How 9 CEOs got into healthcare

The Becker’s Hospital Review Corner Office series asks hospital and health system CEOs to share one thing that piqued their interest in healthcare.

Here are a few answers collected in the last four months, in alphabetical order.

Justin Birmele, CEO, AdventHealth Winter Park (Fla.)

Healthcare was always a topic at our dinner table. My parents are both nurses. My mom was in the operating room, and my dad was an emergency department nurse. I was born in the hospital where they were both in nursing school. My brother and I grew up immersed in the environment. In fact, we used to walk to the hospital a few blocks away after school and hang out. As a kid I thought it was the coolest place ever. Clearly times have changed, and hospitals aren’t really the ideal environment for after-school child care. But it really spurred my passion. More importantly, it gave me a front row seat to watching how my parents care for the community. They taught me to always do more than is expected because it always matters in connection with others.

Roxanna Gapstur, PhD, RN, president and CEO of WellSpan Health (York, Pa.)

In high school, I had a defining moment with science when a new biology teacher arrived. This individual was charismatic and engaged students in advanced concepts which went beyond general scientific learning in most high schools at the time. He eventually went on to be the director of the Minnesota Zoo. The content he shared spurred my own interest in science, including immunology, genetics and the scientific method. I eventually attended nursing school and connected to the intellectual and relationship challenges inherent in healthcare. After I became a nurse, my first job was on the bone marrow transplant unit at the University of Minnesota, alongside professionals who pioneered stem cell transplants. It was a constant reminder of “finding a better way” to improve the health of populations with certain kinds of diseases. It was also exhilarating to be on the cutting edge of science.

Robert Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health (Edison, N.J.)

I was a political science major in undergrad, and I had some familiarity with the healthcare business, but I was on a different track. However, that path changed after I spoke with a family friend, Sister Mary Jean Brady, who was a hospital administrator at Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre, N.Y. She spoke to me about healthcare and some of the challenges in the industry. I was so intrigued about what she had to say. She also offered me an internship with the facility. During the internship I rotated through major departments and worked directly with Sister Mary Jean to learn about hospital administration. Through the internship, which was a life-changing experience for me, I was able to see what servant leadership was about, how a hospital really works and how they help the community. I was sold after that experience. I never looked back.

Saju George, regional CEO, overseeing Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare’s Michigan hospitals and medical groups

The opportunity to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, especially during difficult times. My exposure to family members who struggled with some healthcare experience is what inspired me to pursue a career in healthcare as a physical therapist. I practiced as a clinician for many years. My passion grew as I learned more about the industry and how we all come together to better care for the patients.

Paul Hiltz, president and CEO of NCH Healthcare System (Naples, Fla.)

My relative, Sister Grace Marie Hiltz, when I was a kid was CEO of Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati. In those days, we’d go visit her, we would walk through the hospital, and I thought it was a fascinating place to work with all the different kinds of people. It made me want to work in a hospital. 

Philip Ozuah, MD, PhD, president and CEO of Montefiore Medicine (New York City)

As far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. Growing up in West Africa, I was drawn to medicine, to relieving suffering and to enhancing the welfare of humanity. That is my calling in my life — from when I started medical school at a very young age — and my career has been even more meaningful and fulfilling than I had envisaged. 

Cliff Robertson, MD, CEO of CHI Health and senior vice president of operations for Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health’s Midwest division (Omaha, Neb.)

When I was in fifth grade, I went to my uncle’s medical school graduation, and he took me on a tour through the anatomy lab, where I was fascinated by the human body. From that moment on, I was interested in becoming a doctor. As I progressed through high school and college, I realized that in addition to my love of science, I also wanted to help people. 

Terry Shaw, president and CEO of AdventHealth (Altamonte Springs, Fla.)

I always loved our organization’s mission of extending the healing ministry of Christ and culture of serving people. This is very near and dear to me, and I have dedicated my entire 30-plus year career to this. The way I got into healthcare is an interesting story, but here is the short version: When I was going through college, AdventHealth, then Adventist Health System, would get one finance intern. And when the student who was originally supposed to go was unable to, my professor extended an invitation for me to go instead, and I accepted. It was a fantastic experience.

I went back again the next summer, and when I graduated, I was offered a job. I have been with the organization ever since. I always tell people that I didn’t pick healthcare, but healthcare picked me. I am so thankful for that.

Daryl Tol, president and CEO of Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth’s Central Florida division

I have great parents. My mom was a nurse, and my dad was a pastor. They emphasized working for a purpose, and I saw the life-changing (and saving) impact that could make. As a young adult, I shadowed and learned a lot from my now- father-in-law, who was a hospital administrator.  


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