Finding “joy in our work”: meet interim COM Dean Kenneth Anderson

As a high school foreign exchange student to Costa Rica, Kenneth Anderson Jr., D.O.’78, M.S., CPE, grew close to his host family, enjoying Saturday night fiestas and Sunday soccer games after Catholic mass. He was mystified when his “adoptive uncle” became sick with a cough and fever and continued to decline.

Dr. Kenneth Anderson Jr.

“I wondered why someone wouldn’t just put him in a car or call an ambulance so that he could seek the advice of the nearest local physician,” Dr. Anderson recalled in his new book, Saving the Heart of American Health Care: How Patients and Their Doctors Can Mend a Broken System.

After his uncle died of pneumonia, Dr. Anderson “vowed to take up the banner of health-care delivery.” He has done so in his 40-year career as a nephrology and transplant physician, health organization leader, medical educator and – as of Oct. 15 – interim dean of DMU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. He comes after Bret Ripley, D.O., who resigned in order to return to clinical practice.

“I jumped at this opportunity when Larry Baker called,” he says of the 1977 DMU graduate and member of the DMU Board of Trustees. “I met such great people when I was a student, and that culture is still present, loud and clear.”

In his office on the sixth floor of the DMU Clinic – a temporary space while the COM administrative offices in the Academic Center are being remodeled – he’s written his top priority as interim dean on a whiteboard: “Accred – Job 1.” It’s appropriate he’s focused on achieving successful reaccreditation of the college’s D.O. program by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation, but that isn’t his only goal.

“I’m meeting with our faculty and want to find ways to help them find joy in our work,” he says. “I’m exploring how I might stimulate conversations about the ways we look forward and, as hockey player Wayne Gretzky said, skate to where the puck is going to be. We want to get the correct students through our doors, expose them to knowledge so they can achieve excellence, get them to rotation sites where they can gain skills and represent DMU well, and then help them transition to residency.”

Dr. Anderson’s career has spanned the spectrum of health care (see below). Innovation has been a theme; he’s applied it in leadership roles to improve the health of individuals and communities. As a leader with the American Hospital Association, he enjoyed “getting the chance to impact hundreds of thousands of lives” through its nearly 5,000 member hospitals, health care systems, networks and other providers. He also treasures his experiences as a physician, working “one on one with someone who needed help in achieving a better quality of life.” He recalls a patient for whom he provided medical management of her kidney transplant 25 years ago; she’s invited him to be with her in the hospital on Dec. 4 for her scheduled replant.

“I’ve had laughter and tears with all these patients,” he says. “I’ve been honored to be part of the most human of all experiences, caring for patients.”

In May 2018, Dr. Anderson accepted his 40-year reunion medallion and certificate from DMU President Angela Walker Franklin, Ph.D., and then-DMU Board Chair Steve Morain, J.D.

Dr. Anderson is happy to circle back to DMU, too. His mother attended high school at St. Joseph’s Academy, the Catholic girls’ school that stood where the Student Education Center is now; he visited the college’s Still Hospital downtown for cranial manipulation when he was two months old. At his 40-year class reunion in May, he and classmates reminisced about their faculty and friends.

“The students in my study group would gather in a different person’s apartment. I remember the anxiety, frustration and laughter,” he says. “We went through the experience together. All the things I’ve done, I couldn’t have done had it not been for DMU.”

Kenneth Anderson’s career highlights

  • Chief operating offer, acting president and CEO, Health Research and Educational Trust, American Hospital Association, 2014-2017, Chicago
  • Chief medical quality officer; co-director, Center for Clinical and Research Informatics; curriculum director, Quality Fellowship Program; council member, Center for Study of Complex Diseases, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Evanston, IL, 2008-2014
  • Clinical assistant professor, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago, 2009-2014
  • Transplant physician and administrator, Mercy Hospital Medical Center, 1986-1996
  • Numerous professional appointments, including with the Global Scientific Committee of the International Hospital Federation, Geneva, Switzerland; Coalition for Quality in Geriatric Surgery, American College of Surgeons; National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable Advisory Council; Baldrige Award senior alumni examiner, Baldrige National Quality Program
  • Active lecturer and widely published author on topics ranging from innovation in health care quality and population health improvement to patient safety, community-driven health care reform, health insurance and “writing and the art of medicine”