Michael Dowling, from Irish immigrant to President & CEO of Northwell Health

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Life’s Tough — but Michael Dowling is TOUGHER, from Irish immigrant to President & CEO of Northwell Health—the largest Healthcare Provider in New York State—and true visionary leader of our time.

Dustin Plantholt’s “Life’s Tough—YOU can be TOUGHER!” podcast this week features Michael Dowling, President & CEO of Northwell Health (the largest healthcare provider and private employer in New York State), chair of the Healthcare Institute, and current member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences.

This “Life’s Tough” episode released on March 17th, 2021 and is now available on all major podcast networks under the Podcast Channel “Life’s Tough”.

Born and raised in Knockaderry, County Limerick, in Ireland’s southwestern region, Michael’s family lived on a small piece of property in an impoverished area. His home had mud walls, a thatch roof, three small rooms, and a mud floor. There was no electricity, no running water, no bathrooms, and no heat, only a big open fireplace where his mother did all the cooking. Michael was the oldest of five children and had to help support his family from an early age, but this only inspired him to push further in pursuit of his dreams. “No” was never an option for Michael as he realized early on, that with dogged resolve, one stands a good chance of achieving their goals and dreams.

Ireland in the 50’s and 60’s was a two-class system, and nobody ever thought that people without money would ever go to college. Even though Michael’s mother was deaf, she was an avid reader and passed that “love of reading” onto Michael. As a child, Michael remembers reading everything he could get his hands. In the end Michael did well enough in high school to make the cut and get accepted into college. “Never let your circumstances interfere with your potential,” his mother would say, always encouraging her children.

Michael became the first person in his family to attend college, graduating UCC (University College, Cork) while working odd jobs to pay his tuition. He went on to receive his masters from Fordham University, while also holding honorary doctorates from Queen’s University Belfast, University College Dublin, Hofstra University, Dowling College and Fordham University.

He began his career at Fordham University as a professor and the assistant dean at the Graduate School of Social Services. He went on to serve under Governor Mario Cuomo for seven years, as state director of Health, Education and Human Services, as well as Deputy Secretary. He also served as commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services.

Before joining Northwell Health in 1995, Michael was a senior vice president at Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield. At Northwell Health he was the health system’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, before becoming president and CEO in 2002. Northwell Health is the largest healthcare provider in New York State, caring for more than two million people annually through a vast network of more than 830 outpatient facilities, including 220 primary care practices, 52 urgent care centers, home care, rehabilitation and end-of-life programs, and 23 hospitals. As president and CEO of Northwell Health, Michael leads a clinical, academic and research enterprise with a workforce of more than 75,000 and annual revenue of $14 billion. “Innovation needs to be a core competency for any organization and part of its ongoing DNA.” says Michael. “It’s about people not being slaves to tradition, challenging the status quo and pursuing new, creative ways of doing our jobs and delivering care.”

As one of health care’s most influential voices, Michael tackles societal issues such as gun violence and immigration that many health system CEOs shy away from. He has also authored several books; his latest—Leading Through a Pandemic: The Inside Story of Humanity, Innovation, and Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Crisis—highlights the passion and energy that drives Northwell to be on the leading edge of medical policy and innovation, documenting dramatic stories of what it was like on the front lines, battling the COVID 19 pandemic of early 2020.

Today, Michael and his wife Kathy live on Long Island with their two children, Brian and Elizabeth.

Join Dustin and Michael for a stimulating conversation and hear how Michael overcame adversity and achieved his dreams. As Michael says, “If you tell me, I can’t do something, that’s when I become determined to get it done.”


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