John Gizdic’s rise to the top started in high school.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s new president and CEO grew up in western Pennsylvania, where his high school guidance counselor gave him a pivotal career placement test.
“My top three things on the test were biomedical engineering, pharmacy and hospital administration, and I said, ‘Oh, being a pharmacist would be cool,’” Gizdic said in a recent interview. “My guidance counselor said, ‘Well, I don’t know any pharmacists, and I don’t know what a biomedical engineer is, but my college roommate is a vice president in a hospital a couple towns over so if you’d like to go shadow him, I can give him a call.’”
As a result, Gizdic spent a day finding out what it was like to be a hospital administrator.
“He was a great guy. It was a great experience. I applied to one school [Penn State University], majored in hospital administration and have never changed,” Gizdic said.
On Jan. 1, Gizdic took over the helm of the region’s largest employer from Jack Barto, after working in leadership roles in the NHRMC system for 12 years. Before that, he spent 14 years in various positions with Carolinas HealthCare System, a relationship that started when Gizdic was in college and was selected for a fellowship at the then-independent Mercy Hospital in Charlotte.
The unpaid three-month program came with room and board.
“I was their first administrative fellow ever, and so they put me up in a hospital room on the back wing of a facility they were not using. They had just built this facility, and the inpatient side had not opened yet. And so they put me in a hospital room, and they laminated a card to the cafeteria that I could use for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Gizdic said. “And so that was my start in health care.”
After he graduated from Penn State, he was hired for a full-time position at Mercy, which later was acquired by Carolinas HealthCare System. He worked in the system’s corporate office, helping to start an internal consulting firm.
“You were able to go all over the system with different types of facilities doing various types of projects – strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions, financial turnaround plans – and it was a great experience,” Gizdic said.
He then worked for the Blue Ridge HealthCare system, which is also part of Carolinas HealthCare, in Burke County.
“In a smaller system, you wore a lot of hats. And so I had strategic planning and business development and marketing, but I also had a lot of operational responsibility, so all of your support services and ancillary services and those type of things,” Gizdic said.
Around the same time, he and his wife, Cristin, had twin boys. Then one day, he got a phone call from a recruiter who said a job was available in the city where his wife’s sister lived – Wilmington. Barto had taken the helm of NHRMC in February 2004.
“We came down, and I met Jack and the senior team he was putting together,” Gizdic said.
He said he clicked with the team, with Barto and with Barto’s vision for the organization, “knowing that it was a good organization that could be a great organization with the right leadership and the right leadership team.”
Gizdic became NHRMC’s vice president of strategic planning and business development in April 2005. Among his accomplishments at NHRMC before he moved to the CEO’s office was the creation of the NHRMC Physician Group.
“We’re now up to about 250 providers in the past eight or nine years of its existence. It was a great experience for me to be able to work with our physicians and partner with them, but it was also a great opportunity to move the organization forward and be able to create that alignment,” Gizdic said. “It’s not for everybody, but it’s certainly, I think, a great option.”
One of his first tasks as CEO was introducing the hospital’s new mission statement: “Leading Our Community to Outstanding Health.”
The previous statement said the hospital “is a team centered, value focused teaching provider of quality health care to all in need of its services.”
It wasn’t that the old statement was wrong, Gizdic said, but it did need updating, especially as the health care industry moves from a fee-for-service to a value model.
“A mission statement guides everything you do,” he said. “It should guide every decision you make as an organization, and we looked at where we need to go and the transformation we’re facing in health care.”
Gizdic and other hospital officials have been using the word “healthcentric” when it comes to the future of the system and the industry.
NHRMC’s Chief Physician Executive Philip Brown explained the concept in a blog post about the new mission statement: “We want our patients to experience outstanding health. That can mean following up to make sure patients get needed prescriptions, have transportation to appointments, have homes repaired or equipped for their needs, or that we address any number of needs not directly related to hospital care.”
Gizdic said that will also mean forming more partnerships with agencies and organizations in the community. That question and others will be part of one of Gizdic’s and NHRMC’s upcoming goals – updating the system’s strategic plan in a way that builds on what Gizdic sees as a solid foundation.
He said one of the facts he keeps in mind as CEO is the number of NHRMC employees – about 6,600 – who rely on the decisions he and his team make.
“With that comes a lot of responsibility to make sure this organization is here well beyond me,” he said, “and you have to take that very seriously.”