Healthcare Leader: Dan Goulson, MD, St. Joseph Hospital

Dr. Dan Goulson is Chief Medical Officer at St. Jospeh Hospital, 1 St. Jospeh Drive, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photograph by Rich Copley.

Dan Goulson, MD

Vice President of Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer at St. Joseph Hospital, a part of KentuckyOne Health

Education: MD from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine; Residency in Anesthesiology at the University of Wisconsin

Hobbies:  Travel, hiking and camping.

What was your first job in healthcare?  What did you take away from that job that you use today? 

My first job didn’t pay anything but was as a paramedic volunteering for the local rescue squad while I was in medical school. I would take overnight calls in the station once every 10 nights. It was my first confirmation that I really enjoy taking care of people. It was also the first time that I could see that healthcare is complex and depends on the teamwork of a huge number of individuals. Most importantly, it was where I met my wife who started off being my paramedic partner and ended up being partner for life!

Where do you do your best thinking?

I do my best thinking when I can get up on the metaphorical balcony. Ronald Heifetz talks in Harvard Business Review about periodically moving off of the dance floor, where it is hard to see what anyone other than your partner is doing, and getting on the balcony over the dance floor where it is easier to see what is really going on. If you can take a step back from the action, there is a completely different perspective that emerges.

What was the most significant event/development in your organization in 2015?

In 2015 KentuckyOne Health made significant progress in our long-term financial strength, with a system-wide financial improvement of more than $142 million in the fiscal year. The positive financial performance was achieved through increased patient volume and enhanced operating performance. We also implemented an innovative primary care and access strategy, including five new ambulatory sites and 108 new providers, a virtual primary care program (Anywhere Care) and a retail partnership with Walgreens.

The healthcare landscape is changing every day; at Saint Joseph Hospital and across KentuckyOne Health we are focused on increasing access to health and wellness to meet the needs of the communities we serve. Our continued financial strength allows us to invest in our people and our communities to achieve this goal.

How do you revitalize yourself? 

By doing something that is good for the soul. That could be as mundane as pulling weeds in the garden or as involved as driving across country with my family. If I can do it with people I care about, it makes it even better.

As a leader, we all face many challenges. What challenges do you face in your role that are unique because you work in healthcare? 

My unique challenges exist not just because I am in healthcare, but that I am a physician executive in healthcare. Physicians possess in-depth knowledge about diagnostics and treatment that can eliminate disease and restore health. We know a great deal about taking care of patients. And decisions made by physicians direct most of the resource consumption in healthcare. But many physicians have existed relatively autonomously in our healthcare systems. Because the industry is becoming more complex, it’s important for my physician colleagues to increase systems thinking in addition to their skills in patient-centered thinking. It’s a big part of my job to help that to happen.

What is your very best skill — the thing that sets you apart from others? 

I think I’m pretty good at seeing the future, not only in terms of where organizations could go but also where people can take themselves. I don’t want to give the idea that I have a crystal ball, but I can see possibilities and have a feeling in my gut about what things ought to look like going forward. I think it’s very helpful to talk with others about vision, so that they can start to develop the vision themselves. The end result in that is we can all start moving toward the same thing.

What opportunities do you see for St. Joseph Hospital in 2016?  Challenges?

Significant opportunity remains to help Kentucky become a healthier state. As an organization we are committed to bringing wellness, healing and hope to all, an effort which is seen in every patient interaction and every community engagement. We continue to invest in population health programs – initiatives which help educate individuals about their health and enable them to more effectively manage health issues such as chronic disease. We are also increasing screening and preventative care, particularly with cancer, helping to identify and treat disease earlier.

The talent at Saint Joseph Hospital and across KentuckyOne Health provides the greatest opportunity for our business. We have great people at all levels; physicians, nurses and a wide range of clinical and administrative roles. We are committed to our employees and continue to support them through programs like our latest We Are One campaign, which is focused on retention and recruitment of our nurses, providing financial incentives to join and commit to building a career with KentuckyOne Health.

What’s one piece of advice you remember most clearly? 

As an undergraduate engineering student, my advisor suggested that I consider going to medical school to gain the medical knowledge to help me be a better engineer. As the story turns out, I enjoyed taking care of patients so much that I completed my clinical training and never worked as an engineer. However, that engineering education has always helped me to think in terms of systems, which has been a huge benefit in the work that I do now. And I will always remember that one question from an advisor that helped me look at things in a slightly different way and completely changed my life. I hope I can do that for others.

If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry’s problems overnight, which would it be? 

The fragmentation that our patients experience. The industry is complex because there are so many solitary bodies of knowledge that have to be mastered and we end up with many experts in different subjects. Layer on top of that governmental regulations and the atypical economics of health care, and you end up with people pulling in different directions. Inside the industry, we know why that happens and we often just accept that as the nature of our beast. But to the patient, it is confusing, frustrating and potentially scary. We could give our patients a better experience and eliminate waste in our processes if we could reduce that fragmentation.

How do you approach management and leadership at St. Joseph Hospital? 

I am here to make things better for those around me. That certainly includes the people who come to us as patients, but also those physicians, nurses and all our employees who are caring for those patients and supporting that care. Some of that involves listening to what matters to them. From that, I can help direct attention and resources to things that matter. And through that focus, we can create a vision for what the future will be like for Saint Joseph Hospital and our community.