A doctor’s influence
Dr. Alan Kaplan has quietly changed the look of Greater Madison’s health care scene.
Dr. Alan Kaplan grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago but has quietly influenced health care in Dane County amid rapidly rising costs and slowing Medicare reimbursement.
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From the pages of In Business magazine.
Throughout his life, Dr. Alan Kaplan, CEO at UW Health, has grown and built things, from tending to tomato gardens and strawberry patches as a child to building physicians groups and leading business transitions as a health care executive. In fact, Kaplan’s growing influence has been shaping the Dane County health care scene for years.
While an executive at Iowa Health System (now UnityPoint Health), for example, he led the physician component of the UnityPoint Health-Meriter (UPH-M) merger. More recently, he championed a joint operating agreement between UW Health and UPH-M to collaborate rather than compete on patient care.
All this from a board-certified emergency medicine physician who never dreamed of where his career would lead.
We recently spoke with Kaplan about his journey.
IB: Talk about your early life.
Kaplan: Neither of my parents had college educations but they always pushed education in our house. My mom later went back for a degree in human resources. My dad was a furniture salesman and self-taught interior decorator.
IB: Did you always want to go into medicine?
Kaplan: Actually, I spent most of my younger years wanting to be a veterinarian. When I settled on medicine, I started out in otolaryngology (ear, nose, throat) and then switched
to emergency medicine.
IB: What drove that change?
Kaplan: I was doing my residency in ENT at the Mayo Clinic but also moonlighting at an urgent care facility. One night a father brought in his six-year-old boy who wasn’t breathing. Just a nurse and I were on duty. We secured his airway, got him breathing and his blood circulating, and treated him for asthma. Saving that little boy’s life was incredible. I knew at that moment that I was destined for emergency medicine.
IB: But that, too, changed?
Kaplan: I was working at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Ill. and applied — just for interview experience — for the medical director of the emergency department. I got it and quickly progressed to chief medical director of the hospital before realizing that I was woefully undertrained for business. So I obtained a master of medical management degree through Carnegie Mellon. That led to jobs in Iowa and eventually to my current position.
IB: Have you had any regrets about leaving emergency medicine?
Kaplan: In 2004 I had to make a decision — either be great at clinical care, great at executive leadership, or be marginal at both. But for a couple of years it was hard to walk through an emergency department without wanting to care for patients.