When pharmacist William Evans takes over as CEO and director of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., later this year, he will be the first person without a medical degree ever to hold that position at one of the world's best-known medical institutions.
But Evans, who holds a doctorate in pharmacy, says his lack of an M.D. after his name won't hinder him as he oversees a fast-growing institution whose annual budget is expected to double to nearly $800 million by the year 2014 as part of a $1.2 billion expansion plan.
"The good news," he says, "is that it was a cohort of physicians supportive of me for this job. We speak the same language. They know I understand and value what it is that is important about providing unsurpassed patient care, and that I'll go to bat for them in getting them whatever it is they need. And I will not get caught up in the details of running the hospitals and clinics-that's why we have a chief medical officer."
He will assume his new role Nov. 1 as the fifth CEO at St. Jude, replacing Arthur Nienhuis, 62, who has held the top job since 1993.
Evans, 54, joined the facility in 1976 as a research associate and has steadily worked his way through a series of key scientific and administrative posts at the famed pediatric oncology institution, which was founded in 1962 by entertainer Danny Thomas. Evans has published more than 250 research articles and was elected in 2002 to the Institute of Medicine, a component of the National Academy of Sciences.
He says his long tenure at St. Jude no doubt helped him land the top job, which he believes requires someone who has an understanding of what it takes to run not only a hospital but also a research institution.
St. Jude, which is supported by a highly successful fund-raising organization with annual revenues of about $380 million, never requires families to pay for treatments not covered by insurance. Those without insurance are never asked to pay for medical care. The facility's focus is on research-the hospital itself has only 60 beds, though an additional 18 are planned as part of the expansion project.
Evans describes himself as the kind of administrator who is adept at delegating responsibilities to the right people.
"I would say that I'm a person who identifies talented people from within the organization or recruits them from the outside and puts them in a position of responsibility and basically stays out of their way," Evans says.