John Noseworthy has led the Mayo Clinic for just a month, but he has already stepped into the national spotlight.
Just last week, Noseworthy was among a number of health care leaders on a media conference call to oppose a proposal to expand Medicare by Senate Democrats.
"Mayo's basically stepped into the public arena in the last couple of years, because we recognize the voice of the patient was not being adequately represented," said Noseworthy, Mayo's new president and CEO.
During a press conference on Thursday, Noseworthy said he'll continue to keep the $7 billion non-profit in the national spotlight as a model health care system.
It's a model that President Obama frequently invokes for the rest of the nation to emulate. But Noseworthy and other Mayo officials contend that the nation cannot successfully overhaul its health care system, unless Medicare starts rewarding systems that provide quality health care at reasonable prices.
"Mayo does have a reputation in some circles as looking after an elite group of patients," Noseworthy said. "Essentially, most of what we see, or at least the majority of what we see, are patients in the Medicare age group, and we do very well with them. But we struggle to be able to afford to do so."
Noseworthy, who succeeds Denis Cortese, is up to the challenge. The 58-year-old neurologist is a respected figure on the Mayo campus and in the neurological community. His name is widely recognized in the area of multiple sclerosis, where he's done most of his research.
"What's most exciting about this role is now having a chance to touch the entire organization," said Noseworthy. "We have 59,000 employees who are not only highly skilled, but they are entirely committed to the mission of the Mayo Clinic, which is to provide the best care to our patients."
Noseworthy joined the Mayo Clinic in 1990 and has served in various leadership positions, among them chairman of the Department of Neurology, and vice chairman of the clinic's Rochester executive board. He also served as editor-in-chief of Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Born in Melrose, Mass., Noseworthy earned his medical degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He completed his neurology training at Dalhousie University and the University of Western Ontario, and was a research fellow at Harvard Medical School.
"He has a tremendous capacity to build high-functioning teams," said Robert Gross, a professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.
Under Noseworthy's leadership, Neurology went from a monthly to a weekly publication. Gross, the journal's current editor, said Noseworthy inspires colleagues to do their best.
“We recognized the voice of the patient was not being adequately represented.”Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy
"It involves selecting good people, trusting them to do what they do best, and providing enough guidance and oversight so that the philosophy of the venture is clear," Gross said.
Noseworthy's 6 ft.-plus frame and slender build are immediately recognizable. But his colleagues say it's his ability to listen and articulate a vision that set him apart. Friends say he first began discussing the top job at Mayo a few years ago.
Catherine Rydell, executive director of the American Academy of Neurology, said Noseworthy was a thoughtful presence on the academy's board.
"When John was ready to speak, you knew he had listened, he had really analyzed what had been said, and he had a really good way of summarizing and bringing his conclusion into words we could all understand," she said.
At the Mayo Clinic, Noseworthy's selection as CEO has been greeted with enthusiasm. His appointment follows the clinic's tradition of having physicians in top spots.
CEOs of major medical institutions are chosen for their work as clinicians, their ability to manage, and for their strong public presence. Colleagues say Noseworthy has those qualities.
"We're coming from a very good time, when we had an excellent leader in Dr. Cortese. And yet people are excited about having John take up where Denny left off," said Terry Cascino, a neurologist at Mayo, who helped recruit Noseworthy to the clinic.
Cascino hopes Noseworthy will continue to win over the Mayo employees. He encourages him to visit campuses in Florida and Arizona, as well as Mayo clinics scattered in towns around the region.
Noseworthy counts among his confidants Cortese; Shirley Weis, the clinic's chief administrative officer; and his wife of more than three decades, Patricia.
In 2008, Noseworthy earned about $463,000, according to the clinic's most recent filings with the Internal Revenue Service.
Outside of Mayo, Noseworthy is close to his wife and sons. He retreats to a cabin in Canada as often as possible.