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The Future of Healthcare: “People matter the most” with John Couris, CEO of Tampa General Hospital

People matter the most. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that people are all that really matter — how I treat them, how I listen to them, how I work with them and how I can make a difference in their lives. In becoming a leader, I’ve learned that we can all use some guidance. Giving of […]

People matter the most. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that people are all that really matter — how I treat them, how I listen to them, how I work with them and how I can make a difference in their lives. In becoming a leader, I’ve learned that we can all use some guidance. Giving of yourself, your time and experience is one of the kindest and most meaningful things you can do. It allows you to not only gain insight and understanding, but active listening helps you be a better leader. I try to show my team I care about them as people. I celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and I write them a personal note letting them know I recognize their gifts and contributions. A thank you for a well-done job means a great deal to most of us. It’s important to show team members that you recognize their accomplishments and that you want to share it with others. A great way to do this is to send an “all team” email letting everyone know of the good work being done.


Asa part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview John Couris. John is the president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, a nationally renowned nonprofit academic medical center. As a recognized leader in the healthcare industry, John has achieved tremendous success through innovation, technological integration, operational excellence and strategic collaborations.


Thank you so much for doing this with us John! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started on the front lines in healthcare, working at a nursing home, working in patient transport, and serving as a counselor for the developmentally disabled. I was working my way through school and just loved caring for others, which is how it all really started. I was an undergraduate at Boston University and was recruited by Massachusetts General Hospital. I worked my way up and was intoxicated with the mission of the work. I was attracted to healthcare because of the mission of taking care of people and I was drawn to large, complex organizations. Although healthcare as an industry is very complex, the mission of helping and caring for people is very clear and simple.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I shadow staff four times a month, so if I’m working in nursing, I’m wearing a blue uniform for 4–6 hours with the nursing team. I’ve cleaned floors and toilets and I’ve rounded with residents and professors. I’ve worked with phlebotomists. I’ve delivered meals. I’ve transported patients. I’ve shadowed private practice physicians. I’ve walked in my team members’ shoes.

It’s the best way I know how to understand what they’re experiencing on a daily basis, and the best way to see patient care being delivered in real time. I’ve had patients send meals back and lecture me on their dietary restrictions, but that really isn’t the interesting story here — it’s that through doing this, I get to see my team members and the people we’re caring for up close and personal.

The bottom line is that I get to see their work through their eyes. Why does that matter? Once when I was working with a nurse in one of our ICUs, I noticed that the bed sheet kept falling off the bed. When those sheets come off, they get tangled in lines that patients have on them. It’s uncomfortable for the patients and it’s more work for providers. I asked the nurse I was working with if this was a problem. She said it was a problem everywhere. I feel like if we can put a man on the moon, we should be able to find a fitted sheet that fits a bed in the ICU.

So, we tested a few different sheets and now every one of our ICUs has a new sheet. This helps the patient, the family and the provider. I wouldn’t have had that understanding if I didn’t shadow my team members. In my experience, sometimes rectifying the small things makes the biggest difference.

At the end of the day, I believe that our team members come first. So, if I focus on giving them what they need then they can focus on their work, which is caring for patients. As a result, our team members feel heard and supported and our patients get the best care.

Can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the healthcare field?

I have more than 30 years of healthcare experience. I’ve done everything in healthcare from working on the front lines to serving in the highest administrative office. I went to school at Boston University and earned a Master of Science in Management from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I always wanted to be in healthcare management. I was trained to be an administrator at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for 10 years and it was a remarkable education, not only because of the training on the business side, but because the clinical training was wonderful. At MGH, I also did a lot of work on the operational side and worked in a variety of different departments during my time there. I then spent 10 years at BayCare in Tampa Bay.

From BayCare, I went to a smaller organization — Jupiter Medical Center — where I was president and CEO. My goal with that position was to understand how to run an organization top to bottom.

However, ever since I left MGH, I’ve missed academics. This is why I jumped at the chance to come back to Tampa to become president and CEO at Tampa General.

I’m currently pursuing a doctorate in business administration with a focus on social and management sciences at the University of South Florida Muma College of Business. I am passionate about learning. I believe we’re all lifelong learners, and I enjoy continually growing, challenging myself and learning from others.

What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Tampa General Hospital has a very rich history and is a very special place with a lot of meaning to our community. It was founded in 1927 and it is beloved. It’s not just well known in this region, it’s nationally known and has a tradition of excellence. This is thanks in large part to our relationship with private practice physicians and the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

I love Tampa Bay, but I came back here to lead Tampa General Hospital — it’s that special. That’s why when I got a call from a recruiter that the hospital was doing a national search for a new CEO, and they asked me if I was interested, I jumped at the chance.

I was drawn to it because it’s an academic and research institution. It offered me the opportunity to collaborate with our private practice physicians and our university doctors. We have a close relationship with USF and USF Health that includes clinical care, academics and research. I believe that the work we’re doing together will truly transform healthcare for this region. Our goal is to be the safest and most innovative academic health system in the country.

Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?

TGH recently announced a very exciting joint venture with the USF Health and the Morsani College of Medicine to create a new one-of-a-kind medical district in Florida that will pave the road for the next 50 years of academic research for Tampa General Hospital.

This 25,000 square foot center will be home to a new co-branded imaging center for research and clinical purposes, an urgent care clinic, a heart health facility and an executive wellness area AND provide administrative services to these physicians. The Center will create a more integrated system for patients, allow for more collaborations with a greater number of doctors and hospitals to improve quality, and lower costs for patients.

This endeavor will enable us to receive more funding and resources that will allow us to recruit even greater talent — a significant win/win for both institutions and the patients we serve.

This new “medical district” will also improve access to quality care, and bring more patient-focused, improved care to the region and beyond, ensuring that Tampa General can handle the most acute cases, the most severe illness, diseases and injuries.

We’ve collaborated closely with USF for years, partnering to provide strong education programs for students across all health disciplines and combining cutting-edge medical research from our hospital, which has been recognized as one of the best in Florida.

Most world-class cities have medical districts — a concentration of health services and research, which attracts great scientists. We’re thrilled that Tampa will join the ranks of cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Houston that have formed academic and private partnerships to create innovative research hubs and healthcare options for patients.

As we build this medical district, it will become a magnet for scientists, innovators, venture capitalists and startups. This innovation will bring people to cities like ours to discover new clinical pathways, and ultimately create a new ecosystem.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

  1. People matter the most. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that people are all that really matter — how I treat them, how I listen to them, how I work with them and how I can make a difference in their lives. In becoming a leader, I’ve learned that we can all use some guidance. Giving of yourself, your time and experience is one of the kindest and most meaningful things you can do. It allows you to not only gain insight and understanding, but active listening helps you be a better leader. I try to show my team I care about them as people. I celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and I write them a personal note letting them know I recognize their gifts and contributions. A thank you for a well-done job means a great deal to most of us. It’s important to show team members that you recognize their accomplishments and that you want to share it with others. A great way to do this is to send an “all team” email letting everyone know of the good work being done.
  2. Communication is key. Allowing team members to be heard is critical. In order to make this happen, you have to first establish a culture of respect and trust, and then build a space where people feel that their opinion matters. Being open to feedback and coaching is one of the most important qualities in a good leader. When we created our strategic plan at TGH, I realized how much we needed the input of the 8,000+ team members who took the time to contribute. You can have strategy for days, but if you don’t have the culture in place allowing people to execute, you won’t be able to meet all your goals.
  3. Do the right thing. One of the best pieces of professional advice I ever received was from a supervisor early on in my professional career who reminded me to never put your personal feelings ahead of what is best for your organization. If you always do the right thing for the company, everything will work out. As I began to take on leadership roles in my career, I realized that this is easier said than done, and some folks choose to take the opposite approach. There are leaders who feel the need to build kingdoms or guide their decisions by what is best for them personally. This approach never works out well and, in fact, almost always has a negative impact on the institution. You want to lead with the organization’s best interest at heart — always.
  4. Be the best you can be. In our culture, we often equate speed and accuracy — getting there first and doing the best — with being cold and tough. Often leaders believe that to drive results, they have to drive their team with an iron fist. They naturally assume that to gain respect and get the most work out of those they manage, they must be hard as nails. They are afraid to be seen as “soft,” or a “pushover.” They prioritize being right over doing the right thing. When you are kind and genuinely concerned about your team members, you inspire them to work hard, be effective, happier and more loyal. More importantly, you model kindness which is, in turn, passed onto others — fellow team members, patients, customers and all whom they encounter.
  5. Lead with care and compassion. I firmly believe that providing the highest quality and most compassionate care should guide all that we do. It should guide me as a leader, a colleague and an individual. At TGH, it guides all that we do, and it is the core of who we are. Over the years, I’ve also learned that we must also offer this level of care and compassion to our colleagues and fellow team members. In my experience, we must care for one another, just as we care for those who walk into our hospital seeking treatment. The reality is that better patient care starts with taking care of one another. I believe this philosophy guides all the work we do at TGH.

Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?

Misaligned incentives — Our incentives are driven primarily on volume. Someone could do 100 heart operations with marginal outcomes and get paid the same as the person who does 100 heart operations with world-class outcomes. Until we create alignment with incentives, we’re not there yet. But we are making progress. I believe that we’re 20 years into a 50-year re-alignment of healthcare in our country. I see the biggest issue in healthcare today as the need to align incentives around cost, quality and reimbursement.

Overutilization of services — We see this particularly with acutely ill patients and with those at the end of life. Most healthcare dollars are spent on end-of-life heroic efforts to save someone. For instance, you take a 90-year-old patient who has congestive heart failure. He has a stroke as well and the family refuses to let go. He spends weeks and months in an ICU, receiving all kinds of healthcare with no appreciable benefit.

You are a “healthcare insider”. Can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

We need tort reform. We need to protect our doctors from frivolous lawsuits because when a physician is worried about being sued over everything, then they conduct tests they wouldn’t use, exposing patients to unnecessary procedures — and often getting sued in the process. Practicing defensive medicine doesn’t help anyone.

We also need to change interstate commerce health insurance rules so we can create a national system. Currently, insurance companies can’t easily sell across state lines. Competition would help drive down costs.

We need to address the high cost of prescription drugs in our country. I applaud Florida Governor DeSantis’ swift action to approve legislation that enables Floridians to purchase FDA approved drugs from Canada.

Healthcare reform isn’t about changing the way it’s delivered, it’s about social control. If we’ve got 40–50 million people who need health insurance and can’t pay for it, let’s build a system for the people that need insurance. Why throw the baby out with the bathwater? Deal with the acute issue.

Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?

Individuals can speak to their elected officials. Get informed, get on the phone and get out there. Become an activist who demands real change.

Providers need to stop building our way out of our problems and become more efficient and effective. We need to be more patient-centric and lower our costs. We need to do it in a way that’s sustainable. The bottom line is that we need to do a better job with what we have.

The business community needs to work with providers to figure out better models of care of their employees.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?

Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead: The Ten Most Innovative Lessons from a Long, Strange Trip, by Barry Barnes (Author), John Perry Barlow (Foreword)

The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career, by Jack Welch and Suzy Welch

Zero Harm: How to Achieve Patient and Workforce Safety in Healthcare by Craig Clapper, James Merlino and Carole Stockmeier

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jcouris/

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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