Dr. Kevin Smith
Dr. Kevin Smith says he feels "privileged to join such a remarkable academic health sciences centre" as the new President & CEO of UHN. (Photo: UHN)

Dr. Kevin Smith asks a lot of questions.

It's the natural byproduct of someone who started his working life in a university. Today, as he begins his new role as President & CEO, inquiry and curiosity continue to drive him.

"I encourage people to clarify with me: 'Do you actually want me to do something about this, or are you just curious?'" he says with a laugh.

Kevin starts his role officially on May 22, 2018 and joins UHN from St. Joseph's Health System and Niagara Health System, where he spent 23 years in various leadership roles including CEO. He currently serves as Chair of the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario.

Having spent his career between the academic hospital and university, Kevin looks forward to advancing UHN's mission of education, research and care.

"It's a privilege to join such a remarkable academic health sciences centre," says Kevin. "I'm excited about working with an amazing team and ensuring the needs of patients come first." 

What Kevin's first days will look like

In advance of his first day at UHN, Kevin has arranged his desk so that it faces visitors as they drop by to visit. It is a sign of his eagerness to foster an open dialogue with the UHN community.

"I want to make sure people at UHN have an opportunity to be heard," Kevin says. "And after they've been heard, we need to be able to come to a decision and focus on implementing what's important."

Educated in Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain, Kevin is professionally certified in Corporate Governance by the Institute of Corporate Directors and the Harvard Program in Effective Governance. In combination with his knowledge and experience with Canadian healthcare, much of what he learns from staff and patients will inform UHN's upcoming strategic plan.

"As they say, 'Strategy is easy, implementation is hard' so we have to make sure we get both right," he adds.

The healthcare landscape that Kevin will operate in as UHN's leader is faced with challenges, though. Ontario's hospitals are often operating beyond 100 per cent capacity. As an experienced CEO, Kevin knows that managing these increased demands for services will require strong partnerships.

"UHN must be greater than the sum of its parts. To do this means focusing even more on strengthening our relationships with Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network (TAHSN) and the University of Toronto.

"This is high on my radar," says Kevin. "Looking ahead, we must also increase our collaboration with primary care, home and community based partners. To do so, we must consider the emerging digital world and how UHN can be leaders in its development and application."

On the importance of people and culture

Recognizing how essential people are to an organization's success, Kevin plans on spending as much time as possible with staff across UHN.

"Those in clinical practice, and those who support them so well, have never experienced greater demands or stressors," he says. "We have to be mindful of quality of work life and work-life balance. How do we retain and attract the brightest and best? How can UHN be the healthcare employer of choice?"

He is also looking to shape what the next generation of healthcare professionals looks like.

"As an educational institution, it's important we demonstrate what great behaviours look like in healthcare because the next generation of physicians, nurses, therapists, etc. are all going to be coming out of places like this," he says.

"If we haven't demonstrated what great behaviours look like, it's hard to expect them to demonstrate those back to patients."

The perks of Knighthood

While Kevin begins meeting staff in multiple units and departments across UHN, he may be seen wearing a small red and yellow pin on his jacket. The pin signifies he is a Knight of St. Gregory the Great, appointed by Pope Francis himself.

"I received the distinction for my contributions to healthcare, but it was really thanks to the collective work of the team I led," says Kevin. "I was just the one lucky enough to receive this remarkable honour."

So what are the perks of being a Knight?

According to Kevin, you are saluted if you walk through Vatican City. You can also ride a horse in Vatican Square, if that happens to be your transportation method of choice. And should the Pope need defending, he can call upon all Knights of St. Gregory – including UHN's new CEO.

"I have a feeling the Pope isn't well protected if I'm one of the people he's counting on," Kevin jokes.

"There's also a sword associated with this Knighthood and a green suit, which I have luckily not tried on. There's also a hat. If I'm at a fundraising event for UHN and we raise enough money, maybe I'll put it on."

Follow Kevin Smith on Twitter at @KevinSmithUHN and meet him in person at his first Open Forum on July 5 at 12:00 p.m. (Michener Auditorium). Livestreaming will be available.​ ​

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