Rolling Out

Dr. Garth Walker is helping lead the charge in value-based care at Rush Health

Dr. Walker discusses the potential of AI in medicine and the importance of health equity in marginalized communities
(Photo courtesy of Garth Walker)

Garth Walker is a prominent health care executive and academic board-certified emergency physician. Dr. Walker is regarded as a public health thought leader. As the chief medical officer of Rush Health and head of Digital Health Solutions, he spearheads leadership and strategy for population health and innovative partnerships that span the intersection of digital innovation, healthcare delivery, and improved clinical outcomes. In an exclusive interview with rolling out, Dr. Walker shares his journey in medicine, inspired by a personal transformation from athletic ambitions to a deep commitment to community service and civic engagement.

What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine?

I used to say I was concussed into medicine. I initially started with unrealistic athletic ambitions as a walk-on in track and football at Purdue University before taking a rough hit that knocked me into the books relatively quickly. I transferred to the University of Illinois, trading athletic aspirations for books in economics and chemistry. My older brother, a new physician at the time, along with several friends, encouraged me to pursue medicine.

Much of health care occurs in everyday society and our ability to navigate resources and priorities. That encouraged me to pursue the goal of being a physician who thinks broadly, considering the clinical conditions and understanding the social and economic barriers that plague many marginalized communities.

Describe your leadership style.

My approach is generally collaborative: listen and assume positive intent in a team approach. Very few amazing feats occur in isolation, and the ability to have a team approach allows everyone to be part of the journey.

Dr. Garth Walker is helping lead the charge in value-based care at Rush Health
President Joe Biden greets 2022 White House Fellows, Thursday, August 25, 2022, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Photo courtesy of Garth Walker)

How has mentorship played a role in your career?

It has played a tremendous role. It is part of the reason I was appointed by President Biden to serve as a White House fellow at HHS with the surgeon general. Several alumni noticed my curiosity and leadership early and encouraged me to pursue and view a different way of delivering impact, which subsequently was senior leadership with the Illinois Department of Public Health during COVID and then the White House fellowship. I firmly believe that all young leaders need someone they can be vulnerable with as they grow as a leader.

How is AI currently impacting the medical field?

AI will play an immense role in healthcare and has many positive implications. When I worked for the surgeon general, one of his priorities was addressing physician burnout. Many of our colleagues are burdened with immense administrative tasks. AI has amazing potential to alleviate that burden and return physicians to the more organic art of connecting with patients. Although it has many positives, much of the value is based on the data. Ensuring that we anticipate biased data can help offset unintended consequences that can drive structural inequity and healthcare disparities. We are fortunate to have the RUSH BMO Health Equity Institute as a thought partner and a leadership that embeds health equity into the system strategy to ensure we are ahead of those issues.

What are three simple daily habits you recommend for maintaining good health?

1. Remain active. Figure out ways to take stairs, get steps, and dedicate time for the gym.

2. Remove temptation from the household. If you have the opportunity to select healthier options, try to keep only those options in the places you frequent.

3. Become in tune with your primary care provider, or as I like to say, your coach who quarterbacks your care and ensures you get all the necessary screenings and interventions as you age.

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