Novak takes helm at MSMS

April 10, 2009
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Julie L. Novak wanted to make a difference in the world.

Named in January as executive director of the Michigan State Medical Society, the Dayton, Ohio, native said she thinks her role gives her the chance to make that impact in health care policy.

“You never feel like you can understand the health care system well enough because it’s exceedingly complex and there are just so many things on the business side of medicine,” said Novak, 46, who replaces the late Kevin Kelly at the helm of the 16,000-member doctors’ organization.

“In 23 years, I’ve never been bored in health care because it’s always evolving, it’s always changing, and the issues are really important. It’s not just a professional issue. It’s personal to all of us as humans who will need health care some day.”

Novak joined MSMS 19 years ago as chief of health care research, analyzing policy issues, data assessment and membership surveys.

“Then, over the years, I assumed responsibility for the medical economics and health care delivery department, and that was the area where we interact with the payers, Blue Cross and the other health plans in the state, to help physicians and their staffs understand legal and regulatory requirements, and coding and billing issues, providing assistance and advocacy for them on the business side of their practice,” she said.

Novak had been director of operations for a year when Kelly, a 29-year veteran of the organization, became ill. When it became apparent that he would be unable to return to the job, Novak became acting executive director. Kelly died in December at age 52.

“It was a very hard year for our organization. People really came together and felt very responsible to continue the mission of the organization, and to continue the good work that he did,” Novak said.

She said MSMS will continue its focus on wellness, quality, value and universal coverage, the hallmarks of reform identified in its 2007 Future of Medicine initiative. 

“Certainly what’s going on at the federal level and the discussions about the state budget give us the opportunity to address all those things, and to try to collaborate on better solutions for Michigan and for Michigan patients.”

Novak is on the boards of directors of the Michigan Health Policy Forum, Michigan Health Council, MSMS Foundation, Medical Advantage Group, Professional Credential Verification Service and the local American Red Cross Blood Services. She belongs to the Michigan Health & Safety Coalition Steering Committee and American Physicians Michigan Advisory Board, and is a member of the American Association of Medical Society Executives, Michigan Society of Association Executives and American Society of Association Executives.

Novak earned an international relations degree from MSU’s James Madison College. “When I finished, I realized I was interested in working in domestic policy in some way, and I really didn’t have a clear idea of what that was,” she said. “I landed a job at the hospital association, and worked there for about five years. Once I was there, I realized that health policy was a very challenging field and would always present opportunities to do more good work.”

That led her to an executive master’s program at the University of Michigan, attending classes one weekend per month for two years. She received a master’s degree in health services administration from U-M’s School of Public Health.

In 2007, Novak was awarded an MSMS presidential citation for her work on the Future of Medicine, an initiative intended to shape the organization’s views on health care reform that was chaired by Dr. John MacKeigan, chairman of Grand Rapids’ Michigan Medical PC.

Novak lives in Bancroft with her husband, Gerald, and their sons, Jeremy, 20, and Gordon, 10.

“I think the opportunity is there to really make some fundamental change,” Novak said. “I’m not cynical at all, but we’ve been here before. The question will be, are the economic challenges that we face today so much greater and the issues so much more compelling that we hunker down together and figure out how to make these changes that we know need to be made, or do we drop back and keep patching the system that we have?” — Elizabeth Slowik

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