Dr. Xi Zhu, an expert in organizational behavior and theory dedicated to identifying strategies for improving the performance of healthcare organizations and preparing healthcare management professionals to thrive in a rapidly changing landscape, has been appointed the Paul Torrens Chair in Healthcare Management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. The chair, which provides critical support for the teaching and research efforts of promising early-career UCLA Fielding School faculty members, was made possible by an outpouring of support from alumni whose careers have been significantly influenced by Torrens, a professor emeritus and member of the school’s faculty since 1972.
“Dr. Paul Torrens is a giant in the field of healthcare management as well as a beloved colleague and mentor to countless leaders who have driven healthcare improvements in California and beyond, and his impact is reflected in the accomplished alumni, friends, and leading healthcare organizations who have come together to establish this chair in his name,” said Dr. Ron Brookmeyer, dean of the UCLA Fielding School and distinguished professor of biostatistics. “By supporting talented young healthcare management faculty members, the Torrens chair fortifies one of our school’s great areas of strength — a strength that Paul Torrens has been instrumental in building.”
A $1 million gift from Tom and Edna Gordon and the Don S. Levin Trust in 2019 established the term chair. After making the gift, Tom Gordon invited other senior healthcare management executives to join him in honoring Torrens. So far, 20 donors have contributed nearly $1.7 million, with the largest contributions following the initial gift coming from Dr. Arthur (Artie) Southam, a member of Kaiser Permanente’s national executive team and UCLA Fielding School alumnus; and Cedars-Sinai, whose president and CEO, Thomas Priselac, teaches in the school’s executive MPH program.
The Torrens chair is housed in the school’s Department of Health Policy and Management, which prepares healthcare leaders through various full-time and executive degree programs; and its holder will work closely with the Center for Healthcare Management, established in 2019 to bring together academic researchers, students, and practitioners to address challenges and advance the field. The center is home to a monthly series of public programs in which health leaders discuss timely issues affecting the industry — named the Paul Torrens Health Forum at UCLA FSPH in Torrens’ honor in 2017.
Initially trained as a physician, Torrens has gone on to a long and distinguished career in healthcare management and health policy. But arguably his greatest impact has come from the teaching and mentorship he has provided as a UCLA Fielding School faculty member, which has made a difference in the careers of numerous current health professionals, particularly in Southern California.
Among those inspired by Torrens was Tom Gordon, who served as executive vice president of Cedars-Sinai Health System for more than two decades, overseeing the organization’s medical network of primary care and specialist physicians. After Torrens invited Gordon to deliver a guest lecture to his students in 1995, the pair forged a close friendship and Gordon began an active and continuing role at the school as a preceptor, mentor, and guest lecturer. He currently teaches a course on leadership in the executive MPH program within the UCLA Fielding School’s Department of Health Policy and Management.
“This chair helps to ensure that Paul Torrens’ legacy at UCLA will be remembered for generations to come — and that the culture of collegiality and leadership he imparted to so many of us, which we then brought to our own organizations, is passed on to future generations of students at the UCLA Fielding School,” Gordon said.
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree and master’s in business administration from East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai, Zhu earned his PhD in sociology from the University of Minnesota and spent nearly a decade on the faculty of the University of Iowa College of Public Health before joining the UCLA Fielding School faculty in 2020. In 2019, he was named an Emerging Leader by the National Academy of Medicine.
Embedded in Zhu’s research focusing on the micro- and macro-organizational behaviors in healthcare delivery systems is a strong commitment to pursuing health equity, both in the research questions he addresses and in his efforts to work with community stakeholders to translate evidence into practice. Zhu is also devoted to mentoring master’s and PhD students, an important part of continuing Torrens’ legacy.
“The U.S. healthcare delivery system has been undergoing a fundamental transformation to become more efficient, patient-centered, and value-based, as well as to be connected to the public health and social services sectors,” Zhu said. “I am passionate about the real-world impact our work can make through training the next generation of leaders for healthcare management practice, policy, and research in this changing environment. The Paul Torrens Chair is an incredible honor for me because it recognizes the importance of healthcare management in contributing to the public good.”
by Dan Gordon