Life According To… Bruce Schroffel

In 2006, the CEO of the University of Colorado Hospital orchestrated the medical center’s move to its new home at the Anschutz Medical Campus. Here, Schroffel talks about the move, health-care reform, and why he hires people smarter than himself.

October 2010

I grew up in a family that didn’t have money, but we had good values and ideals. My father was a printer; my mother was a bookkeeper. Neither of my parents went to college, but education was always important.

I went into medicine because I wanted to do something good to help society—that I would feel good about—and that would pay the mortgage. It was a combination of altruism and practicality. I didn’t go into it to become a CEO.

I never thought I’d live in Denver. I always had a very East/West perspective. I didn’t realize how spectacular Denver was, but my wife and I are outdoors people, and when we came out here, we loved it.

Moving a hospital is something I never want to repeat. People build new facilities, but they move 50 feet—not six miles. But it was an impeccable move, like a military exercise—all the patients were moved perfectly, including the very ill patients.

The first six months were very challenging. The telephone and computer system would go down, and we had brand new floors and new teams. We did a lot of prep, logistically, but there were still problems. After the first six months, we’ve done extraordinarily well. It’s been a success clinically, academically, and financially.

Ten to 15 years ago, we were Colorado General, and we had mostly an indigent population. Today, our focus is moving to be like other academic medical centers—a place to go when you’re really sick. We have the privilege of taking care of some sick people that reflect the spectrum of society, from very wealthy to very poor.

Academic hospitals attract a different type of worker. Clinical practice, research, and education affect every decision we make. The focus is not on money. It is on providing the highest level of care for the most complex patients.

We try to support faculty in every possible way, but they get no support from the state. I’m worried about faculty retention. Physicians tend to make less here than at community hospitals, and we can’t make up for what the state has cut.

I am dismayed because CU is among the lowest-supported schools in the country. This campus is a gem and an economic engine.

When it comes to health-care reform, no one knows for sure what will happen. Regardless of health-care reform, I think we will have to be creative with fewer resources. There are not enough dollars to support the health-care system in the same manner that we have supported it in the past. We have to think of ways to provide health care more efficiently.

Right now, three doctors around the country will treat patients with the same diagnosis differently. Doctors respond to data well, but we haven’t done a great job in this country with evidence-based medicine. We need to make treatment more efficient and better.

Everything else is secondary to my family. If you don’t have something beyond a job, it is hard to sustain yourself.

If I have a strength, it’s collaborating and working with colleagues. I think everyone I work with is smarter than me. I would just as soon hire everyone who was smarter than me. I want us to be the best hospital in the United States. The only way I can do that is to hire the best.

This is the formula that works for me: honesty and openness. If you’re honest, people will listen. They may not always agree with you, but they will be respectful.