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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


A Banner year for new CEO

Alex McIntyre

New Banner—University Medical Center Tucson and South campuses CEO Tom Dickson, left, chats with registered nurses Victoria Smith, center, and Zachariah Coverdale, right, at their station on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. Dickson said adding the priorities of teaching and research alongside patient care has been a new experience for him as a hospital administrator.

Tom Dickson is a Wildcat come home. 

The new CEO of Banner—University Medical Center Tucson and South campuses graduated in the class of 1977 from the UA with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation and a desire to help people. 

Nearly 38 years later, Dickson’s career came full circle, as he is now back at the UA and at the helm of its hospital. 

“I love Tucson,” Dickson said while describing his excitement to be back.

Dickson is no stranger to Tucson. His family came here from Michigan in his childhood but had to leave a year later due to a strike at his father’s job. He then returned in the ’70s to earn his bachelor’s degree at the UA, only to leave once again to pursue a master’s in health administration at Arizona State University. 

January marks the third move south for Dickson, and he does not hesitate to credit his love of the town and the university for his decision to take the job. 

“Tucson’s a really cool town,” Dickson said. “I like the feel of this town. I like how the university plays such a dominant role in this community.”

After graduating from the UA, Dickson did not have the intention of beginning a career in hospital administration. He focused on beginning a career in physical therapy instead.

“When I graduated, I got concerned that maybe [physical therapy] wasn’t the right field for me. I went through a little doubt about whether this was the right field and didn’t really know what to do next,” Dickson said.

His push toward health care administration came in the form of a mentorship from then-UA Medical Center Administrator Dr. Ted Mack.

“He kind of took me under his wing and talked to me about the field of hospital administration, which was really the first time I had ever even thought about hospital administration,” said Dickson.

His discussions with Dr. Mack touched upon a common motif throughout Dickson’s career: his desire to help people.

“He described it as something where you are applying business principals to the operation of a facility. But the facility, of course, is really geared around helping people—helping them get better, helping them recover. And that sounded pretty exciting to me,” Dickson said.

These conversations led Dickson to research more about the field, and with the help of Dr. Mack, he ended up getting in to the master’s program of health administration at ASU. 

“It was a real turning point in my career,” Dickson said.

Roughly 35 years later, Dickson is a seasoned veteran of healthcare administration. His new position at the helm of an academic medical center, though, is putting him in new territory.

“This is different. I’m—for the first time in a long time—really needing to better understand how decisions are made, what the structure is, how we’re organized,” Dickson said. “We’re in a direct partnership with the College of Medicine. That’s just not typical in most community hospitals.” 

The additional complexity of running a hospital as well as an academic institution is causing Dickson to expand his knowledge as a CEO and to redefine his perception of running a hospital. 

“In a typical Banner hospital, what you care about as a CEO is you care about patient care. … And that certainly is true here. But, in addition to patient care, it’s all about teaching; it’s all about research. That’s the big three in an academic medical center,” he said. “For me it’s learning a new segment of hospital administration.” 

Now that Dickson is back and settled at the new Banner—UMC, he has turned his sights on the laundry list of tasks to be done since the Feb. 27 merger. Primarily, the past six months have been consumed with trying to bring the hospital up to speed on the Banner Health standards of care and practices, Dickson said.

He said his biggest focus is to implement the Banner operating model, being sure to note the success of the 23 hospitals under the Banner Health umbrella. 

“We’ve over the years developed what we call standard practices, or best practices. … There’s a standard Banner model, and any organization that joins Banner has to go through a sort of an integration process,” Dickson stated. 

All in all, Dickson said he is in health administration for the people—the people he gets to help and the people he gets to work with.

He particularly sang praises for the staff of the Banner—UMC and the progressive environment that an academic institution fosters.

“You’re just surrounded by exceptional people who are all here for the same reason. They want to help people; they want to learn advanced techniques. That’s one of the keys to an academic medical center, … [it] is supposed to be the place that takes care of the sickest, the most acute and the most difficult patients,” he said, slapping his hands on the table. “That’s kind of exciting for a lot of people.”

Follow Sam Gross on Twitter.

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