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Stead to step down from Chief Strategy Officer role after decades of remarkable contributions

Sep. 17, 2020, 10:15 AM

William “Bill” Stead, MD, is stepping down from his role as Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Chief Strategy Officer.
William “Bill” Stead, MD, is stepping down from his role as Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Chief Strategy Officer. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

by John Howser

Visionary — someone who thinks about the future or advancements in a creative and imaginative way, a person who is ahead of her or his time and who has a powerful plan for change in the future. Such a person is William “Bill” Stead, MD, Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Chief Strategy Officer, McKesson Foundation Professor of Biomedical Informatics and Professor of Medicine.

Stead is an internationally recognized thought leader and pioneer in the application of communication and information technology to improve the practice of medicine, along with being a founder of the field of biomedical informatics.

After serving 29 years as a member of the Medical Center’s senior leadership team, Stead is retiring from his Chief Strategy Officer role and will remain on faculty with the Department of Biomedical Informatics. He plans to make the transition at year’s end.

Throughout VUMC’s history few individuals have had a greater impact on its trajectory and future. Stead’s career has centered on imagining new tools and capabilities, and then guiding teams to bring these concepts to fruition, allowing the Medical Center to innovate and evolve into a world-leading academic health system with an emphasis on personalized medicine. His oversight implementing new technology and tools into the clinical setting catapulted VUMC into an early lead in the use of biomedical informatics to advance care and push the boundaries of research.

Many of these advancements, including an enterprise-wide electronic health record, clinical communication and decision support tools, and population-scale research resources, have been widely recognized for their value to improve the safety, quality and efficiency of care, and have been exported outside VUMC to be used by hospitals, health systems and research institutions across the nation.

Colleagues know Stead as an outstanding mentor who always fosters an environment that welcomes ideas and contributions. His enthusiasm for innovation is infectious and it’s obvious that he enjoys the collaborative process. Meetings with him frequently involve whiteboard doodles and plenty of thoughtful discussion.

“VUMC is recognized worldwide for its capacity for innovation, and Dr. Stead deserves substantial credit for this capability. It is impossible to summarize his impact on the Medical Center, as well as his many contributions to the field of biomedical informatics,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“Bill is that rare individual who can clearly articulate problems and see possibilities, and then catalyze individuals around a vision for solutions and advancements. His style of teamwork and collaboration has allowed generations to learn and develop skills that continue to propel VUMC forward. I am incredibly grateful to Bill for his wisdom and leadership over these many years,” Balser said.

William Stead, MD, poses with some of the first computer workstations installed in the former Medical Center Library in Medical Center North. (file photo by Anne Rayner)

Other leadership roles Stead has held include director of the Informatics Center, Chief Information Officer, founding chair of the Division of Biomedical Informatics, director of the Eskind Biomedical Library, chair of the Vanderbilt Center for Better Health and Chief Information Architect for Vanderbilt University.

Today, the Division of Biomedical Informatics is now the Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI), with more than 100 faculty. The DBMI is the largest department of its kind at an academic medical center and is a driving force for innovation that keeps VUMC at the forefront of training, care delivery and research. The department maintains a broad-ranging portfolio of research and development projects.

“I am certain I speak for every member of our department when I say how thrilled we are that Dr. Stead is planning to spend more time with us,” said Kevin Johnson, MD, MS, Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair of Biomedical Informatics and Senior Vice President for Health Information Technology. “Through his efforts to catalyze innovation throughout VUMC, he has worked closely as a mentor to a few of our junior faculty. The word is out, and now every one of our young faculty are hoping to spend some time learning from him. He is a thoughtful and honest colleague who we are excited to have in our midst as he enters this new chapter in his storied career.”

As a result of Stead’s vision there have been numerous technological advancements that have shaped the foundation of clinical care at VUMC.

“Dr. Stead has been a force for change in the improvement of the delivery of care in our hospitals and clinics. Through his leadership we have been able to provide our clinicians with tools that have allowed for ever-greater enhancements to the services we provide for our patients, as well as gather important data that has helped answer thousands of questions to advance our knowledge,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer for VUMC. “I want to express my appreciation to Bill for all he has done to benefit our health system and for his numerous other contributions to our success.”

Stead was recruited to VUMC in 1991 as associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs and arrived with a vision for how care could be advanced using IT specifically designed for the health care setting. At that time the internet was limited to research, and it would be three years before the World Wide Web opened for public use.

The Medical Center’s buildings were not yet wired for computer technology. Undeterred, he mapped out paths to connect the buildings with fiber-optic cables and designed the Eskind Biomedical Library to serve as a communication and informatics hub. He quickly had teams of workers on ladders pulling thousands of miles of cable through ceilings.

This was a years’ long process to wire up existing facilities. At the same time, he was recruiting talented informaticians and inviting physicians to collaborate on tools that would go into use at the bedside. As everyone involved amassed expertise, what emerged from this process was VUMC’s distinct leadership in health care IT.

“Bill has envisioned the potential of IT, improving patient care and clinical processes for more than 50 years. Many leaders can imagine what could be possible but very few are able to translate their vision into reality,” said Neal Patel, MD, MPH, professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Chief Information Officer with Health IT. “The impact of HealthIT at VUMC is the legacy of Bill’s vision, perseverance, innovation and leadership. We are fortunate that he has passed our way.”

Stead has been called upon to serve on distinguished national bodies that help determine health policy. He was chosen by the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary to serve as chair of the National Committee on Vital & Health Statistics (NCVHS). The NCVHS is the statutory public advisory body to the Department of Health and Human Services on health data, statistics and national health information policy. He is the only Vanderbilt faculty member to serve on the committee. Stead also served multiple terms on the National Academy of Medicine’s Council (formerly Institute of Medicine) in a variety of roles.

He is a founding fellow of both the American College of Medical Informatics and the American Institute for Engineering in Biology and Medicine. He was the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, and served as president of the American College of Medical Informatics, chair of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine, presidential appointee to the Commission on Systemic Interoperability, and as chair of the National Research Council Committee on Engaging the Computer Science Research Community in Health Care Informatics.

“Bill has been a true visionary in many facets of health professions education — interprofessional learning programs and working-learning teams, competency-based assessment and individualized learning pathways and the use of advanced technology platforms, just to name a few. He constantly pushed us to be more creative and disruptive, to ‘think different,’ and our education programs thrived as a result,” said Bonnie Miller, MD, MMHC, professor of Medical Administration and Surgery.

Stead speaks during the 2016 Medical Center Strategic Framework Retreat, the precursor to StrategyShare. Stead is retiring from his role as VUMC’s Chief Strategy Officer. (file photo by John Russell)

“On a personal note, I’ve considered myself one of the luckiest people around to have had Bill at my side as we developed Curriculum 2.0, and will always be grateful for his friendship and mentorship.”

Along with Reed Omary, MD, MS, chair of the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, and Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Executive Vice President for Research and director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Stead is also a founder of VUMC’s annual StrategyShare events. Beginning in 2016, people representing broad areas of VUMC engaged to develop a unifying strategy framework. In 2017, the first StrategyShare event was held with the elements of the Strategic Directions providing the focus, and an event has been held annually ever since.

“It has been a unique pleasure, a gift in fact, to work with Dr. Stead on VUMC Strategic Directions. His rare combination of scholarly and critical thinking, as well as engineering and leadership skills, has resulted in tremendous and sustained contributions to strategic objectives and new initiatives at VUMC. Although he is retiring from his role as Chief Strategy Officer, many locally and nationally will still count on his wisdom,” said Pietenpol, who is also B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and holder of the Brock Family Directorship in Career Development.

Stead is the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the first recipient of the Donald AB Lindberg Award for Innovation in Informatics from the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). He received the American College of Medical Informatics Morris F. Collen Award of Excellence in 2007, and in 2013 was the first recipient of an award created in his honor, the William W. Stead Award for Thought Leadership in Informatics from the AMIA.

In 2019, he was a recipient of Duke University School of Medicine’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

“It seems like only yesterday when Janet (wife), Elizabeth (daughter) and I joined the Vanderbilt team. It has been a fun run and we have accomplished a lot together,” Stead said.

“The time has come for me to give others a chance to step up to the plate. I hope to have more time to help Janet at home and time to work bottom up with young faculty on some of the big things I have not been able to advance top down. Onward!”

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