Hometown: Versailles, Kentucky
Family: Wife Jennifer, three children
Hobbies: History, genealogy, baseball and travel.
Currently reading: Dreamland, The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, by Sam Quinones
Medical News: Why did you take on this role? What attracted you to it?
Ben Chandler: My family has always interested in health policy, especially my grandfather, Happy Chandler. He founded the medical center at the University of Kentucky because it was clear the state needed more trained physicians. Still, it was hard to leave the Kentucky Humanities Council, because I have such a passion for the history and culture of the Commonwealth. But I also have come to recognize that there is nothing more important than your health. Without your health, you cannot achieve all the other goals you have for your life. Kentuckians overall are just not particularly healthy, and this was an opportunity to do something about that, to make a real difference.
MN: What do you hope to accomplish while in this position?
BC: My singular goal is to help make Kentuckians healthier. We work at the state and local level to support policies to increase access to healthcare, particularly preventive care, reduce obesity, increase physical activity, reduce smoking and close health disparities. Often, these policies are about making the healthier choice the easier choice.
For example, smoke-free laws, raising tobacco taxes, and increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco products are all proven to reduce smoking rates because it takes a little more effort to pull out that cigarette and light it. Kentucky has the highest smoking rate in the nation and, not incidentally, the highest rate of cancer mortality. We also have some of the lowest tobacco taxes, and you can buy tobacco products at age 18 here. Making these kinds of policy changes will result in major health improvements quite quickly.
MN: What advice would you give to someone just starting out trying to do what you’re doing?
BC: Find examples of people whose careers you admire and follow them. Look for mentors who can help guide you from both near and far. Always look for admirable leadership and human qualities you can emulate.
MN: What were some early leadership lessons for you?
BC: Getting along and doing well in this world have a lot to do with how you handle yourself. Be honest. Treat people decently. Recognize that your colleagues and employees have lives of their own. Happy employees are good employees, so create a pleasant, enjoyable work environment.
MN: Tell me about your management style.
BC: I’ve now led five organizations, ranging in size from five to 300 employees. Each has had to be handled a little differently, depending on the people who work there. But I’m not a micromanager. I’ve learned that recognizing the skills of your employees and creating an environment where they can use and expand those skills opens opportunities for them – and the whole organization – to be successful. Having confidence in the people you work with and treating them as professionals is a big part of creating that environment.
MN: Where do you do your best thinking?
BC: Usually while I’m driving because I do an awful lot of that, as I travel around the Commonwealth.
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