Inside Track: Competition breeds excellence for Hahn
New Metro Health – University of Michigan Health president and CEO believes patients benefit with better collaboration between health systems.
Peter Hahn said he has always known he wanted to be a doctor.
He followed in his father’s footsteps, who moved his family to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea, to train as a lung specialist when Hahn was 1-year-old.
He said seeing his father’s daily life as a “healer” inspired him to do the same.
It was his mother, though, who inspired him to expand his ambitions.
She pointed out that while being solely a doctor could affect many people’s lives, he had the ability to affect many more.
Hahn found his talent for leadership and learned he could affect countless lives as someone who makes decisions about the future of health care.
He moved into an administration career, leading him through a number of positions and achievements, ultimately landing him in his new role as president and CEO of Metro Health – University of Michigan Health.
After his father received training in Ohio and Detroit, Hahn’s family landed in Okemos, where he grew up and attended high school.
Though his plan always was to become a doctor, he studied political science at the University of Michigan and focused on political theory, feeding his lifelong passion for history.
He earned his medical degree at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, completing the two clinical years in several Grand Rapids hospitals.
He spent the next seven years in training at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and then joined the faculty for eight years.
He said the organization put a “palpable” emphasis on prioritizing patients’ needs and taught that way of thinking to its trainees.
His plan was to finish his career at Mayo Clinic and perhaps become a leader in his specialty, but that’s when his mother encouraged him to think more broadly about the possibilities of his career.
“If you really want to become a CEO, you’ve got to challenge yourself,” Hahn said.
That means taking positions in areas that have a lot of potential for growth, he said.
He moved to Portland, Oregon, and worked for the smaller health system, Tuality Healthcare, ultimately landing the role as president of the medical staff while also earning an MBA from the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business.
He said he was one of the few Mayo Clinic faculty members to leave the organization for a nonacademic health system.
“It was an opportunity for me to learn the nuts and bolts of how a hospital works,” Hahn said, adding that even world-class doctors often are criticized for being unaware of hospital operations.
“During my six years at Tuality, I really felt that I had that chance to grow as a leader in a very practical sense.”
There was no one doing interventional pulmonary — a new specialty of treating cancer from the inside — in the area when he took the role in Portland, and he and some colleagues established a center.
He said it became the referral program for the entire area between San Francisco and Seattle, as well as for other parts of the West Coast.
Hahn said he helped connect the area’s eight large health systems, which brought about greater collaboration and referrals between them.
Hahn added he would like to see the same culture in West Michigan health care.
He said West Michigan patients deserve to have the options provided by three large systems, though it should be recognized each system will excel beyond the others in certain specialties.
Using a performing arts analogy: “Grand Rapids can have a great opera, a great symphony, a great theater. They do compete somewhat, but they also collaborate,” he said. “It’s not about who’s the best all the time; it’s what do you bring that’s a unique value to people.”
Hahn said he believes community leaders understand this and are committed to changing.
“We don’t want to see just one dominant system,” he said. “We want to see two or three healthy, strong, nationally recognized health care systems that patients can have access to.”
Hahn said he would have been satisfied to continue in Portland, and the chief operations officer role could have been an option down the road.
But, he came back to Michigan to help take care of his mother when she got sick, and he said he also saw an opportunity to help grow Metro Health.
During his Grand Rapids clinical training in 1996, he said Metro Health wasn’t really part of the area health care conversation, but when he visited in 2016 for the CMO position, he could see that was changing.
“Metro, I could see, was becoming part of the conversation,” he said. “I could see the potential that had already been built and the potential that could be built.”
He said he also had heard of a possible affiliation with University of Michigan Health and was then able to help lead that transition.
As president and CEO, Hahn said he is working to emphasize the importance of having physicians in hospital leadership roles, which he learned from his time at the Mayo Clinic.
“It’s a different perspective that comes from nights on call, taking care of sick patients, seeing how the hospital works from the front line,” Hahn said.
He said the future of health care is all about creating value for patients, which depends upon the engagement of physicians, and he believes executing that long-term vision can best be achieved through physician leadership.
“There’s a different level of respect and credibility that you bring,” Hahn said.
For example, stroke treatment has advanced drastically in the past year. The physician leaders knew that change was coming, and he said they pushed Metro Health to invest in new technology to better treat those patients.
“As a physician executive, I could understand what they were saying. Even though the numbers really didn’t make a lot of sense in the beginning, I could understand that is what we need to do for patients,” he said.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating in saying I think we have the best comprehensive stroke program in West Michigan because of that investment, because of seeing that early.”
Hahn said he believes allowing physicians to lead also is the best way to avoid burnout because they feel they have a stake in the company.
He noted the world’s leading academic health systems, such as Mayo Clinic, have been physician-led, and many of the nonacademic health systems, including those in West Michigan, are beginning to transition to that type of organization.
While there was perhaps a historical lack of physician leaders available, he said there now is a generation of physicians who have the training and experience to lead.
“I think it’s important for boards to consider that as they look for leaders of their health systems,” Hahn said.
Hahn’s goal is for Metro Health to be a “world-class” system offering all essential services. He said the hospital is developing “key centers of excellence that will be the referral centers for West Michigan” in such areas as orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery and cancer.
“Competition makes everybody better, and I think the other two systems in town are going to get really good because of what we’re doing,” he said.
Like other systems, he said Metro Health also is continuing to move toward stronger digital health platforms.
Hahn compared Metro Health to the company “Apple in a region of Microsofts,” saying the culture is close-knit, innovative and progressive.
“I think it’s going to be so important that we keep that culture as we get bigger,” Hahn said.
In whatever growth and changes Metro Health experiences, he said it all will be based around one aspect: the needs of the patients.