Reflecting on his tenure: Q&A with David A. Spahlinger, M.D., U-M Health System President

December 15, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

David A. Spahlinger, M.D., is stepping down as U-M Health System President at the end of the month. It is a role he has been in since 2016 — and in that time, he has focused his efforts on helping the organization improve and standardize quality and safety, increase access and enhance the patient experience.

Before he returns to a clinical role, Headlines caught up with Spahlinger to discuss his tenure at Michigan Medicine and what he most looks forward to in the near future.

Here’s what he had to say:  

Q: You’ve had multiple leadership positions during your tenure at Michigan Medicine. Which have you enjoyed the most or felt most beneficial to your overall career?

DS: I have enjoyed all my leadership roles as each had a specific set of challenges. Among the positions I’ve held is the director of primary care and assistant dean from 1994-97, and director of the U-M Medical Group, associate dean and senior associate dean (previously the faculty group practice) from 1997-2015. I also was responsible for ambulatory care services since 2003.

I was able to work as a hospitalist up until taking on my current role as UMHS president.

While I very much enjoyed the role as president, I have missed the patient care and teaching aspect of medicine. I feel that I continued [former Chief Medical Officer] Darrell (Skip) Campbell, Jr.’s vision of becoming the safest hospital in the U.S.

While we have not yet achieved our goal, we have reduced health care-acquired conditions and received the Leapfrog Academic Hospital safety award three out of the last five years. We’ve also regularly returned to the U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll.

On top of all that, we have given out well over 120 365 Days of Safety awards for units that have gone a full year without a CLABSI, CAUTI, patient fall, etc. Our goal should be to go 365 days without an event for the entire hospital.

Q: 2020 has been an incredibly challenging year for health care. What is your biggest takeaway or learning from what we’ve experienced this year as an academic medical center and health system?

DS: That the people here are incredible. The innovation and problem-solving abilities that our faculty and staff show every day are amazing. I’m certain that hundreds of lives were saved this year through those efforts.

Q: What advice would you give up-and-coming leaders about developing the particular qualities that define successful leaders?

DS: Listen to and trust your team. Be transparent and honest. Be visible and view the problems the staff face through their eyes. That way, you’ll be better able to respond and give them the support they need.

Q: What are most looking forward to in the next phase of your career, and what will you miss the most?

DS: Spending more time with patients and with my family, especially my three grandchildren. I am also looking forward to traveling with my wife once we are past the COVID-19 crisis.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, David Miller, M.D., M.P.H., will become president of the U-M Health System.