As a recipient of the highest honor given by the college, Van Gorder is being recognized as someone who contributes to the improvement of healthcare services and community health, even beyond the borders of his organization.
But Van Gorder takes little credit for those successes. “If I have a skill,” he said, “it's that I surround myself with really smart and good people who are focused on the patient and absolutely determined to do a good job.”
He credits that ability—being able to size people up quickly and make rapid decisions—to having what he calls a street cop inside of him. That's because Van Gorder's early work was as a police officer, until a critical injury on the job put him in the hospital and ended his law-enforcement career. While Van Gorder was responding to a domestic dispute, a woman rammed her vehicle head-on into his squad car.
Van Gorder said that experience inspired him to enter healthcare, first as the department director of safety and security at Orthopaedic Hospital, Los Angeles, the same place where he recovered from his injuries. He returned to school, getting a master's degree in public administration/health services administration at the University of Southern California and then completing the Wharton CEO Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, he rose through the management ranks at facilities in Southern California, including Anaheim Memorial Hospital; Little Company of Mary Health Services, Torrance; and Long Beach Memorial Medical Center before his appointment at Scripps.
“I tell people that, for whatever reason, I fell up,” Van Gorder said. “My career was taken away from me, and I wasn't sure what I was going to do. But the worst day of my life ultimately became the best day.”
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