Physicians chief witnessed vast changes in 35 years

Dr. Roby Thompson will retire this years after an eventful career.

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Ashley Goetz

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Medical education and health care delivery have changed dramatically in the 35 years since Dr. Roby Thompson began working at the University of Minnesota, the result of countless technological advances. As Thompson prepares to retire as CEO of University of Minnesota Physicians, heâÄôs amazed at the depth of the changes. âÄúLooking back on whatâÄôs happened here in the last 35 years is almost unbelievable,âÄù Thompson said. âÄúWeâÄôre much more focused on whatâÄôs best for the patient in the long run because we have so much more knowledge available to us today.âÄù Thompson will retire from his position as CEO at the end of this year, when Bobbi Daniels, the current chief medical officer takes over. Thompson was elected CEO in 2000 and prior to that had been chairman of orthopedic surgery at the University since 1974. Frank Cerra, dean of the University Medical School, described ThompsonâÄôs retirement as a âÄúhappy sadness.âÄù âÄúI think itâÄôs a good thing to make transitions in life, and Roby has certainly earned his,âÄù Cerra said. âÄúI think itâÄôs a loss for us and the University because of his skill sets and his strong support for the University. HeâÄôs made all of these major contributions for which we could never adequately repay him in any way.âÄù Thompson played a large role in the creation of University of Minnesota Physicians, which launched as the non-profit organization it is today, in 1997 after years of discussion among leaders of the Academic Health Center about a coordinated physician practice plan. In 1985 Thompson was asked by the AHC to co-chair a task force to create an organization called the University of Minnesota Clinical Associates. The idea was to work with the University Hospital and Medical School to develop a primary care network or health maintenance organization. By 1995 an HMO had yet to be created, and at that point Thompson (who had become chair of UMCA) decided with other board members to focus on the development of an integrated practice plan for the faculty of the Medical School. In the summer of 1996, 90 percent of the Medical School faculty voted on the proposal, which passed with 90 percent of the vote. University of Minnesota Physicians became operational on Jan. 1, 1997, the same day the University of Minnesota Hospital was sold to Fairview. Three years later, Thompson was named CEO of the new organization. Gordon Alexander, president of the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, remembers Thompson as a âÄúdynamic young leaderâÄù during AlexanderâÄôs residency. Thompson and Alexander crossed paths on a professional level in the 1990s when the two were part of a small group that wanted to bring Fairview and the University together. âÄúThere was a small group of us that decided, this will really work if we partner up and letâÄôs figure out how,âÄù Alexander said. âÄúWe tried to model that partnership as consistently as we could, and over time that gap was bridged by more than that small group.âÄù Thompson continued to teach and perform surgery until 2004, when he started solely seeing patients for consultation. Thompson said he will likely do some teaching on a part-time basis when he retires. âÄúIâÄôm looking forward to having some free time,âÄù he said. âÄúThirty-five years in one place is a long time. IâÄôve been blessed by the University of Minnesota. ItâÄôs been a great place to work.âÄù Thompson has been working closely with Daniels for the last month as she prepares to assume her position as CEO sometime around Oct. 1. âÄúShe and I both are on the same page that when she thinks sheâÄôs ready, the job is hers,âÄù Thompson said. ThompsonâÄôs advice for Daniels is simple: âÄúWhatever is going on today wonâÄôt be the same problems youâÄôll be facing tomorrow, so be prepared.âÄù