An Advocate for DEI in Health Education

John Schwartz (MHA ’69) invests in future graduates’ critical understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion to advance health equity.

When John Schwartz was earning his degree in the SPH Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program in the late ’60s, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives were not on the radar, a far cry from the current atmosphere at SPH where the Strategic Plan for Antiracism (SPAR) is central to the school’s mission and operation.

But Schwartz gained an appreciation for DEI efforts over a long career as a healthcare administrator. He spent 20 years as an executive at St. Luke’s Medical Center/Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, then served as a hospital president for 14 years at what became the Advocate Health Care system in Chicago.

“I got exposed to a lot of cultures in Milwaukee, but even the south side of Milwaukee was nothing like my experience in Chicago,” he says. “It was the most diverse cultural experience I’ve had in my entire healthcare career.”

“To be one of the leaders, you have to be able to discern the cultural differences of the people you serve.”

John Schwartz

The lessons he learned in that career have stuck with him, and Schwartz (along with his husband, Jim) are making sure that today’s MHA students are exposed to them much earlier. The MHA program, thanks to his continued generosity, has designated two new initiatives that current funds and a future estate gift will support.

  • From the John N. Schwartz MHA Fund, the MHA program is creating the John N. Schwartz Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Speaker Series & Student Group. The initiative will boost the program’s DEI plan, which includes a student DEI committee and allows for students to inform annual programming for DEI objectives.
  • From the John Schwartz & James Mosley MHA Practitioner Faculty Teaching & Learning Fund, the program will create The Schwartz Institute for Case Studies in Healthcare Management. It will increase the number of cases and simulations used in the MHA program and more broadly in healthcare management education, a critical tool for students to gain experience with issues they will encounter professionally.

Both will foster DEI education and tangible practical experiences — benefits Schwartz never had when he was in school, but are now a major focus at SPH. The DEI efforts align with SPH’s SPAR, a five-year roadmap with actionable goals to embed diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism into every aspect of operations, academics, and the student experience, which includes the top-ranked MHA program.

“This funding is really a step in the right direction,” says Gina Sung, the DEI chair for the Class of 2024. “It’s assuring that the program and our students are aligned with being good human beings and compassionate people.”

According to Schwartz, that’s critical for future graduates.

“To be one of the leaders, you have to be able to discern the cultural differences of the people you serve,” he says. “What is acceptable to some populations is offensive to others, and you better know the difference.

“And the same with your staff. Everybody comes with their own biases, including yourself. You have to feel comfortable valuing diversity, not fearing diversity or avoiding diversity. It is extremely complex, and it is extremely challenging!”

Thanks to his gifts, the challenge may become a bit easier.

John Schwartz
John Schwartz

Music has been an instrumental part of Schwartz’s life. He sang and played instruments in school at Lester Prairie, Minnesota (“In a small town, you’re forced to participate,” he says); was in the choir at Augsburg University; sang for 20 years in Milwaukee; and just finished a 13th season with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, the city’s oldest music organization.

For the Apollo Chorus, he had the chance to sing backup for the likes of Josh Groban, Aretha Franklin, Usher, and Rascal Flatts, and for 35,000 fans at the United Center for Oprah Winfrey’s last two shows in Chicago. Says Schwartz: “What other hospital administrator could put on his resume, ‘And I also sang backup for Josh Groban, Patti LaBelle, and at the Oprah Winfrey Show’”?

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