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A Conversation with Doug Hawthorne

By Elizabeth Ford B.A. '93, M.S.-HCAD '96

In January, Doug Hawthorne B.S. '69, M.S. -HCAD '72 made an announcement that caught many by surprise. The longtime chief executive officer of Texas Health Resources shared the news of his decision to step down as leader of the North Texas health care organization by the end of this year. 

Hawthorne's connection with Trinity University started when his parents, Katherine and Derwood Hawthorne, moved from New Jersey to San Antonio in 1957 when his father accepted a job as finance officer on campus under University President James Laurie. At age 10, Hawthorne and his siblings (Linda Hawthorne Ruhmann B.S. '66, M.E.D. '81 and Gordon Hawthorne B.S. '71, M.S.-HCAD '74) literally grew up on the Trinity campus and lived in the Murchinson Dorm before moving to a home in nearby Terrell Hills. They explored "every niche of campus and the library" during those early years. Throughout their childhood and beyond, their parents instilled a strong sense of the "culture of Trinity" and the importance of civic engagement and philanthropy. While Doug was in high school, the Hawthornes moved into a University-owned home on Oakmont Court. Once he graduated from high school, Doug attended Trinity for his bachelor's and master's degrees and lived on campus to fully experience and embrace college life. Given his lifetime of connection and contributions to his alma mater, it is understandable that Doug has a deep affinity for Trinity and a commitment that is second-to-non toward its future. In May, Hawthorne was elected chair of the Trinity University Board of Trustees. 

The following conversation reveals positive and lasting lessons for all generations of health care administrators. Hawthorne's work and life philosophy is inspiring and compelling and is a model for other HCAD graduates to follow in the challenging yet regarding field of health care administration. 

Since 1997, you have successfully led one of the largest health care providers in North Texas as CEO after the decision to consolidate Presbyterian Healthcare Resources, Harris Methodist Health System and Arlington Memorial Hospital. What has been the greatest joy and greatest challenge for you during this time? 

The greatest joy leading THR has been the opportunity to work closely with such remark- able people. The relationships I have been able to develop with the greater North Texas community, our employees, board members, volunteers, physicians, and others have sustained me and provided me motivation on a daily basis. The greatest challenge I have encountered continues to be how to provide the highest level of quality care and service to the wide variety of populations that live in North Texas. How to deliver sustainable and personalized care to each patient has remained one of my top priorities as CEO. 

You have an amazing legacy with many accomplishments; name one that you are very proud of and why.

The strong relationships that THR has built with physicians who practice in our facilities are something I’m very proud of. We embrace doctors as partners in our daily work and view them as a key part of the solution as we move forward in our strategic planning for the future. In addition, I am grateful that THR continues to be acknowledged as a “best place to work” organization evaluated by organizations outside THR. Finally, I’m proud that we are focused on our Mission first. 

You have had an incredible and meaningful career at THR that has improved the lives of many. What will you miss the most? 

The interaction with the people with whom I have been privileged to work. I will miss the daily opportunity to be side-by-side with such a capable team. 

What has been the biggest surprise to you in your career? 

The biggest surprise in my career has been how truly complicated and complex health care has become. It is constantly in flux and has ever-changing dimensions. No longer is there one answer appropriate to respond to the myriad of issues that arise each day in the health care industry. It is a healthy challenge I have grown an affinity toward and it helps to keep me motivated. 

This can be a very stressful profession at times. How have you stayed focused and positive during the toughest times of your career? 

I stay focused through my strong Christian faith and THR’s Mission, Vision, Values, and Promise. My loving and understanding wife and family have been tremendous supports throughout my career. THR’s foundational statements, including the Mission, Vision, Values, and Promise, help us to stay focused when times get rough. We know tough times will not last but our people will. 

How has the health care industry changed from when you first entered the health care administration field until now? 

Without a doubt, I have been struck with the diversity of my work. The industry is multifaceted and complex. Although I completed my graduate school residency at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas in 1971 and have remained here throughout my 44-year career, I can say that each year has offered its unique and rewarding challenges and opportunities. Issues regarding access to care, multiple entry points for service, reimbursement and coverage for care, and being able to deliver quality care to all people, especially the underserved, are all ongoing challenges. The advancement and sophistication of technology has also been remarkable over these 40-plus years. Health care is not a cottage industry any longer. 

You've taken residents consistently for many, many years. What do you believe, if anything, set Trinity residents apart from residents at other programs? 

Sixty residents as a matter of fact! Other than the fact that the majority of students ARE from Trinity, I have been impressed with the strong willingness of Trinity residents to learn and to gain experience throughout the residency year. They are true “sponges” soaking up all of the opportunities before them. I have found that Trinity residents are flexible, confident, and willing to put in the effort to obtain the information they seek. They grow while learning. Consistently, Trinity residents have been well prepared, which reflects positively on the rigor of the HCAD curriculum and faculty. 

As an alumnus, what has the alumni network meant to you over the years and what would you advise that each of us do individually to help keep the network strong? 

Trinity’s HCAD alumni network has pro- vided many access points and opened doors throughout my career. The strength and the capacity of the alumni network cannot be overstated. The HCAD Advisory Council and Alumni Board have provided alumni avenues to grow and develop. I enjoy knowing that alumni can share information with one another and provide mentoring and networking opportunities. I was pleased to know that more than 95 alumni and guests were able to gather to honor Jon Foster at the Duce Award Dinner in Chicago. I would encourage additional events to bring HCAD alumni and students together. 

Reflecting upon the projected transformation across the health care industry, what one skill set would you advise early careerists to develop? 

One skill set of great value that is often overlooked and underutilized is the art of negotiation. Effective decision-making and relationship-building with professionals and nonprofessionals will remain extremely important for health care leaders. Another characteristic I advise young health care administrators to hone is patience in their career development. There is time to grow and time to develop one’s talents and skill set and a shortcut does not exist. There must be an eagerness and an experiential learning opportunity for career development. I am proud to say that a total of 20 HCAD graduates (from both the On-Campus and Executive Programs) are employed with THR today. 

What is the funniest situation that you ever had a resident find himself/herself in? 

I recall a very aggressive administrative resident who wanted to be involved in all patient situations during his year of residency. He was always eager to interact with our patients, which we, of course, encouraged. One day, we as a team decided to play a little joke on him. We called him up on a patient care floor and sent him in to talk with a disgruntled patient about a food service issue. He was surprised to find after talking to her and getting no response that the patient was deceased. 

Tell us briefly what your plans are and what you are most looking forward to as you begin your new chapter. 

Many people think of my decision as retirement but I look forward to “refiring”— being able to take time to enjoy the things I have not had time to do. I look forward to refocusing my time and energies on my seven grandchildren—all under the age of six. I look forward to serving as chair of the Trinity University Board of Trustees. Most of all, I look forward to being the master of my own schedule and giving back to Martha so much of the time she has given to me. 

Would you do it all over again if you had the chance? 

Except for a very few situations, this has been a remarkable journey and I would be privileged to take the journey again.