Suresh Gunasekaran, MBA, recently assumed the helm of UCSF Health, which includes about 18,000 staff and physicians; it admits 41,000 patients and handles more than 2.5 million outpatient visits yearly.
Why health care?
My first job was at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, where I grew up. Then I worked as an IT consultant in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom. I learned a lot about innovation and business management. But as exciting as that work was, I realized that my real calling was in health care, because of the impact it has on the community and on individuals. Making that difference for someone can be a life-changing experience.
You’ve also worked at university health systems in Texas and Iowa. Why academic medicine?
You’re training the next generation of learners in the best possible way, you’re solidly committed to advancing medicine and sharing those breakthroughs with patients, and you’re focused on clinical excellence in all that you do. Truly special things are possible when you do all that. This motivates me and gives me great passion for this job.
First steps as a leader?
Like any new employee, it starts with listening. What’s on the minds of people who are doing the work? What are their hopes? Fears? What’s going well? What are the major barriers? It’s been a long pandemic, especially for health care workers. As we consider the future of UCSF Health, we’re going to think deeply about how they can have a better work-life balance and about the resources and support they need to succeed.
What drives your dedication to health equity?
We’ve long been committed to achieving the best outcomes for our patients. What has been troubling for me during my career is our lack of progress as an industry in addressing health disparities across communities. We must challenge ourselves to think differently: meet people where they are, have our own teams represent the communities we serve, and partner with community organizations that can help us deliver innovative solutions.
Leadership lesson to live by?
Have the humility to know that I’m not always going to get it right, and that when I don’t, I can learn from that experience and move forward.