put their names out in front of people who are making major decisions about leadership structure.
A more individual benefit that comes from our efforts is one that we have taken very seriously over the past couple of years. We are highlighting diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Our publisher has made this a mission for herself and for us. And we have been at the forefront of not just showcasing leaders of color and women in our awards and recognition programs, but also including them as voices in our stories.
That perspective is integral to any media organization. And I’m very proud of the fact that we do this very well.
We’ve also invested a great deal of time and effort into relaying the challenges the industry still faces in including more diverse leaders. It’s something we take very seriously and will continue to pay attention to and make sure there is accountability. There’s a new feature in the magazine you might have noticed: Measuring Impact. It’s a new department and it’s meant to analyze DEI efforts aimed at increasing diversity, just amongst leadership. This type of coverage underscores the importance we understand these future leaders to have on the industry.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: So, if we’re focusing more on leadership development and, sort of, macro-industry issues, where can I get news? Where can I find out what happened yesterday or last week?
AURORA AGUILAR: Online. So, one of the really exciting things about zeroing in on doing the best work that we can for the magazine twice a month instead of every week is that it frees up some of our resources. By freeing up those resources, what we’re going to do is provide much more online content.
During the pandemic, during the peak of the first wave, our audience really showed us how much they value our news coverage. I’m really proud of the knowledge and the expertise of our reporting and editing staff. It differentiates us. It’s original material. We don’t regurgitate press releases. We add context. We dig deeper.
In March and April of last year, we had some of the highest traffic we’ve ever seen on our website. And we saw that people were coming to us as a first stop for healthcare industry news. We’re very proud of that and we heard the call for more of that. So, you can expect more of that high quality, more frequency news.
And we’re also producing it in a whole bunch of different ways. Next Up is not the only thing that we have launched in 2020. This is one of my favorite products, of course. But if you haven’t checked out our other podcast and video series, you’re missing out. One is hosted by our managing editor, talking to established leaders about their operations and finances, and trends. That one is called The Check Up.
The other is hosted by our reporters. It’s called Beyond the Byline, and that’s the stuff that’s left on the cutting room floor during reporting. And the following it’s getting has been growing. And people that listen to it say that it’s giving them details and information that just augments our reporting.
So, a greater variety in the types of content that we produce, and higher volume of online news and information and analysis and data is what we’re going to be providing online. So, keep your eye on modernhealthcare.com.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for giving us the update on these changes. Another reason to tune in to Modern Healthcare’s content. For my friends in the healthcare industry — I feel like they need a mentor and guidance now more than they ever did when they were building to this point.
AURORA AGUILAR: Don’t we all? I feel like we all kind of need that. There’s different kinds of guidance that you can get at different parts of your career. But I think the way that the world was shook after last year, everyone can use a shoulder to lean on. An advocate, a mentor. And I really hope that people that read us find that in our pages.
And personally, Kadesha, I would just like to thank you for being such a wonderful partner over this past year, and having you conduct some fabulous, fabulous interviews. And everyone who is listening now should go back and listen to all of the old ones.
MODERN HEALTHCARE: It’s been great to partner with you. I’ve learned a ton, as well.
AURORA AGUILAR: Thank you, Kadesha.
OUTRO COMMENTS: Look for more episodes of Next Up at modernhealthcare.com/podcasts, or subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or your preferred podcatcher. Thanks so much for listening.