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Rising Stars: Meet Dr. Jeff Comer

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Jeff Comer.

Dr. Jeff, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
Well, my journey is a bit different. I started out in undergraduate school as a psychology major who was involved with some pretty cool things in the military. After completing that, I finished my Master’s degree and followed in my father’s footsteps to become an acute care hospital CEO. Interestingly, while being a CEO, I found that I used my undergrad psychology degree much more than my graduate-level business training! So, I decided to pursue my doctoral education in psychology with research interests in evolutionary psychology and psychoneuroimmunology. I found that these two related areas of research, which are basically how your mind and body handle stress, underlie just about all human behavior.

I now combine being a CEO with my understanding of stress to guide people in my hospital to handle their professional and personal stress-reactive processes in more effective ways. This yields better results for my organization and simultaneously leads to better staff morale and reduced turnover. I also bring my experience and education to others outside of my hospital through frequent speaking engagements and webinars.

In addition to being a CEO and psychologist, I believe in constantly challenging myself and never allowing life to become stagnant. As a result, I have been a corporate jet Captain, a yoga instructor, a personal fitness instructor, a horse and dog lover, and small business owner. I am also proud to say that I have completed my first fiction novel that is undergoing its final editing – and hopefully will be published this year!

Finally, I am the luckiest guy ever to be married to the most beautiful, brilliant woman in the world, Mariah Secrest-Comer. Mariah and I are the proud parents of two beautiful and feisty Chihuahuas and are in the process of adopting a baby boy, Sage, from China.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Haha. It has been anything but smooth! As a CEO early in my career, I stumbled into doing turnarounds at troubled facilities. So, I would go to hospitals that were really struggling – some to the point of facing imminent closure. This forced me to work with the hospital boards to make many difficult decisions and changes. Making these changes took a huge personal toll on me and my family. We have had to move frequently, shoulder negative media reports, and often face upset members in the community. Having said all of this, even though it has been very challenging and a personally taxing career, it has also been quite rewarding, as I can, with upmost humility, say that there are many hospitals in this nation that are open as a result of my leading them out of difficult situations.

With my new focus as a Psychologist, I enjoy helping boards and executives to face the stresses they encounter, providing them with a better opportunity to lead their organizations more effectively with less internal stress and life turmoil. I wish someone could have done this for me earlier in my career, as that would have smoothed out the road!

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
As a CEO, I have the responsibility of leading my company forward, which I enjoy doing and find ever challenging. I also believe that life is very short, so I constantly challenge people I work with and through my speaking engagements and webinars to not allow themselves to remain in preset behavioral patterns that cause life to be more difficult than it is. We are often our own worst enemies! I want to use my role, education, and experience to help others to realize this concept, which sounds simple on the surface, but is anything but simple!

The human mind thrives on habituated responses and patterns. Basically, the brain wants to be lazy! This is important from an evolutionary standpoint. Your brain is hardwired to put as much as possible on “autopilot” so it can focus on looking out for harm and keeping you safe. This was important when humans faced death and survival on a daily basis many eons ago, and it is the most significant psychological component of why our species survived. However, in contemporaneous life, we face few truly emergent situations, but our brains have not caught up from a psychological perspective. Our brains still try to form schemas (patterns of looking at the world) and behavioral patterns that may not be adaptive, and all too often, are entirely counterproductive. By working with someone to uncover these patterns, you can identify and change them. This can lead to tremendous growth and happiness.

These concepts, which are so difficult to discuss briefly, are what drive me. I see too many people who are unhappy in life but who do the same things over and over again. The problem is that it is hard to recognize that you are repeating patterns because they are driven by unconscious processes your brain has honed over many years. Your brain doesn’t even want you to recognize them! So one of my passions in life is to teach people how to recognize these patterns and change them with new habituated responses!

What matters most to you? Why?
What matters most to me personally is to be a good husband, a good dad, and a person who always seeks to experience new things. Professionally, I find it tremendously rewarding to work with people in my own organization and with leaders through my webinars to navigate the challenges we face in the demanding health care atmosphere. I try to help leaders to understand that they must take care of their personal and professional lives in tandem. From a stress reactive perspective, you can’t negate any aspect of stress in your life. Your brain does not distinguish between personal and professional. Your neurons, neurotransmitters, and hormones only understand that psychophysiological stress is present, regardless of where it originated.

Helping people in my organization (and others) to learn to identify stressors, habituated patterns, and unconscious schemas so that they can find more personal and professional satisfaction has come to matter greatly to me.

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