Dr. Richard Shannon shapes health system expansion

Executive Vice President for Health Affairs is highest paid U.Va. employee outside athletics


Dr. Shannon's journey to becoming the University's EVP of Health Affairs began in the northeast, where he first studied medicine

Dr. Richard Shannon is the second-highest paid University employee, earning $742,600 per year for his role as Executive Vice President for Health Affairs. The EVP is responsible for leading all units of the Health System and coordinating with the School of Nursing and University Physicians Group. The EVP also has administrative responsibility for the faculty and staff of the Health System, making sure providers are able to supply patients with safe and efficient care.

Shannon’s journey began in Connecticut, where his father owned gas stations and his mother worked as a teacher. After enrolling at Princeton University, he began to pursue a major in English, but quickly realized it was not his calling.

After graduating from Princeton with a degree in Biology, Shannon completed medical school at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and later began a residency in internal medicine at Harvard Medical School. Towards the end of his residency, he was nominated as chief resident, an opportunity that sparked Shannon’s interest in leadership.

“But early on, it was all about being the best doctor … And [being] seen by my colleagues as someone highly reliable and caring for patients,” Shannon said. “I think today in health care, to be a good leader you have to be a good doctor. I think it’s very hard to lead doctors and nurses if they don’t respect you for what you do clinically.”

Shannon spent 17 years working at Harvard Medical School before leaving Boston. He then accepted a financially risky job as Chairman of Medicine at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, which was working to become an academic medical center.

Unfortunately, 18 months after Shannon recruited 12 of his colleagues from Harvard Medical School to develop the health system at Allegheny, the corporation managing the hospital declared bankruptcy.

“I had gone from this great opportunity — I could have stayed at Harvard Medical School forever — I took this high-risk position and found myself at a point in my career where I thought that I would never ever make it back to the top,” Shannon said.

Shannon decided to take a break from his time in Pittsburgh and travel to Haiti to help develop a physician's assistant training program. Later, he was given the opportunity to help run the clinical program at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and became chairman of the Department of Medicine.

From his time at Harvard, Shannon had interest in the University, noting that individuals in Boston referred to it as the “jewel of the South.”

“I knew a lot about U.Va. and when this position became available, the opportunity to take on a new challenge, which was to bring the School of Medicine and the physician practice plan and the hospital all under one roof, realizing a vision President Sullivan had developed — it was a professional dream come true,” Shannon said.

Shannon said his day begins with a recap of events occurring at the hospital the day before, with emphasis on anything that went wrong. He then meets with his close group of Health System staff and discusses University and national health care issues. After meetings, Shannon travels to units in the hospital and talks to those who directly provide care to patients — such as nurses, dieticians and therapists — to learn about how he can improve their ability to provide for patients.

Medical Center CEO Pamela Sutton-Wallace works closely with Shannon to plan and coordinate goals of the Health System. Sutton-Wallace said with the help of Dr. David Wilkes, Dean of the School of Medicine, they are planning to expand the University Health System by coordinating with hospitals in Pittsburgh and starting a school of medicine in Northern Virginia.

Sutton-Wallace is working with Shannon to implement four platforms in the Health System: Be Well, which works to provide employees with a safe work environment, Be Safe, the effort to eliminate waste and defects in the functioning of the medical center, Be Wise, a call for professional respect amongst employees and Be Smart, an expansion of the University’s academic research portfolio.

“Dr. Shannon has a clear vision and passion for the Health System … He cares deeply about putting the patient at the center of everything we do as well as the health, well-being and success of our team members,” Sutton-Wallace said. “He provides extraordinary leadership and vision at the national level during this time of tremendous uncertainty in the healthcare environment.”

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