Spotlight: Michael Rowan

February 24, 2022

Michael RowanIn the late 1980s, Michael Rowan, Executive Vice President for Hospital and Ambulatory Services at BILH, was working in administration at a 500-bed hospital in Savannah, GA.

"I was the first African American male who was required to wear a suit who worked there," he recalls. "One year, a search firm came to look for a new hospital president, and they asked the Board chair if a minority could be president. He said 'no.'"

"Even as we sit here today, there are not many minorities in hospital administration," he states.

Growing up in Toledo, OH, Rowan spent summers working for his father, who was a general internal medicine physician, in the local hospital. "I had a lot of exposure to medicine," he says. "I went to college and got a business degree but quickly understood that I didn't love the for-profit side of business, where the primary motivation was to make money. I did discover hospital administration, however, where there is a social vision to make an impact with a large number of people."

Over the course of his decades-long career, Rowan says he feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to hire and put in place at least 15 COOs or hospital presidents in large hospitals across the country. At the same time, he also acknowledges two people who have been instrumental in his career.

"Between academic years during my master's degree program at the University of Michigan, I had an internship in a public hospital in Washington, DC," he says. "It was a complicated place, with residency programs from three different medical programs working on different floors. An African American man named Bob Johnson was running the hospital. He accomplished a lot across his career and did a lot to mentor other people, especially young people coming up. He was an inspiration."

"The other person who inspired me was not a minority," he recalls. "He was a white man who was the President of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. He was one of the first people who went out and said that the purpose of the hospital is to improve the health of the people in the community we serve. He also realized he needed a way to measure that impact. He reported on public health on an annual basis and likely got a lot of flack for that. He didn't just try to balance the budget, but truly went out and measured success."

As for the future of healthcare, Rowan hopes that not only the number of minority clinicians increases, but the number of minority administrators, too.

"The reality is that a lot of people have good intentions, and a lot of people have made important contributions. But when it's your own family, your neighbors, and people in your community, there's an added incentive to do two things: one, you make sure you open up access to healthcare systems in the right way, and two, you strive to have a better understanding of issues related to health status," he says.

"The original Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) was created as an organization for Jewish physicians to practice because they couldn't practice anywhere else," he states. "There's a deep history of inclusion here. Today, we need to take the information that has started to seep into the public eye about health disparities and figure out how we can be inventive and motivate people to recalibrate the system so we can begin to address the social issues."