Dennis J. Kain reflects on his career

Dennis J. Kain: Reflections on 50 years in healthcare


As I retire this month, I can’t help but reminisce on my career in healthcare.

First, I am deeply grateful to the thousands of dedicated people who helped educate and collaborate with me since the early 1970s. Overall, my career has two distinct parts, health system leadership and consulting early on, followed by another career in healthcare executive search.

My Start in Health System Leadership and Consulting

My learning in the early years working in hospitals gave me invaluable insights that were game-changers in the executive search career. These three important lessons informed the rest of my career:

1. Innovation 

Both of my parents (as well as my grandfather) were involved in the initial introduction of penicillin in the 1940s. In 1985, I had the opportunity to implement new medical services, such as a national program to build and operate newly developed MRI technology through a series of free-standing imaging centers. These ranged from a complex multi-modal center on Broad Street in Philadelphia to an MRI-only center on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

In addition, I was part of a unique joint venture that unveiled a new method of treating patients with kidney stones, by opening and managing a successful lithotripsy center in southern New Jersey.

Also in the mid-1980s, I helped plan and implement a joint venture that consisted of three hospitals that wanted to provide MRI services in upstate Pennsylvania. It felt like shuttle diplomacy when negotiating with three independent radiology groups to develop an agreement regarding a shared “reading” schedule.

2. Population Health 

As a hospital CEO in the mid-1990s, and in response to a request from the Chief of Emergency Services, a pediatric clinic was opened to the community and was well received. It offered access for uninsured children to receive immunization follow-up and routine well-baby care.

Also, in response to an ever-growing incidence of breast cancer, free mammograms were offered to those in the community as a 40th birthday gift. This provided patients with a valuable baseline for future exams.

3. Health Needs Assessment

A county-wide effort in Bucks County Pennsylvania included 7 hospitals, the Department of Health, and community organizations. As a result, an ongoing organization dedicated to improving health was established that continued for 25 years.

Transitioning to Healthcare Executive Search

The executive search experience yielded many lasting and fulfilling memories. Like many in this industry, I “fell” into it at the suggestion of a colleague who I first met in 1977, George Longshore. Not knowing what would happen, but wanting to stay in the Philadelphia area, I joined his boutique search firm in 1997. Later, I was recruited by Larry Tyler to lead the Mid-Atlantic office of Tyler & Company, and ultimately became President of the firm. In 2013, it was acquired by Jackson Healthcare and later merged into Kirby Bates Associates.

The most valuable lesson I learned in my healthcare executive search career is the importance of professional relationships, networking, and helping people. 

George Longshore taught me that the thrill of helping someone is indescribable. As noted in the book, “What Color is Your Parachute?,” the importance of networking cannot be overemphasized. 

In my first days in healthcare executive search, I contacted graduate school buddies from George Washington University (GWU). It was a continuation of a purposeful effort that began when we left campus to start our administrative residencies in 1974. I had consistently reached out to a dozen or so to acknowledge their birthdays each year. These folks became the basis of referrals for early healthcare executive search engagements, and some became clients and candidates that helped jump-start my search career.

It wasn’t long until new relationships were made as folks in the field were referred to me to discuss career options. As some search firms were not open to chat with executives in transition, I set out on a personal mission to change the mind-set and show the market that search consultants could be humans, with feelings. It is impossible to describe how this “pay it forward” approach positively impacted me and other colleagues.

This approach came to life as I was gratified by my role in placing physician leaders and scientific leaders in a cancer research center that brought the client’s goal of achieving National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation to fruition.

Placing senior teams in community-based health systems across the Mid-Atlantic coast and watching them become best performers in their respective states was always a joy.

It’s been a thrill to watch a few dozen healthcare leaders develop from their graduate school experience to serving in the C-Suite today. In fact, I’ve enjoyed being tapped to share my career development expertise with multiple graduate school programs and alumni associations. In addition to GWU, I’ve enjoyed my associations with the University of Scranton, the Wharton Health Care Alumni Association, and Johns Hopkins University. I’d like to specifically shout out to the folks at these groups, including  Kurt Darr, Dan West, Michael Rovinsky,  and Mark Bittle.  Oh, and serving my Rotary Club as Song Leader has been wonderful too. 

Finally, having worked with some of the very best, I leave you with my assessment of what makes Great Leaders:

  1. Keeping calm in a storm.
  2. Showing bravery and knowing how to face an issue effectively
  3. Conducting critical conversations thoughtfully
  4. Listening well
  5. Motivating while maintaining integrity

Thank you.