Candidate Dr. Danny Jacobs Presents at OHSU

The last of three finalists for the OHSU president’s job delivered his remarks Thursday. Now OHSU community members have been given through mid-day Friday to weigh in on all three.

The last of three candidates for OHSU president was also the briefest in his remarks, keeping his Thursday afternoon presentation on academic medical centers to less than 15 minutes.

Dr. Danny Jacobs told a crowd of several hundred invited guests, plus online viewers from across OHSU, that if he were hired to replace President Joe Robertson he would not come in with a set agenda. Instead, he would work hard to balance competing goals and develop a strategy informed by community members.

Jacobs, like candidates Jay Hess and Laura Roberts before him, was asked to present on the future of academic medical centers, OHSU’s role in that future, and what excites him about the opportunity to work there.

“It probably goes without saying that this time in academic medicine is very challenging,” Jacobs said, starting his presentation by framing two different approaches OHSU and other academic medical centers face.

If the objective is to maintain the status quo, an institution needs to ensure stability, predictability and order, and work to avoid failure. If the goal is to change and adapt, an institution needs to ensure learning, growth and progress, and must be willing to take risks even if they could lead to failure.

“How can an academic medical center, whose objective is to endure and maintain itself, still change and evolve?” Jacobs then asked, before he offered a possible path forward:

First, define “reality,” he said. “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you want to go.” Then build alignment and commitment, and tackle complex problems as they arise along the way.

Jacobs said it’s also important to keep a focus on the characteristics of a world-class organization – envisioning a chart that graphed patient care on one axis, and academic such as research, scholarship and teaching on another, he said OHSU should aim to achieve at a high level in both areas.

 “That doesn’t mean it’s easy to do,” he said.

Getting into specific challenges that OHSU and its peers face, Jacobs offered up a list.

  • Pressure on financial margins
  • An explosion in information technology, including big data and health records
  • Health care delivery, including providers and insurers.
  • Health care disparities.
  • Rise in consumerism
  • Interprofessional education.
  • Resiliency, and the problem of burnout.

Each of these creates what Jacobs called a “complex learning challenge” – something that would give OHSU an opportunity to grow as it explores solutions. But Jacobs himself did not describe specific paths towards solving these challenges.

After concluding his remarks, Jacobs was asked a series of questions that had also been given to the other candidates for OHSU president.

Asked to look to the university’s future, he was reluctant.

“I’m a little hesitant to talk about the future, because I think the future is decided by my members,” he said. “The president needs to make sure he or she is listening to the concerns of folks throughout the state. As the state’s only academic medical center … the opportunity for the university to impact the lives of Oregonians is much better than at many other places.”

In remarks that largely focused on abstractions, Jacobs took a moment to compare OHSU to his current employer, the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he is executive vice president, provost and dean of the school of medicine. “At UTMB, I would never have an opportunity to impact an entire state.”

Responding to other questions, Jacobs emphasized his view of leadership.

“The president can be, or should be, the keeper of the collective consciousness of the organization,” he said. “The president is also responsible for making sure that great stories are told in away that is appropriate and reasonable for the audience” – including the audience of donors.

In his own work, Jacobs said, he ascribes to what is called the “meta framework of leadership.” A good leader should have self awareness, emotional intelligence – and should be aware of “triggers” that might lead to unproductive behavior by the leader.

“Whoever is fortunate to be your next president needs to remain very closely attached to Dr. Robinson, who is a tremendous resource to this instiution,” he also said. “This is a very dynamic moment in academic medicine, and you have someone here who knows the institution, knows the people, and knows the state.”

Reach Courtney Sherwood at sherwood@thelundreport.org.

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