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New York City

Interview with Dr. Herbert Pardes, President, NY Presbyterian Hospital
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.

He seems to know everyone–the operative words are “know” and “everyone”– “know” because Dr. Herbert Pardes has been a distinguished psychiatrist and department head for so long that he’s developed a sure intuitive sense of the staff, faculty, and students he meets, and “everyone” (or just about) because his incredibly extensive résumé indicates a lifetime of scholarship, medical practice and high-level administrative appointments.

Two years ago, when he became President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Presbyterian Hospital and its Healthcare System, he assumed one of the most prestigious medical administrative positions in the country–he’d probably say the world. Referring to that merger, which took place five years ago (“a smart move”) when New York Hospital (Weill Medical College of Cornell University) allied itself with Presbyterian Hospital (Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons), he says he is well aware of the extraordinary role he plays in advancing biomedical research, comprehensive high-quality education, outstanding clinical care, and community outreach. Two minutes in his company and it becomes clear that the powerhouse union has a powerhouse captain at the helm, professionally skilled and politically savvy.

The energetic CEO talks fast, without missing a beat, unerringly picking up his train of thought after having been called to the phone any number of times. He’s focused, intent, eager to promote the “rare” if not “unique” complex he heads, a powerful network that reportedly serves close to 25 percent of the patients in the New York metropolitan area. He concedes that at least one reason for the merger was financial–saving money by reducing administration, but he ardently insists that the essential reason has to do with providing more and better care. Case in point–Pediatric Cardiology had been in trouble at Cornell but with the merger the discipline has grown strong. Case in point–Presbyterian had been weak in Plastic Surgery but through Cornell has become number one. Summary of cases in point: in numbers there is strength. Merged major medical institutions have a lot of “leverage” at the federal, state and city level.

His priorities? To ensure the continuance of what had begun shortly after he came to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) as Director of Psychiatry Service in 1984 and later as dean–the admission of greater numbers of women (approximately 40 percent now) and minorities (8-10 percent). Another is to get P&S to inch up from being “the 2nd most selective school in the nation” (Harvard being number one). He also wants to make sure that education, research and service continue to attract strong candidates. Aware of criticism about the cynical and venal twentysomething generation, he counters that the students he sees are drawn to medicine for “altruistic reasons.” Although Cornell and Columbia retain separate curricular oversight, Pardes is delighted that students who come to New York Presbyterian Hospital have “broad vision” as well as rich training (“a classical pianist here, a writer there”), though he also wants to make sure that the new doctors are also caring individuals. His own mentors, he recalls, were “great teachers,” smart, sensitive to behavior, encouraging, exciting. He notes that he is particularly supportive of the Teacher Education Center at Columbia.

Years at the head of the National Institute of Mental Health and as Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service show: Pardes is devoted to advancing research. Forty years ago, for example, persons with colon cancer were automatically condemned. Now, because more people are living longer, there is need for accelerated research into treatment, if not cure. There must be national policy so that “jewels” such as New York Presbyterian can continue to shine. He’s concerned about reported impending cuts to schools and hospital, not only for what reductions will mean for medical care but for what they may signal to prospective medical students. Like everyone, doctors want to make a living and be happy, he points out, a reflection that would sound commonplace were it not for the fact that it is followed, Pardes-style, with rapid-fire examples of what makes doctors unhappy: bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy, a disease he feels that is responsible for the recent slight but telling drop in medical school applications. He understands the need for confidentiality, for filling out forms attendant on managed care, but the paperwork is depressingly burdensome–a conclusion reached by patients as well as doctors, of course, he might have added.

Dr. Herbert Pardes, psychiatrist and author of, among hundreds of studies, the well knownbook he authored with Richard Simons, Understanding Human Behavior, well understands the behavior of market forces, but he remains confident that he can attend to both cyclical and essential medical needs. As for his new domain, “The place is hot,” he says, and it’s obvious that the compassionate but demanding CEO intends to keep the temperature up, if not rising.#


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