Michael Panicola made quite an impression when he joined SSM Health Care's ethics committee five years ago.
"When Mike first came to the ethics committee while finishing his Ph.D., he looked 19 years old, and I was expecting to encounter a fumbling Ph.D. student," says John Milton, co-director of the emergency department at St. Mary's Health Center in Richmond Heights, Mo. "But, he was calm, collected and didn't overstep his boundaries. He gave an intelligent point of view, which impressed me."
Panicola, 34, now corporate vice president of ethics at St. Louis-based SSM, says he once wasn't aware that positions such as the one he now holds existed.
As an undergraduate majoring in accounting at St. Mary's College of Minnesota in Winona, Panicola developed his interest in philosophy, and while he obtained his master's degree in theology from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., he dreamed of becoming a college professor. His life took a different direction when he started working part time as an ethics consultant for SSM while finishing his doctorate in healthcare ethics at St. Louis University. Shortly after taking the position, he became SSM's manager of healthcare ethics while also seeking opportunities to teach.Panicola says he has always enjoyed the variety of experiences from both jobs. "I get to write, read, research and teach," Pani-cola says. "There's really never a dull moment."
As a five-year adjunct professor of theological studies and health management and policy at St. Louis University and professor of theology at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Panicola says he strives to "influence young minds." An author of many essays that have appeared in medical, ethical and religious publications, Panicola applies his teaching skills while serving as SSM's corporate vice president of ethics. "He gives his point of view, but doesn't come across as haughty or proud," Milton says.
Panicola's calm, modest nature has helped him fit in with the staff in the 3,084-bed system, Milton says. His interest in his colleagues' opinions on healthcare ethics has made him "much more believable by not coming off as being pedantic," Milton says.Along with being a husband and father of three children, Panicola fits time into his busy schedule to take part in the Catholic Health Association's theologian and ethicist committee, and also serves as chairman of the Gateway Catholic Ethics Network."One of the good things about Mike is that he doesn't come across as a flamethrower," Milton says. "One of his traits that makes him so efficient is that he's calm and collected."
As a corporate vice president at SSM, Panicola strives to "uphold the dignity of" the Catholic healthcare system, affiliated with 20 acute-care hospitals in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. "I want to make sure we walk the talk while we uphold our values," Panicola says.