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Dr. Danny Jacobs begins work as OHSU’s fifth president

Dr. Danny Jacobs
"I will be a very strong advocate for diversity — diversity of thought, diversity of words and deeds, diversity of race, gender, ethnicity," says Dr. Danny Jacobs, OHSU's new president. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Danny Jacobs, M.D., begins his tenure Aug. 1 as the fifth president of OHSU, Oregon’s only academic health center. We asked him to share some thoughts about the challenges and opportunities ahead for academic medicine and OHSU’s future.

OHSU News: First, welcome to OHSU. What will your first six months look like?

DR. JACOBS: I am looking forward to getting started and believe my first tasks will be to listen and learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can.

I am honored to be following Dr. Robertson. During his tenure, OHSU has moved forward dramatically. OHSU’s growth and success during this period was made possible by a strategic plan that guided decision-making. I agree with this approach and we will quickly move forward with additional strategic planning.

Dr. Danny Jacobs
Drs. Joe Robertson (left) and Danny Jacobs walk across the OHSU campus in May. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

In my view, the first step is to define the current “reality” — a careful and deliberate assessment of where we are and where we want to go. To help with that analysis, I will be asking members across the institution and at every level, “What’s good? What’s great? And what can be better?” All of this occurs from the perspective of asking ourselves what we want to achieve by 2030 and how we want to be perceived.

So that’s what I intend to do, spend the first several months listening and learning, asking these questions and paying attention to the answers.

OHSU NEWS: What are the greatest challenges facing academic health centers across the country?

DR. JACOBS: The answer to this question is a part of assessing our current reality. As an academic health center, OHSU is facing challenges that other institutions are also confronting. We can join with colleagues at other academic health centers to confront these challenges, learn from each other and advocate on behalf of those we serve. As Dr. Robertson has said, academic health care exists at the intersection of highly regulated and volatile sectors—higher education, patient care and research. This intersection historically has had some level of turbulence, but today, the turbulence is unrelenting.

OHSU NEWS: How can OHSU mitigate this turbulence?

DR. JACOBS: OHSU has already taken some important steps to ensure its future as a health and science university. In fact, OHSU has historically been very good about identifying and adapting to the inevitable challenges affecting patient care, research and education.

But we won’t be able to rest on that history. Turbulence and complexity are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Addressing these complexities will be a key part of our strategic planning process — it will take a team and a high level of engagement across campus to continue to be successful. It will also require us to identify additional ways to facilitate multi-directional, “dense” communication among members of the OHSU community.

Dr. Danny Jacobs
"We need to create an environment that allows us to take care of ourselves and to find tranquility and stability in the midst of chaos so we can best take care of others," says OHSU President Dr. Danny Jacobs. Jacobs (center left) greets staff members (left to right) Drs. Elena Andresen, Kristin Lutz, and Karen Eden at a faculty awards luncheon, during his visit to campus in May. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

OHSU NEWS: Can you be more specific about the turbulence academic health centers are facing?

DR. JACOBS: Some of the problems include the explosion of technology in health care, changes in delivery models, health care access, the quality imperative and its cost, how we address health disparities and more.

A significant challenge that I find most worrisome is burnout and how to build resiliency, for all of the members of our academic health center. Everything else fails if we don’t address this issue successfully and the solution will be a local one. For us to face all of this turbulence, we must create a culture that allows our members to preserve and promote the joy we feel serving others. We need to create an environment that allows us to take care of ourselves and to find tranquility and stability in the midst of chaos so we can best take care of others.

OHSU NEWS: The first goal of OHSU’s most recent strategic plan is to be a place diverse in people and ideas. Why is diversity important to an academic health center and what does it mean to you personally?

DR JACOBS: I think that diversity, equity and inclusion are important pillars that should be evident in an organization’s culture and all of its activities.

I learned during the interviewing process and in subsequent conversations that diversity and inclusion are important at OHSU. They certainly are to me.

The business case for diversity and inclusion is sound. If you talk about creating an innovative environment — a place where it is safe for folks to learn, a place that is forward-looking in finding new approaches to old problems — then you must have a diverse and inclusive environment that is welcoming.

Inclusion is also critically important and is fundamental to OHSU’s mission of improving the health and well-being of Oregonians — all Oregonians.

Not only is the business case there, but for me, personally, it is also the human thing to do, the right thing to do. I will be a very strong advocate for diversity — diversity of thought, diversity of words and deeds, diversity of race, gender, ethnicity.

Dr. Danny Jacobs
"I’m honored to be a part of OHSU’s future," says Dr. Danny Jacobs. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

 OHSU NEWS:  What does it mean to you to be the next leader of Oregon’s only academic health center?

DR. JACOBS: I am honored to have been chosen as the next president. My wife, Nancy, and I are delighted to be joining what we feel is a wonderful community.

The challenges we face are great, but we will be working together to help realize OHSU’s mission of improving the health and well-being of Oregonians while creating an environment and culture where all of our members thrive.

OHSU is a special place that is deeply woven into the fabric of the community. And when I say community, I mean all of Oregon’s 96,000 square miles.

OHSU NEWS: Thank you Dr. Jacobs, any final thoughts?

DR. JACOBS: I look forward to building on Dr. Robertson’s wonderful legacy and the tremendous work OHSU has done in collaboration with stakeholders across Oregon to advance innovation in health care from education to new discoveries. I’m honored to be a part of OHSU’s future.

OHSU employees welcome President Jacobs and offer tips on getting around campus.

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