Top Physicians List Sees Name Change, New Faces

Marcia Frellick

June 20, 2019

This year, Modern Healthcare changed the name of its annual top executive list from the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives to the 50 Most Influential Clinical Executives to better reflect the contributions of nurses now in executive positions.

The title change and a concerted effort on the part of Modern Healthcare's staff helped generate a list that looks quite different from last year's, Editor-in-Chief Aurora Aguilar told Medscape Medical News, although the number one executive stayed the same — Scott Gottlieb, MD, who was the commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for 2 years until he stepped down in April.

"Before leaving his post as FDA commissioner in April, Gottlieb stood out in the Trump administration by accomplishing the rare feat of earning praise from Republicans and Democrats alike, who hope his policies stick," the list editors write.

More Women at the Top

Last year, the top 15 spots on the list went to white males and there were only seven women in the top 30 spots.

This year there are four women in the top 15, although racial diversity remains low among those spots.

Aguilar told Medscape Medical News, "We wanted to make sure the list was reflective of all of the people that are currently in leadership positions that had previously been clinicians," including both physicians and nurses.

Aguilar, who said she is the first female editor and the first Latina editor of Modern Healthcare in its 42-year history, said public feedback and staff commitment "to make sure they are coming up with awards and recognition programs that are really, truly reflective of what America looks like and what this industry looks like," helped change the list.

Good administrators weren't always at the C-suite level, which is Modern Heathcare's main audience, she said.

"[Changes] came at a very good time," Aguilar said. "The American Medical Association, which is one of the associations we look to the most for both sourcing and news, has elected for the third year in a row a female president. I don't think it's even necessarily that there's more talent or more people out there. I think it's just a matter of the right people rising up into positions that allow them to be more prominent."

The AMA's immediate past president, Barbara McAneny, MD, is number five on the list this year.

Among other women featured prominently on the list is Leana Wen, MD, president of Planned Parenthood since September 2018 and the first physician to lead the organization in nearly 50 years.

In choosing Wen for this year's number 14 spot, the editors note her tremendous political challenges at the federal and state levels in light of mounting threats to Roe vs Wade. Nationally, the Trump administration is pushing to restrict funding for abortion services.

"Outside of that hot-button issue, Wen is pushing Planned Parenthood to expand such services as primary care, mental health, and opioid treatment," the editors write.

Last year, Wen was ranked 18th when she was health commissioner of Baltimore.

Changes to the list came down to "a little bit of luck, a lot of research, and definitely interest from the staff here to be more reflective of what the nation actually looks like," Aguilar said.

The result was much upheaval in the other top spots.

Only four executives, in addition to Gottlieb, who were in the top 15 of last year's list remained in the top 15 this year: Donald Rucker, MD (number four this year), national coordinator of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology; Stephen Klasko, MD (six), CEO of Jefferson Health; Marc Harrison, MD (seven), president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare; and Rod Hochman, MD (13), president and CEO of Providence St Joseph Health.

Rest of the Top Five

This year's number 2 was Robert Grossman, MD, CEO of NYU Langone Health, who announced last year that the NYU School of Medicine would become tuition-free, calling it a "moral imperative." Grossman was not listed among the top 50 last year.

Rounding out the top five this year were Mark Schuster, MD, founding dean and CEO of Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine, Rucker, and McAneny.

Nominating criteria included establishing or contributing to a culture of innovation locally and nationally as well as addressing the "triple aim" of improved community health, a better patient experience, and lower costs.

Senior editors ranked the nominees from a list narrowed to 150 by readers.

In introducing the list, editors wrote, "It took power to make reform happen; now, it will take influential leaders to make reform work."

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