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For Ora Pescovitz, a mission to heal

Ariel Bond/Daily
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Ora Pescovitz sits for a photo in her office earlier this month. Buy this photo

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published April 19, 2010

Today, the Daily is previewing a new continuing series entitled "Executive Conversations," a set of features based on extended sit-down interviews with some of the University's administrators. These conversations will give readers an inside look at the personalities and lives of those in the University's highest offices, who make decisions that impact the lives of everyone on campus.

Tucked away on the seventh floor of the Medical Science I Building, the University’s Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs Ora Pescovitz has truly made her office a reflection of who she is.

There aren’t any degrees or certificates on her walls and most of the awards she has won sit silently in a file cabinet in a nearby closet. However, there is one award that receives much more attention. It is an award so meaningful that Pescovitz keeps it directly behind her computer, just an arm’s reach away.

However, the award itself isn’t anything spectacular. With a broken base, it can’t even stand up properly. And so it sits on the windowsill, going unnoticed by most, despite its large inscription.

Given to her when she received a named department chair in 1998, the award is made completely of glass with one simple message on the large vertical panel: “Tikkun Olam.”

The Jewish principle basically means to repair or mend the world, Pescovitz explains as she holds up the broken base and inscription. And it’s a principle that Pescovitz says “is applicable to everything we do.”

“I think people have to go about their work with a sense of purpose and I want people to have that feeling that we’re here to make a contribution,” Pescovitz explains.

“In some way, you have to feel that your job is to help make the world a better place,” Pescovitz adds. “It doesn’t have to be the same way that I think you have to do it, but you have to feel that. Finding that is important.”

And Ora Pescovitz has certainly found that.

Shaking Things Up: An Ambitious Goal

Responsible for approximately 20,000 employees and a $1.9 billion annual operating budget, it’s no understatement that Pescovitz is one of the most powerful people at the University and has nearly unrestricted authority over the University of Michigan Health System.

In the chain of command, Pescovitz ranks at the same level as the University’s Provost Teresa Sullivan and the University’s Chief Financial Officer Timothy Slottow — all three of whom report directly to University President Mary Sue Coleman.

And though she’s been in her post for less than a year, having joined the University last May, Pescovitz has big plans to make the University’s Health System the best in the nation.

Raising the bar at a health system already recognized as one of the top 15 in the nation is obviously a tall order. Despite the daunting nature of this challenge, its something that Pescovitz says she’s determined to do.

“I’m too young and too energetic — not that young to you — to come to a place like this in a job like this to be a caretaker,” Pescovitz explained. “It’s a great place and I came because it was a great place, but I didn’t come to keep it static.”

Through a series of strategic planning meetings with many of her direct reports, Pescovitz has refined her vision.

“I am the kind of person who always seeks to raise the bar and I always like to look for the next challenge for the institution, so I have set a challenge for the health system,” Pescovitz said.

Specifically, Pescovitz is determined to make the University Health System the best in the nation in four categories — health, health care reform, biomedical innovation and the educational quality provided by the Medical School and the School of Nursing.