By Bradley Osburn
To say that Dr. David Guzick has an important job would be an incredible understatement. As the president of UF Health — the integration of the University of Florida’s medical colleges and the Shands hospital network — he oversees a program that comprises roughly 60 percent of UF’s total budget.
Since his appointment on July 1, 2009, Guzick, 61, has brought together education, economics, and patient care in a strategic plan that has resulted in a jump from $2.4 billion in UF Health revenue in 2009 to $2.8 billion in 2012; the hiring of 2,000 employees in Gainesville and Jacksonville bringing the total to 22,000; and an incredible rise in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding from $81.8 million to $110.8 million.
Guzick’s background in health economics, his rise up the academic ladder and his experience in other integrated academic medical units made him an enticing pick to lead UF’s medical system into the future, but as a young, fresh-into-college student, David Guzick would have never predicted the future he finds himself in.
At New York University in the early 1970s he majored in math and economics, and had an interest in an academic career. In his sophomore year a relative became ill and he found himself impressed with the hospital staff’s dedication and care. He had a cousin who was a resident in cardiovascular surgery, and after shadowing him for a time he made the decision to shift his focus to academic medicine.
“It was one of those things where I didn’t know I wanted to do this my whole life,” he said. “It was just a combination of experiences during college.”
At some point, he said, one of his economics professors made him aware of an NIH scholarship that would allow him to pursue his M.D. and a Ph.D. in economics at the same time. The NIH paid his tuition and afforded him a small living stipend for seven years.
“The Ph.D. part of that experience actually ended up being pivotal for me in terms of my career,” he said. “It gave me a research tool that very few other M.D.s have. I learned a statistical approach to economics, and I applied those methods to clinical questions. And if I didn’t have those tools I wouldn’t have been able to make a unique contribution to the field.”
Guzick climbed the academic ladder from academic faculty member to dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester, N.Y., before taking the position at UF in 2009. He didn’t have much of an opportunity in that time to use the breadth of his economic knowledge, but bringing together a hospital system and an academic system afforded him the chance to bring some of those skills back into use while learning business principles.
When he was brought on board, UF President Bernie Machen and the board of trustees made sure he knew that the goal was to bring the two together. He had worked in two such environments previously; once at the University of Pittsburgh and again at the University of Rochester, where he was in the thick of the system as dean of the medical school. This allowed him to learn from those schools’ mistakes and triumphs, and bring that knowledge to UF.
“By the time you live through different universities and teams, and live through different planning processes, you learn what to avoid,” he said. “In order to engage the hospital administration, there’s no better way to do this than to bring them all together in an academic planning unit.”
In Aug. 2009 he began having monthly meetings with the deans of the six UF medical colleges, the directors for six different research centers and the CEOs and CFOs of the Shands hospitals in Gainesville and Jacksonville. Guzick didn’t want to hire an outside consultant to come up with a plan because he wanted the responsibility to fall on the shoulders of the administrators who would be putting the plan in motion.
Since those early meetings and the launch of the Forward Together strategic plan on May 20, 2010, Guzick has seen many of the labors bear fruit, not the least of which are the multiple new UF Health facilities, like the Clinical and Translational Research Building, the UF Health Shands Emergency Center – Springhill, and the announcement of a new tower at UF Health Shands for neuromedicine and cardiovascular hospitals.
The increase in revenues, funding, employees and new facilities all serve what Guzick said is the most important aspect of the academic integration, and that’s patient satisfaction.
“You can talk about economics, business or market share, but unless you have the highest quality service, not only meaning technical quality, but also measured in medical expertise, hospitality and service; if you have that everything else follows,” he said. “It was right there in the initial strategic planning process. We’re working toward it with every single patient interaction with nurses and physicians.”
“I think we’re getting some recognition and making some progress, but this is a long-term approach. We’ve had some great success early on, but the academic health center still has a ways to go if you benchmark us against the true national leaders,” he said. “We’re making progress in research and over the last two years we’ve had a 15 to17 percent year-over-year increase in NIH funding at a time when NIH was flat. We have six colleges, but haven’t taken advantage of the fact that they’re all on the same campus and established a national model for interprofessional education. From a clinical standpoint in the state of Florida, we’re just beginning to spread our wings.”