Nov. 2-8, 2001
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R. Edward Howell Howell to head new Health System post

By Carol Wood

At 25, Ed Howell was happy and fulfilled. He was teaching high school biology in his hometown of Zanesville, Ohio. He coached football, basketball and track. Life had settled into a nice, steady routine.

Until one day when Jack, his tennis partner, asked Howell if he had ever thought about changing careers. A week later, Howell spent a day shadowing Jack, an administrator at the nearby community hospital. Within the year, Howell was enrolled in Ohio State’s master’s degree program in hospital and health services administration.

“I knew I wanted a career where no two days were ever alike,” Howell said. “And after 25 years I can still say that no two days are alike.”

Since then, Howell has dedicated his life to academic medicine — working, teaching and moving through the administrative ranks at the universities of Minnesota, Georgia and Iowa. For the past seven years he has been the director and CEO of University of Iowa hospitals and clinics and managing partner of University of Iowa Health Care.

Two weeks ago, R. Edward Howell, now 52, accepted a new position at the University of Virginia’s Medical Center. On Feb. 25, he will become vice president and chief executive officer.

“Ed Howell has an unusual depth of understanding of the links between clinical and academic medicine. His convictions about serving people compassionately — as well as his advocacy for doctors and nurses and patients — speak for him,” said University President John T. Casteen III. “He is a visionary on all aspects of health care, and I am confident that he will be a strong leader who will fit well with our health center and its people.”

Howell will assume management responsibility for the operation of U.Va.’s hospital and clinics, in addition to all financial and information technology functions. “He will be expected to promote excellence across all areas of system administration,” said Leonard W. Sandridge, U.Va.’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, to whom Howell will report.

“Ed brings to our Medical Center solid experience and exceptional leadership skills,” Sandridge added. “He has an impressive reputation for his strong commitment to the support of staff and physicians.”

Howell said he sees himself as a “different kind of hospital administrator. My roots are in education and in the values of academic institutions. They are places where you can feel that you’re making a difference, where you know you have a crack at leaving a legacy,” he said.

He ticked off the reasons he was drawn to the job at U.Va. — its great reputation, its strong national presence, its rich tradition, and its spectacular geographic location.

More than all those things, however, he was drawn by the multitude of opportunities laid out by Sandridge and Casteen. “Remember,” Howell said, “I’m the guy who wants a job where no two days are alike!”

During the interview process and his trips to Charlottesville, he said he found that, “everyone I talked to was impressive. … I knew I would have no trouble building a good team.”

This led to a discussion of Howell’s management and leadership skills – and his long-held ties to the tenets of good coaching. While he described his style as “principle-based collaborative leadership,” Howell still sees himself as that high school coach in Zanesville, often – but not without a sense of humor – using lingo from the playing field to make his points.

• “Good teams win.”

• “Neither good managers nor good coaches can win without good team members.”

• “Team development is a never-ending process. … Players get hurt, managers leave. … You need to be prepared for change.”

• “Without a good game plan, even the best teams can’t win.”

• “Coaches and managers should put the game plan into play, then be able to step back and watch the team go to work.”

He laughed, realizing he might be getting carried away, but explained that they are some of the things he’s been discussing with Iowa’s women’s basketball coach over the past few years. The two plan to collaborate on a book about the similarities between coaching styles and management styles.

As an avid sports fan, Howell sees a direct link between his two loves. “Health care and athletics are excellent learning laboratories outside the classroom.”

As a confessed lifelong learner – he has taken three writing courses at Iowa’s world-famous writer’s workshop – Howell has kept his hand in the classroom as well. He currently teaches a master’s-level class in health administration. At Iowa, he also holds academic appointments in the College of Business and the College of Pharmacy, and is a professor in the College of Public Health. His goal is to begin teaching at U.Va. by January 2003.

“I love being in the classroom,” Howell said. “It helps me to do a better job as an administrator. I’m better able to practice what I preach … and the students always keep me honest.”

During his first year of transition at U.Va., he will spend much of his time settling into his new routine at the University’s Medical Center, creating his team and “working with the physician leadership to build on the rich traditions that exist at U.Va. and to position the Medical Center to assume an even stronger national prominence than it already enjoys.”

During that first year his wife Susan, a registered nurse, will be making some important transitions of her own. She will have to adjust to the fact that their two younger children will remain in Iowa City – one in the MBA program and the other an undergraduate majoring in Japanese – while they move on to a new university community. And she will have to decide about work.

She has continued to practice nursing through the years, most recently part time in the radiation and oncology clinic of Iowa University’s cancer center.

ncreasingly, she said, she has been drawn into community projects and local politics. This year, among other things, she is co-chairing the American Heart Association’s upcoming annual gala in Iowa.

And then there’s her much-loved tennis game, which, as each of their three children left home, she played more and more. Her husband boasts that she’s clearly the best player in the family – and one of the best in Iowa City.

There are numerous decisions to be made before the Howells make the trek east to Charlottesville. “It will be a very different experience for us,” Susan said. “This is the first time that we’ve moved without children.” They are facing everything from how to separate from good friends to whether to adopt their son’s chocolate lab puppy (who may have made the decision for them).

As she bathed the dog on a recent Sunday afternoon, Susan Howell talked about how difficult the weekend – after the announcement of Ed’s move was made public – was for the couple. “Yesterday was the toughest. We went to a home football game and saw everyone we knew,” she said. “But we got through it and we’re beginning to look forward to the next adventure, this next phase of our life together in Charlottesville.”

It’s clear that the Howells are quite a bit alike, both of them thriving on that old no-two-days-should-be-alike theory.


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