As an assistant professor and later director of graduate studies at the University of Missouri's School of Health Related Professions in the 1970s, Thomas Dolan looked around and saw a lot of similar students.
The civil rights movement had burst onto the American scene in the preceding decades, and now the women's movement was in full swing—particularly on American campuses.
However the future healthcare leaders didn't seem to reflect the changes underway in society, Dolan thought. But Dolan, who grew up with stories about his mother's time working as a nurse, including her service in Wales during World War II, was in a position to do something about it.
“They hadn't admitted a lot of women,” Dolan recalled. “So I admitted more women than we ever had. We've got so many challenges in healthcare, why would we exclude anyone who might have good ideas?”
That was just the beginning of a long career in healthcare and association management that took Dolan from Missouri to St. Louis University, and then out of academia to the American College of Healthcare Executives, where he would pursue that same goal of diversity on a larger scale.
Dolan, who was recruited to the ACHE in 1986 by Stuart Wesbury, then the association's chief executive, became president and CEO in 1991 and served until his retirement in 2013. He is now president emeritus.
At the ACHE, Dolan had a similar realization. The organization's board was nearly all white and male. And it wasn't clear what the membership looked like racially, because the organization didn't track it.
Dolan led an effort to start collecting information on ACHE members' racial makeup. From there, he led the first career study to look at how minorities were progressing in the healthcare management field, and found that, after controlling for age and education, black executives weren't moving up the career ladder as far or as fast as whites.
“So there was some sort of discrimination there,” Dolan said. The ACHE, at Dolan's behest, began issuing recommendations on how to change that, including suggesting more mentoring of young, minority executives and emphasizing networking opportunities for minorities.
But Dolan also believed that if a professional organization wanted to encourage diversity in the field, it ought to be diverse itself. Dolan made it a mission to diversify the staff while expanding opportunities for members.
“He really lived and breathed diversity,” said Karen Hackett, now CEO of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, who was the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the ACHE from 1995 to 2003.
Dolan—who has also chaired the boards of the American Society of Association Executives, the Association of University Programs in Health Administration and the Institute for Diversity in Health Management and served a two-year term as president of the International Hospital Federation—is being honored for his lifetime of achievement with induction into the Health Care Hall of Fame.