Strategies for Leading an Academic Health System


While many partnerships fail to deliver real economic value, here's how one CEO broke through.

Alan S. Kaplan and Deirdre Baggot

2 min read

Steering an academic medical center through a global health crisis demands remarkable humility, a relentless commitment to partnership, and true collaboration. However, what it perhaps doesn’t demand is a one-size-fits-all, traditional healthcare background.

On that note, when Alan Kaplan, MD, first began his role as Chief Executive Officer at UW Health in Wisconsin five years ago, this was his first foray into academic healthcare – his prior academic experience limited to his experience as a student attending school. Alan, who’d been a senior healthcare executive for 25 years, learned he was actually the only candidate for the job without an academic background and was chosen for his know-how as a physician leader who understood how to run a business.

To share his journey, Alan’s here on our podcast in a conversation hosted by Oliver Wyman partner, Deirdre Baggot, PhD, RN, to discuss physician leadership, provider-sponsored health plans, the importance of having a living strategic plan, what defines an effective partnership strategy, and why diversity of perspective and background among C-suite healthcare leaders serves as a competitive advantage.

Memorable Moments From This Episode:

Alan on the value of his unique background as an Academic Medical Center leader:

“I’ve been asked, ‘So, what is your vision?’ And my response has always been, ‘It's not about my vision. It's about our vision that I was recruited to lead an academic health system. Not a community health system.’ And that's what I intend to do. So for me, it wasn't as difficult as a transition is those in academia, think it would be.”

Alan on what kind of people and personalities motivate him professionally:

“Mostly, what excites me is what motivates our faculty physicians. Yes, compensation is important, but that's not what it's all about. I truly enjoy their motivation for intellectual pursuit for gaining new knowledge for curing disease or addressing social determinants of health. And I truly appreciate as someone not from academia, that they are motivated by being educators.”

Alan on what concerns him most as a CEO navigating a company through COVID-19:

“My biggest concern is provider and staff wellbeing – particularly battle fatigue stress from being on the front lines of the pandemic. But also the additional stressors they have as they worry about the economy, the election, the uncertainty, and their children not being able to go to school or not having adequate daycare. So, that’s where we place a lot of our spending efforts.”

Alan on their unique external partnership strategy:

“We have a community hospital that is within a few miles of the academic health system – the medical center and main hospital. And we entered into a full financial risk-sharing arrangement in which we share revenues. We share expenses and we do a full income split. And that includes all the revenues of the academic health system and this particular hospital. By doing this joint operating agreement, it is agnostic where our patients go and it opens up so much opportunity for operational enhancement, delivering on quality crossing that chasm between the academic medical center and the community.”

  • Alan S. Kaplan and
  • Deirdre Baggot