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Need an administrator? Call a pediatrician

Though they're at the low end of the physician pay scale, pediatricians are often found in leading activist or management roles in the healthcare system.

I was reminded of this when, at an event in Washington this week highlighting the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, Gundersen Lutheran Health System's CEO, told an anecdote about how his organization was saving $1 million annually in energy costs after a $2 million investment in 2008. He then punctuated his remarks by noting how that math was easy to understand "even for us pediatricians."

I didn't know Dr. Thompson's specialty before, but I wasn't surprised to learn that the leader of an innovative, high-performing organization was a pediatrician.

After all, former CMS Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick and patient-safety pioneer Lucian Leape have pediatric backgrounds.

So does Dr. William Jessee, currently senior vice president and senior adviser with Integrated Healthcare Strategies and the former president and CEO of the Medical Group Management Association. Jessee has appeared on Modern Healthcare/Modern Physician's 50 Most Influential Physician Executives list six times.

I asked Jessee for the names of some of his other prominent pediatrician peers. The names he provided include: Dr. Mary Ann McCaffree, a member of the American Medical Association board of trustees; Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford, a former HHS official and the president of the New York Academy of Medicine; Dr. Steven Pierdon, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Geisinger Northeast; and Mark Werner, chief clinical integration officer, Fairview Health Services, Minneapolis.

Is there any reason for pediatricians filling so many top positions?

"An acquaintance of mine once made the observation that many physicians who move into management or leadership roles have clinical backgrounds in either pediatrics or psychiatry," Jessee said in an e-mail. "And he remarked that it was perfect training since so many of our colleagues act like either children or crazy people."

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks.

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