Dr. Hyung Tai Kim becomes the new president next week at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids, a position he viewed as offering an “extraordinary opportunity to join an organization that believes in the things that I believe in.” Since 2013, Kim has served as senior associate dean for clinical affairs at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine in East Lansing. A retired internal medicine physician, he spent two years prior to MSU as CEO of SIU HealthCare, a group practice at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield, Ill., where he also served as associate dean of clinical affairs and an assistant professor of clinical medicine. He’s also worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. and an executive at Ascension Health. Kim spoke with MiBiz about his vision for Mercy Health St. Mary’s.
What do you mean when you say that Mercy Health Saint Mary’s believes in the things you believe in?
If you go to the mission statement, the very second word is “serve” and the third word is “together,” and I really believe in the importance of having a service-oriented mindset and the idea of together. When it comes to health care, especially now that we’re really focusing seriously on not just taking care of folks that are sick but also the broader health, that takes a team of folks, and that means that individuals and organizations really need to come together to do that, and that really resonates with me.
How much of an attraction was Grand Rapids for you?
It’s a part of the state that I have some familiarity with because even though I’m based in East Lansing, I have been involved in some strategy-related work for the college in West Michigan. It’s a part of the state that I think cares a lot about health care, and not only folks in health care but the folks in the community at large. There are an awful lot of important things that need to get figured out in health care overall and I just thought West Michigan was a place where there’s a good shot of getting that figured out. I’ve also come to understand that it’s a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
How does your prior experience in clinical practice, administration and in academia prepare you to take on this position?
In addition to the experiences that I’ve been fortunate to have, like most everyone else, I’ve also experienced health care as a parent and as a son and as a friend. I think all of those things in the past have helped me to understand and have empathy for the various folks who need to come together and deliver care in a good experience. By that, I mean it’s important to have real empathy for our patients, but also for providers and staff to figure what’s the environment that needs to be created that allows our providers and our staff to give their best and provide the care that patients and families really need.
I say that because I’ve been fortunate to have so many diverse experiences in my past, and because I try hard to bring those experiences to bear, it makes it more natural for me to understand which people and what kind of settings to bring together to allow a health organization to deliver that kind of environment.
Does the need to bring people together go externally as well?
What I’ve discovered … is it’s really important to bring in the real voices of patients and also prominent members of the community when leaders and frontline folks in health care are trying to decide what to do and how to do it. You have to have not only internal voices but external voices.
What do you want people in Grand Rapids to know about you?
The way I describe myself to folks is in a couple of different ways. The first is that I look at myself as an achievement-oriented, caring health care leader, a retired board-certified internist, and a devoted family man. Through the various twists and turns of my career, there are four principles I’ve tried consistently to apply. The first one of those is the ‘golden rule.’ The second one is around the McCovey Seven Habits (of Highly Effective People). The third one is around the wisdom of teams. I really believe in the importance of teams. The fourth one is around situational leadership, the idea that there’s really no cookie cutter in any situation and with many folks, and you really need to pay attention and get the team together to figure out what the answer is and how to go about it.
What’s your first priority?
One of the McCovey habits is around ‘seek first to understand, then seek to be understood.’ I’m still at the point where I have a lot of things that I need to understand (and) getting to know people and getting to know the community. I’m mainly going to be in listening and learning mode for the next few months.
Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez.