For Dr. Rick Anderson and his wife Debbie, moving to Tucson just ahead of the hottest months of the year is no big deal. “When we were contemplating moving to Arizona a few years ago, we spent some time in Phoenix during the summer to see if we could handle the heat. We didn’t mind it since it was a dry heat – it sure beats Illinois humidity and snow storms,” he laughed.
Their seven children and six grandchildren don’t mind it either. They’re already booking their flights to Tucson and plan on hanging out in the pool at mom and dad’s house during the summer.
Dr. Anderson was born in Chicago, and grew up right outside of the city. Most of his professional career has been spent in Illinois, where he has worked as an emergency department physician, primary care physician, instructor, and administrator.
His path to TMC
As a teenager with no way to pay for college, Dr. Anderson joined the Army where he served as a medic and operating room tech at a combat support hospital. That experience shaped his impression of servicemen and women. “I have a ton of respect for people who serve in the military,” he said.
After serving four years of active duty, he was accepted to Greenville College in Illinois, where he received undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry. During his first year of a graduate program in pharmacology at the University of Illinois, he was accepted to Rush Medical College in Chicago. He graduated from there in 1986.
His next stop? St. Francis Hospital in Peoria where he completed his residency and was named chief resident his final year. He went into private practice for three years, practiced emergency medicine, and taught residents in Peoria for seven years. As a full-time faculty member at the University of Illinois, he continued to care for patients while teaching residents and medical students.
In July 2001, Dr. Anderson was named Chief Quality Officer of Methodist Medical Center of Illinois, a position he held for five years. When the Chief Medical Officer left, he filled the position in an interim role until he was asked to take it on permanently – which he did, until last June when he headed back to the Emergency Department to treat patients.
In all the roles he has had since he started practicing medicine more than two decades ago, administration is the one he cherishes the most. “I always felt like I wanted to do more. I’d identify issues and problems in the hospital and think to myself, ‘I can help fix that.’ For me, administration presents the biggest opportunity to make the most impact,” he said.
All of these experiences, he says, helped prepare him for his role at TMC. “I know what these physicians are facing since I’ve been in their shoes.”
His first impression of TMC
“I really love the TMC campus,” he said. Coming from a high-rise hospital to TMC was a refreshing change. “There is lots of open space for patients to look out and I think that makes a big difference for someone in the hospital.”
While he particularly loves the aesthetics it’s TMC’s accomplishments that he finds most impressive. “TMC is an amazing place – a complicated place – that is committed to patient care, and does a great job. The fact that it’s a community hospital that is in Southern Arizona’s first Accountable Care Organization is really amazing. I believe in accountable care and having physicians get paid for how well they care for patients rather than how many times they care for patients.”
The first thing he hopes to tackle
The topic Dr. Anderson wants to initially explore is quality. “How do we describe quality? What does quality mean to TMC patients, physicians and employees? In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve heard that question a lot from physicians, employees and leadership board members,” he said.
But first – he knows that he needs to sit back, listen and observe to be truly effective.
“I’m a big believer that you can’t come into an organization and apply everything that worked well someplace else. I think you really need to know the people, the organization and the culture. You need to know what they’ve done, what they’ve tried, and what they’re ready for. During my first 30 days here, I will try to learn as much as I can about TMC, the people and the physicians.”
Once he gets a good understanding of that, he says he’ll start to generate ideas and welcome feedback.
“We can take what’s worked well in other places, and figure out if and how it will fit at TMC. I come from a very successful organization and am hoping to avoid some of the mistakes that were made so that TMC can move forward quickly.”
Long term goals
While caring for patients, Dr. Anderson believed in not just telling patients what to do, but why they should do it and how it could help them. As TMC’s new CMO, he will take the same approach with physicians. “I will work to get physicians to understand what we want to do, why we should do it, and how it can help our patients.”
“To me, it’s a lot of fun trying to take this huge complicated system and get everybody to ‘row in the same direction.’ Physicians always want to do what’s best for their patients. That’s what the leadership team wants too. At the end of the day, we’re all working toward the same goal.”