“JCU is where I learned how to learn and listen. It’s where I became a well-rounded physician before I ever attended medical school.”
Dr. Michael Anderson is a pediatric critical care physician and served as the president of UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals from 2016 to 2020. He is now a senior advisor to the assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response at Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C. He previously served as vice-chair of the National Commission on Children and Disasters under President George W. Bush and chaired a federal advisory committee under the Obama administrations.
Q: Why did you attend JCU?
A: Both of my parents went to Jesuit institutions. My dad went to Loyola in Chicago, my mom to the University of Detroit. From early high school, they said, “You should really think about the Jesuits, because if you want to be a doctor, you’ll want to learn how to learn. You want to be a whole person so you aren’t pigeon-holed into one degree or one way of looking at things.”
I fell in love with John Carroll. I remember the exact moment I walked onto campus for a tour. I fell in love with the people, the energy, the size. I was in the dorms all four years.
Just like my parents said, I learned how to learn. My Jesuit education and John Carroll experience really brought in the nature of how we learn and how we interact with diverse notions and concepts. In the career path I chose, it introduced a much more holistic approach to being a physician that served me well. When I moved into the administration side of medicine, I knew a lot about being a doctor, but I didn’t know about the business of human capital. Because of my time at JCU, I knew how to go out and learn something new.
Q: What story or experience best reflects your time at JCU?
A: Because of Campus Ministry, I got involved in a couple of different volunteer projects. The most impactful was working in the ER at St. Luke’s Hospital on Shaker Boulevard. I was the attendant in the ER waiting room in charge of keeping families updated, bringing them coffee, etc. The amount of heartache, turmoil and tension these families were dealing with was eye-opening. Through the experience of working with disadvantaged families, I was inspired by the notion of giving back and choosing a career where I could make a real impact.
Q: What was the most valuable learning/lesson from JCU that shaped you personally or professionally?
A: Doing my residency in inner-city Detroit, I felt that Jesuit dedication to all people and all kids loud and clear. As I started to meet patients for the first time, my Carroll education was so helpful, because I found myself more willing to listen—not just waiting to talk. I found myself humble enough to realize there was a lot I didn’t know.
I think there’s a bimodal distribution to the Jesuit gene in JCU grads. When you hit a certain age, this whole notion of “Magis,” of being a man or woman for others, means more. My John Carroll education at age 56 is even more important than it was in medical school, because it’s pushing me to give back. It influences how I approach challenges professional and personal, how I approach my career, and how I approach life.
Q: How are you making a human impact in your career?
A: The proudest moments in my career have involved child advocacy. I think pediatricians need to be child advocates, because kids don’t vote or have organized political capital. I was appointed by Presidents George W. Bush and Obama to lead commissions focused on caring for kids affected by man-made or natural disasters.
Then I got a call in March from Health and Human Services in Washington that changed my life. They said, “We need a pediatric leader to think about children’s issues with us. We know that younger people are being affected by a novel inflammatory disease. We know schools being out is going to impact generations of kids, and we’ve got to address it and get them back safely.” My role at the hospital has been making sure the hospital is running, and that we’re taking good care of patients. But my new role as a consultant to HHS on pediatric needs during the pandemic is truly the honor of a lifetime. The flexibility I learned through my Jesuit education—that ability to morph and to think and grow outside of my degree—helped me make an impact throughout my career.