The Corner Office: Dr. Mike Schatzlein of Saint Thomas Health on Music and Modern Medicine

Michael Schatzlein, MD, has led Nashville, Tenn.-based Saint Thomas Health as CEO since June 2010. He has more than 40 years of healthcare experience, both as physician and administrator.

Dr. Schatzlein practiced cardiothoracic and vascular surgery in Fort Wayne, Ind., from 1980 to 1994, performing the first heart transplant in northern Indiana in 1985. At one point, nine of the 22 longest-living heart transplant patients in the world had received their transplants under Dr. Schatzlein's direction. Schatzlein Mike headshot22222

In 1994, Dr. Schatzlein began the administrative portion of his career. He served in executive roles at Lutheran Health Network in Fort Wayne, a unit of Community Health Systems that included eight hospitals. Dr. Schatzlein was CEO of the network before he came to Saint Thomas, a five-hospital system that is part of St. Louis-based Ascension Health.  

Dr. Schatzlein earned his bachelor's and MD degrees from Indiana University, and he trained in surgery at the Indiana University Medical Center and in thoracic surgery at the University of Michigan. He also earned an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

He and his wife Liz, a broadcast journalist, have two sons and one daughter: Derek, Michael and Tricia. Dr. Schatzlein is also a proud grandfather to six.

Here, Dr. Schatzlein took the time to answer Becker's Hospital Review's seven questions.

What's one thing (an event, idea, person) that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

The family physician, or general practitioner at the time, in my hometown took an interest in me. He arranged for me to shadow him in the office, to work one summer in a clinical laboratory and to tour the Eli Lilly [pharmaceutical] plant in Indianapolis. Lilly was just starting to make Darvon at the time, and I remember them showing us how they tested the efficacy of pain medications on laboratory rats. These experiences led me to consider pre-med for undergraduate studies.

What do you enjoy most about the city of Nashville?

I am just blown away about how serious Nashvillians are about working together to keep making the city better and better. Government and non-governmental organizations, businesses and community organizations collaborate and help each other in ways I've never seen before. The city has a history of great leadership in multiple sectors, and that continues today.

If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

Public expectations that more is better have been developing over decades in the U.S., partly aided by copious advertising of prescription-only drugs and devices, but [it's] also a symptom of our fast-food, want-more-now culture. If fee-for-service was eliminated and strict evidence-based guidelines were universally adopted tomorrow, we would still have a huge cultural issue with patient expectations. We can fix the rest of the system pretty quickly if we resolve to do so, but changing the culture around expectations for care is what I'd want the overnight magic for. Otherwise it will take decades.

What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

I am a very good record producer and mixing engineer. Apparently there are enough — even better ones — in Nashville that nobody calls me about this.

How do you revitalize yourself?

Family, travel, movies, reading, working out, tinkering with computers and making bad music in my home studio.  

What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

Dr. Herb Sloan, the head of thoracic surgery when I trained at Michigan, would paraphrase Ecclesiastes — "It is better to be a live dog than a dead lion" — when residents wanted to fix extra things in the operating room beyond what the patient needed. I am an obsessive perfectionist, and I still hear the late Dr. Sloan's voice on occasion, when I am tempted to push a project too hard to be exactly what I want. Often my "dog" is "lion" in the eyes of folks who know the project better than I do.

What do you consider your greatest achievement at Saint Thomas Health so far?

I have no personal achievements at Saint Thomas. All I do is identify and motivate talented people. They have accomplished so much that I'm hesitant to single anything out. Two that come to mind right now are the blending of our multiple brands and cultures into "One Healing Community" with a common name and purpose, and the success of MissionPoint Health Partners, our accountable care organization.

More CEO Questionnaires:

The Corner Office: Quick Thoughts From Randy Oostra of ProMedica Health System
The Corner Office: Quick Thoughts From Dr. David Bailey of Nemours
4 Hospital, Health System CEOs Share New Years' Resolutions

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