Dr. Diane Pearl didn’t have a chance to think about what her leadership style might be serving as Chief Medical Officer at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital. “The position came about very unexpectedly,” Dr. Pearl said. “It happened within seconds of CEO Gary Shaw wanting someone in this position at his side when we started to see that trouble was on the horizon with the coronavirus.” During their last face-to-face medical staff meeting in March, Dr. Pearl was nominated for the position by one of her colleagues and she accepted. “Within days of that, the world shut down,” Dr. Pearl said. “Everything changed, and we have just not been able to look back.”
Born and raised on Nantucket, Dr. Pearl ran her own private practice for twenty years before joining the ranks of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization in 2009. Specializing in internal medicine, primary care, cardiology, oncology, infectious disease and geriatrics, Dr. Pearl served as physician unit chief at Nantucket Cottage Hospital. Yet no amount of experience could have prepared anyone for quarterbacking a medical staff fighting a global pandemic at a rural hospital on an island thirty miles out to sea.
“It’s been nonstop trying to prepare Nantucket and the hospital for what was coming our way,” Dr. Pearl said. “But it has been really gratifying how this team and these people have worked together seamlessly without any discord or disgruntlement. It’s been a lot of work for everybody, but I’m overwhelmed by just how enthusiastic and helpful everyone on this team has been.”
Each day begins with reviewing new policies, new procedures, new protective equipment recommendations and new guidance on how to treat, test and prevent the disease. These updates happen overnight, sometimes hour to hour. Along with focusing on how to test and treat COVID-19 patients while staying safe themselves, Dr. Pearl and her team also grapple with how to treat patients not impacted by the coronavirus.
In leading the medical teams through these uncharted waters, Dr. Pearl has empowered those around her to lean into their expertise. “I have found quickly that asking for the advice or input from people in each specialty when forming a policy is really effective,” she described. For instance, after building their drive- through COVID-19 screening clinic, Dr. Pearl has continued to rely on the three physicians assistants who run the operation to fine-tune the process as they deem fit. “Because they are doing it and they would have the best insights,” she said.
As for Nantucket as a whole, Pearl points to the actions taken earlier as part of the island’s success in flattening the curve and preventing a surge in the hospital. “I fully expect that we’re still going to have quite a busy summer,” Dr. Pearl said. “But practicing social distancing, wearing masks, washing our hands, and following the very simple strategies might allow us to go through the rest of the summer without a surge of cases of this virus.”