Left to right: 2021 Jeff Ubben Posse Fellow Nathalie Boadi; Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago CEO Dr. Tom Shanley.
Left to right: 2021 Jeff Ubben Posse Fellow Nathalie Boadi; Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago CEO Dr. Tom Shanley.

Ubben Posse Fellow Interviews: Tom Shanley

Fall 2021 | National

The Jeff Ubben Posse Fellows Program awards five exceptional Posse Scholars $10,000 each and the chance to spend 4-6 weeks during the summer shadowing and learning from a major industry leader. The interview below with Dr. Tom Shanley, CEO of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, was conducted by Posse Scholar Nathalie Boadi, now in her junior year at Northwestern University, who worked with Dr. Tom Shanley as a 2021 Jeff Ubben Posse Fellow. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

NATHALIE: I’d like to know how you would describe yourself.

DR: TOM SHANLEY: Lots of different ways, I guess. I think in my current role as a Chief Executive Officer for Lurie Children’s Hospital, I’d describe myself as a servant leader—you must have an approach about being of service to others. I would also describe myself as a spouse and father. Although I don’t practice clinically anymore, I was a pediatric intensive care doctor for a long time. In that role, I took care of critically ill children. I still do research but not nearly as much as I used to. For a long time, I was also active in pediatric immunology research.

I would say that I am a life-long learner as well. I think the only way you improve is by looking at what has worked, what hasn’t, and what you could have done better. This can serve as an opportunity to improve and lead to a bigger impact in your field.

Now, if you had to condense all these characteristics of yours into three words, how would you describe yourself?

I would say: inquisitive, driven, and pediatrician.

Speaking of being a pediatrician, can you describe your pathway to medicine and if your college major happened to relate to medicine?

Growing up Catholic, I learned about the importance of service to others. Having that kind of service mentality, being inquisitive, and enjoying biology led me to the pre-medical pathway and, eventually, medicine. I attended Carleton College in Minnesota, and there was not necessarily a pre-med major. We had to fulfill the medical school prerequisites, and I majored in chemistry. I would say there aren’t many things in life that I would do differently, but I probably would have chosen a different major. During undergrad is the last chance to explore different subjects and get a broader education before entering medical school. You can learn about Shakespeare, take art history or world history, and continue languages. Perhaps I would have still minored in a science while completing my pre-med requirements, but I would have majored in something like philosophy, sociology, or history, which I enjoy reading about. My pathway to medicine wasn’t solely based on my college major, it was more based on my drive to really understand how the human body works and pursue a profession where I could help others.

Would you mind elaborating on your medical school, residency, and fellowship experiences?

Sure! I finished Carleton and came to Chicago to attend the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. When I was going through different clinical rotations, I always found that I was drawn to caring for children because they are innocent and so incredibly resilient. For example, seeing children that are undergoing cancer treatment and watching them come back to complete health…it’s empowering to watch them through that process.

I was very fortunate to have matched in my residency to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I spent three years in the pediatric residency program and was also invited to serve as a chief resident for an extra year, which was a valuable leadership opportunity. During my time there, I was continuously intrigued by critical care and the intensive care unit. I was also bothered by it. A lot of the critically ill children with respiratory failure or a severe infection called sepsis often died. I kept asking questions to my mentors and teachers. They also did not have the answers, but they encouraged me to seek answers through research.

I was accepted into the Pediatrics Sciences Development Program, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and I ended up doing my research training first in my critical care fellowship at the University of Michigan in the lab of Dr. Peter Ward, who had developed a rodent model of acute lung injury. We started to delineate and understand what exactly was happening when the lungs were injured and how that led to respiratory failure and death. This helped us identify some of the ways to do a better job at caring for ill children. Slowly over time, as we gained more understanding, there were better outcomes overall. I did this research fellowship for three years, then I did critical care and PICU training for 18 months, which overlapped a little bit with the research. At that point, I was certified in pediatrics as well as pediatric intensive care, and I also had a good skill set on the research side of things that helped me secure my first faculty position at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Speaking to this topic, what is the best career or life advice you have for college students and graduates?

There are a lot of clichés on this topic, but the first thing I would say is to pursue your passion. I love what I do. This work is something that always inspires and energizes me because, at the end of the day, the opportunity to have an impact on the lives and well-being of children is such a privilege. That’s just a passion of mine. I would also say work hard. I tell this to my kids all the time. I have never met anybody who is successful who hasn’t worked hard. Set goals and work hard.

You must also learn from failure and be resilient when you do fail. Again, these cliches stick around because they have some meaning to them. Every time you set a goal, you may not achieve it, but you have to think about the lesson you learned and how you might approach the situation differently. The greatest inventors have often failed repeatedly. We know of them today because they leveraged those failures as an opportunity to learn, improve, innovate, and do things better. When things are tough, work through them; it gives you grit, resiliency, and makes you a stronger person for the next challenge.

I am a faithful person, and I think having a source of support—whether that’s family, friends, or your community—is important. Surround yourself with people who have your best interest at heart, who tell you when you are doing things wrong and congratulate you when you are doing things right.

Last but certainly not least, as CEO, what do you look for in a person when interviewing them for a job position?

Hungry, humble, and smart. I’m looking to identify people who are hungry, meaning they are striving to achieve something meaningful, and their goals align with the strategic goals of the organization. For Lurie Children’s, it means they’re hungry to develop excellence, hungry to have an impact on children, and hungry to build something that hasn’t been here before. They need to be really driven and have the resilience to push towards making a difference yet humble enough to know that you don’t do that by yourself. So they are collaborative individuals that understand the importance of fostering an environment of psychological safety where diverse perspectives are brought forward for the good of the team. Being smart is about a strong EQ (emotional quotient) more than IQ. Having great communication and interpersonal skills, personal sensitivity, and recognizing the human touches are important to any organization but especially in healthcare.

Thank you. Are there any last remarks you have?

We are privileged to have you as an Ubben Fellow and are very proud that you selected our medical center. We also want to congratulate you on your great achievements at this point of your journey. Remember to keep a few lessons like dedication, hard work, and resilience in mind. There will be rejections along the way, we’ve all had them, but keep getting up, push through, and remain true to your passion.

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Ubben Posse Fellow Interviews: Josh Sapan

Meet the 2021 Jeff Ubben Posse Fellows.