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Decades Interview with Bill Gracey '81

Bill Gracey

William_Gracey [at] bcbst.com

City and State: Nashville, Tennessee 

Education: Master's of Science in Health Care Administration 1981, BA in Psychology from UT Austin 1975

Please tell us a bit about your career path. What is your current job title and employer? How long have you held this position and what does it entail? 

I am currently President and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee serving more than 3.3 million members throughout the State. Having left the hospital industry after 30 years, I was asked to replace my predecessor and have served as CEO for three years. In this capacity, I have had the opportunity to see our health care system from multiple perspectives. I currently enjoy the opportunity to affect the lives, health status, and economic well being of the diverse cross-section of people and companies that we serve on a daily basis.

Why did you select Trinity's HCAD program? 

I was drawn to Trinity from the very beginning of my search. In particular, I noted the Trinity program’s national reputation, the numerous major leaders the program had already produced, and the focus on the practicality of health care administration versus the more theoretical, esoteric orientation of other well-known programs. Additionally, it was located in the great State of Texas!

Did Health Care Administration end up being what you thought it would be when you were a graduate student? 

Yes, it actually did. I was struck by the applicability of the issues we explored in school with those encountered in everyday work. Again, I think this speaks to the practical orientation of the program as noted above.

What benefits and opportunities have you experienced in your career as a graduate of the HCAD program? 

Having a degree from Trinity was certainly a competitive advantage in the eyes of potential employers due to its longstanding, well-known reputation. 

In terms of your career, what are the accomplishments you are most proud of? 

Career-wise, I’m proudest of having worked in such a wide variety of settings throughout my 40 years in the business. That includes psychiatric and acute-care hospitals, individual to large hospital systems, urban and suburban facilities, along with rural care delivery. I’ve also run physician practices, home health, urgent care, and all other components of comprehensive non-profit and investor-owned systems. I’ve finally ended up on the health insurance payer side. One would hope that such a wide array of experiences provides a breadth of perspective that allows a more objective, global view of our unusually complicated American health care system.

This is a very demanding profession. How did you stay motivated during the toughest times of your career? 

Motivation, energy, and enthusiasm for our profession have never been a problem. In fact, the bigger issue is finding enough time in the day for both professional and personal issues. Indeed, I continue working on work-life balance to this very day!

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

The more it changes, the more it seems to stay the same. The structure, rules, policies, payment models, etc. continue to change on a rapid basis, but the heart, purpose, and mission behind what we are doing has never changed. As long as we hold those purposes dear, we will always be able to weather the externally imposed storms with focus and positive results on behalf of the most important figure in the whole health care system – the patient, the member.

From your perspective, how different is health care going to look in 15 years? 

I believe health care will look very different in the next two decades since the trend of accelerating change has been such a constant over the last few years. This is why we need flexible, adaptive, creative, and enthusiastic leaders more than ever as we enter into such turbulent times in our industry.

What advice would you share with individuals considering pursuing a master's in health care administration in Trinity's HCAD program? 

In addition to what I’ve said about Trinity above, I would tell them that health care leadership is a very serious and special social responsibility with the ultimate purpose of serving others. The residency program at Trinity uniquely prepares them for this.

What advice would you share with current HCAD students and residents? 

I would advise them to work, study, listen, learn and treat their classroom work and residency experience as their job and that they should trust those who went before them. The weakest leaders have something to teach and the strongest leaders have years of experience with resultant intuition. Also, I would tell them to maintain a sense of humor and never forget the joy that lies beneath the important work that they will be doing. A smile is one of the best healers around!

What book(s) or other resources have you found most helpful in the development of your career as a health care administrator? 

Trade association journals are part of the job, but I am an avid reader from instructional books to novels to the classics. With the kind of influence an effective health care leader wields, we owe it to ourselves and those we serve to have a diverse, broad-reaching understanding of this challenging yet beautiful world – all of it!

And lastly, tell us briefly about what you enjoy outside of work. 

My excitement over my multiple hobbies and interests is boundless. I particularly love music, both performing and listening. I played professionally in my 20s and just produced a CD of the songs I’ve written over the years called, “Then Again.” I have the world’s worst golf swing, but maintain a five handicap. I’m fascinated with spirituality of all types. I also really enjoy my family, which includes my wife, four children and five grandchildren. I am a lucky guy! 

 

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