New Vice Chair Hopes to Build on Milestones, Looks to Future Improvements in Access and Quality

On July 1, Dr. Eric Berg stepped down as long-time Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs for the Department of Dermatology. Reflecting on his tenure as Vice Chair, Dr. Berg said that “it has been a great privilege to serve UW Dermatology and UW Health in the role of Clinical Vice Chair for Dermatology. Thanks to the hard work of our faculty, the support of UW Health, and the leadership of [Department Chair] Dr. Gary Wood, we have experienced tremendous success and growth in our clinical operations.”

He also welcomed his successor, Dr. Dan Bennett, Associate Professor of Dermatology, a dermatologist and dermatopathologist and outgoing Director of Quality Improvement, to the position. “I am grateful that Dr. Bennett has agreed to assume the clinical vice chair role. He will provide solid leadership as we continue to grow and serve the clinical needs of our community and beyond.”

Dr. Bennett agreed to sit down with me and discuss his interests and priorities for his new position. To begin with, the new vice chair praised his predecessor: “So many nice things could be said about Eric. He’s been in charge of clinical operations since Dermatology was a small division of Internal Medicine. Before that he directed the Physician’s Plus dermatology clinical practice, which eventually merged with UW. He and Gary Wood oversaw an astonishing expansion of this department in terms of clinical space, number of residents, and the integration of UWMF and UWHC. Eric’s efforts as Vice Chair are a major reason why Dermatology has been a successful academic and clinical department.”

Dr. Bennett, who lives in the Vilas neighborhood with his wife (a Family Physician also with UW) and two daughters, moved to the Badger State in 2011. He has had a long-standing interest in health care reform with an emphasis on cost and access to care. He finds that “Wisconsin, and the upper Midwest in general, is a low-cost, high-value area, which makes this a great place to practice medicine.”

Interest in Quality and Access

The new vice chair stated that he is “primarily interested in improving access to care for patients who need it,” and views quality improvement as a necessary component to reducing cost and increasing access. “If costs continue to skyrocket, there’s no way that we as a society can provide care for everybody…Reducing cost while maintaining or improving quality should improve health care access. Access to healthcare shouldn’t bankrupt people.”

Working at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health has given Dr. Bennett a sense of optimism about the future of healthcare. In Dr. Bennett’s view, UW Health is ahead of the game with regard to managing healthcare for populations while controlling costs. This has placed UW at the forefront of quality medical care in Wisconsin throughout the dynamic period following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“Quality efforts can be driven by Medicare, payers, and regulators,” he says, “or they can be driven by professionalism, by trying to improve the system.” He hopes that as vice chair, he can motivate the clinical department to continue to “think about the day-to-day practice, improve quality for patients, improve the work environment.” Keep doing this, he says, “and the rest,” speaking of regulations and payers, “falls into place.”

Moving Forward

Dermatology has seen an enormous spike in demand for services in recent years, which Dr. Bennett identifies as the department’s “single biggest immediate challenge” going forward. “Demand keeps going up…we hope to address this by hiring more clinical faculty and staff, but also by making ourselves more efficient, and by partnering more with Primary Care to make sure that Dermatology is seeing the patients that need to be seen by specialists.”

Another big challenge is the department’s increasingly dispersed landscape as it grows its presence at East and West clinics, 20 South Park, and American Family Children’s Hospital. “We’ve worked to maintain a shared mission and set of values across all of our work sites, even as we’ve grown increasingly distributed across several sites, and it’s important to keep those shared values alive and keep our educational mission front and center as we continue to grow.”

Shared values, teamwork, and frequent and open communication are central to Dr. Bennett’s leadership philosophy. “You have to build effective teams,” he says, “teams where you can rely on people to make things happen. You can’t micromanage, you need to trust that your people can get it done, and a major element of this trust is communication. People have to know what is happening. Even if they don’t like what is happening to them or to the systems they work with, they are more willing to move forward if they understand why change is happening.”

Mission, values, communication: all things that Dr. Bennett feels contribute to a happy and healthy work place. “Nobody joins our department to maximize revenue for themselves; there are better financial opportunities away from UW for every one of our physicians, yet they work here because the educational and research mission is important to them. We have a lot of experience, knowledge, and passion that we can leverage moving forward. It makes this an exciting place to be.”