When a Journalist's Questions Transform Care

Monica Holb ’09

When one begins his healthcare career following a tandem bike across the country, there is no telling where he’ll travel and what he’ll learn along the way. 

“Transformation is a never-ending journey,” John Doyle ’74, said. He may have been referencing the continuing changes of the healthcare industry; he may have been talking about his own career. 

Doyle, Executive Vice President of Ascension, the largest nonprofit healthcare system in the United States, also serves as President and CEO of Ascension Holdings and Ascension Holdings International. He has spent his career in healthcare, a science-heavy industry. But the journalist by training admits science was never his strong suit. 

While at Manual High School, Doyle was named Editor in Chief of the Manual Booster and advisor Jane Gable encouraged him to apply for a Pulliam family-sponsored Hilton U. Brown Journalism scholarship. Upon being awarded the scholarship, he made the choice to attend Butler University and study Journalism. 

The closest Doyle got to science at Butler was covering the 1973 opening of Gallahue Hall for The Collegian. The writer’s outside perspective has allowed him to advance in a scientific industry, asking the unconstrained questions to stimulate progress. That is a trait emblematic of both journalists and scientists. 

After writing for and editing The Collegian, and having spent his senior year as Editor in Chief, Doyle found himself with a post-graduate internship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude commissioned a husband and wife to ride a tandem bike across the country to raise awareness and funds for the organization dedicated to healing sick kids. Doyle’s job was to plan the ride, work with media contacts, make introductions, and lay the foundation for a continuing campaign. 

“It was an exciting thing,” Doyle said. “I took off in a new Chevy Impala loaded with a stack of McDonald’s coupons to generate interest and support for what was, at the time, the world’s largest childhood cancer research center.” Along the way, he learned more about the science behind saving children’s lives. Going to entertainer Danny Thomas’ world-renowned hospital had a lasting impact as Doyle saw staff so dedicated to the children. “It became a heartfelt mission.” 

Doyle credits long-time Chairman of the Butler Journalism Department Art Levin with instilling in him a passion for bringing important issues to people’s attention. And with the road trip, Doyle began a career in healthcare communications to bring awareness to important issues and seek new solutions. “I was thunderstruck with the importance of the work they were doing,” Doyle said of St. Vincent Health, part of Ascension, when he began his work there in 1996. 

As the industry endured changes, Doyle brought the science of marketing to the healthcare organizations he served. He was challenged by the perception of “merchandising” care, but knew consumers were increasingly making choices about where they would go for their care. 

Moving from communications to strategy, Doyle helped incubate the new ways healthcare systems provided care. He helped organizations rebuild their capacity to serve the community and to see the way forward to meet the needs of different populations. With his colleagues at Ascension beginning in 2000, he worked on systemwide efforts to improve the patient experience and to eliminate preventable injuries and deaths. During this time, Ascension made great foundational strides with innovative safety and quality initiatives that kept patients from being harmed during the course of care. Doyle was particularly drawn to the mission of faith-based care with a primary concern for the poor and vulnerable. Ascension provides nearly $2 billion of charity care and community benefit annually. 

Now, Doyle is learning from international care providers on how to transform healthcare in the United States. Doyle travels to India and the Cayman Islands with Ascension partners Narayana Health and Health City Cayman Islands to see how they can provide high-quality healthcare, particularly to the poor and vulnerable, at lower costs. While the United States spends more in healthcare than other countries, it does not see significantly higher positive outcomes. As CEO of Ascension Holdings International, Doyle is charged with sharing what has been learned at Ascension and bringing innovative lessons learned back to the United States.

“Over the years in my work, I’ve had the privilege of being a voice at the table, with the ability to ask how we might think differently to make things better,” he said.

Throughout the journey that began with raising awareness for a tandem bike ride across the country and to discovering new models to care for patients through international joint ventures, Doyle has continued asking questions. Whether that’s the journalist or the scientist in him, it’s helping transform healthcare.  He remains excited to ask, “What’s next?”

John lives with his wife, Barb, and daughter, Ginna, in St. Louis, Missouri.