Meet Our Members: Jim Turnbull, DHA, LFHIMSS

Jim Turnbull, DHA, LFHIMSS, Chief Information Officer of the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics (UUHC), is a new participant in the HIMSS Career Services eMentoring program.

The eMentoring program was created to strengthen HIMSS members’ abilities to connect with industry leaders focusing on health IT and management systems for all of the various levels of members and in the various stages of their health IT careers. The program gives members the opportunity to become connected via social media to nationally recognized leaders in health IT.

Turnbull’s career spans over 35 years in the healthcare industry, split between the Canadian and American health systems. Prior to joining UUHC, Turnbull served for seven years as senior vice president and chief information officer of The Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colo. Turnbull is a former chair of the CHIME Board of Trustees and a fellow and former president of HIMSS.

He is also the recipient of the 2012 CHIME-HIMSS John E. Gall Jr./CIO of the year award. The award recognizes a CIO who demonstrates significant leadership in healthcare. The award is given for a lifetime of success and achievement as a CIO in the health IT industry. The recipient is selected jointly by the Board of Directors of CHIME and HIMSS.

HIMSS: How did you become involved with HIMSS?

Turnbull:While working as a management engineer for the Alberta Hospital Association, I attended my first HMSS (no ‘I’ at the time) conference.  It was 1976, and all 165 of us ‘rocked’ St. Petersburg, Fla.  The conference was held in a bankrupt hotel that had been closed for several weeks, and re-opened only for this auspicious occasion before quickly closing once again.  It was my introduction to healthcare in the United States, as well as to colleagues on this side of the border.  I’ve been a member ever since and have benefited greatly as a result.

HIMSS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your involvement with HIMSS?

Turnbull: So many thoughts come to mind in response to this question.  At a personal level, it has been a source of many ‘career long’ friendships with colleagues, whose wisdom, advice and guidance have been invaluable.  Serving on the national board from 1986-1988 was a great growth opportunity.   I will never forget the decision to embrace the I.T. community and to add the ‘I’ to our name.  We had a wild vision at the time of conferences attended by up to 10,000 attendees…little did we know!!  I am constantly amazed at the wealth of educational opportunities; both in person and online…and by the strength of the advocacy efforts of what has become a very powerful international organization. 

HIMSS: Please describe some of the milestone events in your career.

Turnbull: The most unforgettable milestone was the decision in 1989 to uproot my little family from Canada, move to Portland, Ore., and to take my first run at being exclusively focused on the CIO role.  Prior to that time, I served as a senior vice president in a Canadian healthcare system, with information technology being just one part of my responsibilities.  The next two years are still indelibly etched in my mind…without a doubt, they hardened me for the challenges ahead.  Another memorable milestone was the decision we made during my tenure at Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) to become the development site for Eclipsys, for a product that came to be known as Sunrise Clinical Manager.  The team at SMH was amazing. I learned so much from that group.  Most important, perhaps, is the ability to focus on what is strategically important and to not get distracted by ‘the next shiny object.’

HIMSS: What do you hope to accomplish as an eExecutive mentor?

Turnbull: Over my career, I have had a variety of role models and mentors who have helped me to grow both personally and professionally.  I am forever indebted to them for their time, patience and wisdom.  If I can impart just a pearl or two of wisdom learned through experience gained through HIMSS membership, I’ll hopefully have served my purpose in this role.  One belief I’ve come to hold over the years is that it’s all well and good to be admired for one’s passion…but it is more important in this industry to be remembered for your compassion.  The challenges ahead of us will stress us as both organizations and as individuals, and it is so important to support each other.

HIMSS: What are the most notable changes you've seen in the field of health IT over the course of your career?

Turnbull: Quite simply, health IT has moved out of the basement on to center stage.  As we reshape the healthcare industry for a sustainable future, IT is critical to success at both the local and national level. I am particularly excited about the current emergence of mHealth as an incredible force in managing the patient experience both within our facilities and in their homes.

HIMSS: What advice would you give professionals just entering the healthcare or IT field?

Turnbull: There doesn’t appear to be any evidence that the pace of change in our industry is about to slow down.  There probably won’t be a ‘comfort zone,’ so get used to living in a world with no perfect answers, just more incredible challenges.  At both individual and institutional levels, we must constantly observe, learn and adapt.  Constantly take stock of your own capabilities.  For example, in mid-career I decided to complete a doctorate in healthcare administration.  We developed skills in the program that seemed superfluous at the time, but we were assured we would need them in another 15 years.  The faculty could not have been more prophetic in that regard...the sea change we are experiencing in healthcare today is exactly what they predicted.  So, enjoy the ride, I can’t imagine a more challenging and rewarding industry in which to pursue one’s career for the foreseeable future.