CEO shares his thoughts on improving Idaho education

Dr. David C. Pate admits he’s no expert on education. But he fashions himself an expert on leading a traditional industry through transformative changes.

Pate is the president and chief executive officer of the St. Luke’s Health System.

He arrived in Boise in 2009 committed to developing an accountable care system that could be a national leader in achieving the best possible outcomes at the lowest possible costs. Here are some of his recent accomplishments:

Pate says education is in the same predicament as health care systems, facing the challenging demands of 21st Century customers who want online access, social media communication, personalized plans and affordable options. Both institutions face uncertainty with the election of President Donald Trump.

Pate and Betsy Hunsicker, the CEO of West Valley Medical Center, recently met with school superintendents to discuss their institutions’ common challenges, and share best practices.

“I think the superintendents really appreciated some of the ideas that Dr. Pate and Betsy had around strategies to recruit and retain talented employees,” said Rod Gramer, executive director of Idaho Business for Education. Pate and Hunsicker are board members for the statewide organization of presidents and CEOs, which is on a new mission to collaborate with educators.

The parallels between health care and education first dawned on Pate as he helped his daughter find a new home in Idaho. He wanted his granddaughter to attend the best possible school near the best possible hospital.

“What really bothered me is I knew that the outcome for an excellent education or a serious health condition might be different depending on where you live,” Pate said. “I told my organization, I can’t sleep at night knowing that’s the case.”

Dr. David C. Pate, president and CEO of St. Luke’s Health System, shakes hands with a member of the Air St. Luke’s crew.


He’s been on a journey ever since to standardize and implement best practices across all hospitals and patient experiences and to share what he’s learned with education. He’s a regular featured speaker at events for Idaho lawmakers and educators.

“Initial care should be the same no matter where you live and we shouldn’t have differences in outcomes of our education depending on which school you attend,” he said.

 Pate’s journey toward 100 percent success rate

Dr. David Pate’s resume
Bachelor of arts from Rice University
Medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine
Law degree cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center
Residency training at Baylor College of Medicine
Board-certified in internal medicine
Fellow of the American College of Physicians
Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives
*Pate was selected by Gov. Butch Otter to serve on Idaho’s higher education task force

Pate says success starts with leaders who outline a clear vision with a strategy and measurable goals, and use data to track progress. These are big tasks in the St. Luke’s system, which includes seven hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a network of outpatient rehab clinics, a nationally recognized cancer center, and more than 100 clinics throughout southern Idaho and into eastern Oregon.

“Then ask: If you’re not making progress, what are you going to do different?” he said.

His leadership team looks for bright spots — internally, locally and nationally — and implements them across the board. For example, he has worked with Micron engineers to lower infection rates in surgical rooms.

“The problem with doctors and educators is they don’t want someone telling them how to do their jobs,” Pate said. “But it’s important to standardize the process and measure against the same goals.”

To get the right formula, he interviews and surveys patients — he likes to think of them as customers — to find out what they need and want. Then deliver.

“Both in health care and education it’s going to be uncomfortable, but you have to address those who say they don’t feel like they belong to you,” he said.

Gramer said: “Business leaders like Pate run large organizations and they know something about leading their organizations in ways that achieve positive measurable results.”

Pate’s Top 5 tips for Idaho education

Here are Pate’s ideas, in his own words, for transforming Idaho’s public education system: 

  1. Have no excuses and stop blaming the kids

Hospitals exist to serve all kinds of patients. We used to blame patients for their own health. No, it has to shift to where I’m accountable.

Schools exist to serve all kinds of children. Don’t use socioeconomic areas, ethnic diversity or different levels of parental involvement as excuses.

Some educators will push back against my ideas. But ask yourself: What do we have to do to make sure we get the same quality outcomes for all children?

There is a reason kids aren’t performing well or patients aren’t improving. We have to look hard for the reason. We have to figure out how to work around that problem. It has to be our problem.

That doesn’t mean you let kids or patients off the hook, but we’re going to find out how we can engage that patient — or student — in their own growth and development.

  1. Get over being measured and use data

Those who pay the bills want accountability and they want to know professionals are performing at a high level and meeting expectations. They also want high performers to be rewarded.

We’re going to be measured, whether we like it or not, because people think in both industries we’re spending too much and not getting enough in return.

Instill accountability in education and the outcomes will improve.

Use data because in the absence of data we all think we’re the best. Besides, the only people who don’t like accountability are the slackers. If you’re high performing, you thrive on accountability.

If data isn’t in our favor, consider that data wonderful because it’s something you can work on to get better. Stop spending time dismissing things we don’t want to hear, it limits our growth. Remember, complacency is our enemy.

  1. Be student-centered

There was a self-realization in our organization that most of what we did was best for our doctors. Center most of what you do on what’s really important — 95 percent of meetings should be about the patient, or in education, the student. Do what’s best for students.

How much time do you spend talking about student achievement?

  1. Have teachers drive the change

If you don’t have teachers driving this change, then they aren’t empowered. They need to be setting the vision and helping drive the strategy and they need to be empowered to come up with new ideas and to learn from the bright spots in their own organization.

  1. Have a sense of urgency

You have to have a sense of urgency or you aren’t going to change. You have third-graders who can’t read — this should be an emergency just as though we had thousands of sick third-graders.

Is there is an acceptable number of kids who aren’t reading by third grade? Our goal in health care is zero and that’s our problem to solve.

Do things right 100 percent of the time. Set it as a goal and you’ll start getting better than you ever thought you could be. And you’ll keep getting better.

Click here to read Dr. Pate’s Prescription for Change.


Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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