Stephen Shortell has never been a healthcare executive. And yet as a researcher, educator and speaker for more than 25 years, he's made valuable contributions to the field. He has also held leadership roles in numerous healthcare organizations.
For his achievements, Shortell, 53, received the American College of Healthcare Executives' Gold Medal award, given each year to an ACHE fellow who exemplifies leadership locally and nationally. Shortell will be presented with the award during this week's ACHE congress in Chicago.
Throughout his career, Shortell has analyzed and predicted important healthcare trends in areas such as integrated healthcare systems and outcomes management. His best-known research on hospital-physician joint ventures foretold the growth and success of such groups at least seven years ahead of time.
He chronicled his findings in award-winning articles and books. Shortell won the 1995 Baxter Health Services Research Prize, considered a top honor for health services research.
He now is studying community health networks -- partnerships between hospitals or health insurers and community organizations. Specifically, he is analyzing their ability to address community health issues such as domestic violence and teen pregnancy.
Shortell brings his own research into the classroom. "I'm a big believer in integrating research and teaching," he says. Since 1982 he has been professor of health services management and organizational behavior at the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. He also works with students in the graduate department of sociology and at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.
This July he plans to join the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley's School of Public Health as a professor of health policy and management.
In his classes, his students often debate case studies. Shortell also invites guest lecturers -- practicing healthcare executives -- to share real-world experiences and role-play with students.
His colleagues applaud Shortell's teaching. "He carries on a dialogue with you," says Richard Risk, president and chief executive officer of Advocate Health Care based in Oakbrook, Ill. "You don't feel like you're getting a lecture. You're having a conversation but still getting tremendous insight into the field."
Shortell has contributed to many healthcare organizations. In 1986 he served as president of the Association of Health Services Research, and he has edited the association's journal since 1996. He sat on the board of the Accrediting Commission for Education in Health Services Administration from 1985 to 1990, serving as chairman from 1989 to 1990. He is a board member of the national Institute of Medicine.
Working at times as a consultant to healthcare organizations like Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Shortell prides himself on "walking the bridge between theory and application," he says. "I enjoy having my work drawn on and used by practicing healthcare executives and physician leaders."
His colleagues say Shortell's success as a researcher results not only from years of study but also from intuition. "He's skilled at asking the right questions to get at difficult issues," says Gail Warden, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. "He has an extraordinary understanding of organizations and how people operate within them."
Shortell was born in New London, Wis., in 1944. An avid art enthusiast and runner, he has competed in three marathons.
Warden says, "Whatever he does, he puts his whole soul into it -- whether it's being a marathon runner, conducting a study or being involved in a conference."