H. ROBERT "BOB" CATHCART's philosophy for leading a successful hospital is deceptively simple.
"The patient should always come first" was Cathcart's well-known mantra and the guiding mission at historic Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, where he enjoyed a 43-year career, serving 21 years as its top executive.
"That's the reason all of us are here: to give patients the support and care they need to get well," says the self-described Iowa farm boy who lived on the hospital campus until retiring in 1991. "My wife and I patrolled the hospital and talked with patients. We tried to instill a common culture, and being there for 43 years gave me a chance to work on it. Ten years after I retired I still meet people my wife and I visited."
Few people have influenced healthcare and the hospital industry as much as Cathcart, 77, a 1997 inductee into the Health Care Hall of Fame.
But his influence didn't stop at the nation's first hospital, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1751.
He is a former chairman of the American Hospital Association and a former speaker of the AHA's House of Delegates, receiving the association's distinguished service award in 1983.
At the AHA, he championed healthcare for the poor and uninsured, nursing education and teaching programs. "I would like to think that I was more of a social worker than an entrepreneur," he says. "I hope we did things to make Philadelphia a better place to live, work and play."
Cathcart was known not only as a respected hospital executive and industry voice, but also as a teacher and molder of younger hospital executives, a man who inculcated several generations of leaders with the core values of healthcare.
Described by peers and protegees as a selfless man who admonished younger hospital executives to never begin a sentence with the word "I," Cathcart passed on his vision of hospitals as instruments of community service.
"I tried to make it respectable to remind people of our social mission," Cathcart said in a 1997 interview.