Steve Davis, MD, to Head Cincinnati Children’s

Cincinnati Children’s marks a new chapter in its history with the announcement that Steve Davis, MD, MMM, MS, will succeed Michael Fisher as president and CEO, effective Nov. 22. Davis has served as the institution’s Chief Operating Officer since September 2015 and has been a key leader in the planning and construction of the Critical Care Building, increasing accessibility to care (e.g., HealthVine, CincyKids Health Connect), our response to the COVID pandemic, and more.

When Fisher announced he would be stepping down from his post this past April, it set off a national search headed by board chair Mark Jahnke. A 16-member search committee made up of representatives from across the medical center considered a strong pool of qualified candidates, but in the end, Jahnke says, Davis was the clear choice.

Davis, who is married with four children and two grandchildren, has an impressive background. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1984, he earned his MD in 1989 from the University of Vermont. He was a resident at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital (1989-92) and chief resident (1992-93). He went on to complete a fellowship in pediatric critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1996. In 2012, he received a master’s in medical management from the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he serves on the faculty and teaches leadership development. He also earned a master’s in strategic leadership from Michigan State University in 2020.

But for Davis, it’s not about being able to put letters behind his name. What matters to him is the learning.

“I am a learner and a teacher, a husband, a father and a pediatrician,” he says. “Those five words encompass everything I have done, am doing and will do in the future. They are at the core of everything I am.”

The Beginning

Davis grew up in Revere, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, and worked in the family’s Italian restaurant during high school.

“My mother was the daughter of Italian immigrants and one of the smartest people I’ve ever known,” he says. “She graduated first in her high school class but didn’t go to college because that’s not what girls from immigrant families did in the ’40s. My father’s parents came to the United States by way of Ireland and Newfoundland. He and his friends quit high school after 10th grade to join the Marine Corps in 1944 so they could fight in World War II. Mom was adamant that I get a college education, so I was the first in our family to attend.”

Davis wasn’t sure about his career choice at first, but he was good at math and science. He was also surrounded by premed students, which prompted him to volunteer at the hospital. “It just clicked with me, and I realized this was what I was going to do,” he recalls.

Over the course of his career, Davis served the Cleveland Clinic in a variety of key positions from 1996 to 2015, including as: program director for the Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship Program; medical director of Pediatric Respiratory Therapy; chair of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine; vice chair of pediatrics; and executive director of critical care across the Cleveland Clinic Health system. Before joining Cincinnati Children’s, he was chief operating officer of Hillcrest Hospital, a 500-bed facility with 2,500 employees that is part of the Cleveland Clinic system.

Steve Davis and his wife, Denise, who is a nurse practitioner. “I have such a strong partner in Denise. I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t been by my side, encouraging me, believing in me every step of the way,” he says.

Toby Cosgrove, MD, former president and CEO, Cleveland Clinic, and Davis. “Toby was very influential in my career,” he says. “He was one of the first people I called after the announcement about my new role to let him know what an impact he had on me all those years ago.”

Ironically, Davis didn’t set out to be an administrative leader. But his path was influenced by the plight of his patients and a growing realization that he could play a bigger role in helping them.

“As an intensivist, there is an adrenaline rush in the ICU where you go around and solve problems—you put a breathing tube in here, you put a central line in there. You calm a stressed family, and you get a lot of recognition for being good at managing individual challenges,” he says. “But as you mature, you don’t concern yourself so much with getting that adrenaline rush.

“The more patients I treated, the more I began to realize how many of those kids had preventable problems and that if we did a better job—as pediatricians, as a hospital, as a society—of protecting our kids, they wouldn’t need to be here in the first place.”

This realization instilled in Davis a desire to lead and help transform healthcare, but he recognized his colleagues in hospital administration had been at it full-time since college and understood operational and financial impacts better than he did. He would have to invest in more education in medical management to hone his skills.

As the only physician chief operating officer among 11 COOs in the Cleveland Clinic system, he initially was concerned he was taking advantage of the others in the group by constantly asking questions.

“They assured me that they learned just as much from me as I did from them because I could give them the patient perspective, the physician perspective,” he says. “I started thinking of myself almost as a translator between the clinical providers and the operational/financial leaders. That’s what I bring to the table.”

Davis accompanied Jenny Ginn, RN II (far left), on a home care visit.

Davis (as Doc Brown) joined Information Services' Tony Johnston, Marianne James, Terri Price, Andy Spooner, MD, MS, and Jason Napora to lighten the mood during an Epic install.

Envisioning the Future

Davis understands the challenges Cincinnati Children’s faces when it comes to transforming the world of healthcare for children in Cincinnati and beyond. Still, he says, “I envision a world where all children can reach their full potential—where racial and economic disparities have been eliminated, and where the ZIP code you were born in doesn’t shorten your life expectancy or quality of life.”

He also has dedicated himself to creating an environment where all employees can bring their best selves to work and feel empowered to make changes that positively ripple from themselves to their colleagues, to our patients and families and out into the world.

“One of the great things about leading the Critical Care Building project was that we had to put together a cohesive team that consisted of equal numbers of employees from Cincinnati Children’s, the architectural firm and the construction company. I made it clear to everyone that they were chosen to be part of the project because they were leaders. I made them all sign a covenant about how we would behave as a team. The expectation was that they would speak up in the meetings and offer their best opinions, because if they didn’t, how could we learn and make good decisions? Personally, I want people to see my blind spots and point out my biases. It makes me a better person.”

That spirit of collaboration has long been a hallmark of Cincinnati Children’s culture, and Davis hopes to strengthen it even further in his new role.

“I see my job as helping to put everybody in the organization in the best position possible to take great care of our patients, to continue learning and teaching, and to do the research that will benefit kids in the future,” he says. “I am an absolutely tireless advocate for kids and will always be, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you have to create an environment that’s a great place to work so that people can put their best foot forward.”

Davis says one of his first priorities as president and CEO will be to listen to employees.

“We have some major challenges with staffing shortages and increased stress levels, so I want to do what I can to address those immediate needs,” he says. “At the same time, I want to make sure we are mindful that we have a bigger mission and that we need to continue to strive to be better for kids. Pursuing Our Potential Together is not just a slogan. It’s what I, along with patients and families, expect of everyone in the organization.”

Davis gives kudos to Fisher for the example he’s set during his 12 years of leading the medical center.

“Cincinnati Children’s has grown tremendously during Michael’s tenure, and he has assembled a great leadership team that’s poised for even bigger accomplishments. The reason we’re going to achieve great things in the next several years is not because of me. It’s because of the foundation that he and those before him established. I hope to be able to contribute to it and energize some of our work going forward, but we’re already an amazing place, and we will continue to do amazing things for kids.”

The Davis kids (l-r): Brooke, Alex, Meghan and her husband, Jason, and Jessica.

Also pictured: Grandson Davis and granddaughter Ava.

What People Are Saying About New President and CEO Steve Davis, MD

“We were looking for someone bold who could take us to the next level, and Steve Davis is that person. He is passionate about improving children’s health and the healthcare system. Because of the work he’s already done leading the Critical Care building project and advocating for the team, he can hit the ground running, and that will have a tremendous impact. --Liza Smitherman Vice Chair, Board of Trustees “In addition to medical expertise, Steve brings exceptional problem-solving skills and a collaborative nature to the position of chief executive. He is 100 percent all in and inspires others with his work ethic, which ensures the best outcomes for the children in our care. Steve is a husband, the father of four, and grandfather of two, and his compassion is evident in how he has helped lead the medical center in recent years. He is a relentless advocate for children and families.” --Mark Jahnke Chair, Board of Trustees “I love Cincinnati Children’s, and so I’m extremely pleased that the board has selected an exceptional leader in Dr. Steve Davis as the next CEO. Having worked closely with Steve for the last six years, I can tell you that he has high integrity, an innovative spirit and a deep caring for patients and his fellow employees.” --Michael Fisher President and CEO

“As a key research stakeholder, I am very pleased and excited about the possibilities that come with Steve Davis as our CEO and how he will help further the mission of the Research Foundation. He is a true scientist at heart, with first-hand knowledge of the strengths of our organization and where true transformation can best take place. I believe Steve represents our best bet for the continuation of our research program, its transformation and all that it could become in the future.” --Jeff Molkentin, PhD, director, Division of Molecular Cardiovascular Biology co-director, The Heart Institute

“The fact that Steve is a physician leader is really important, given the landscape of healthcare today. He understands the complexities of the system and what it’s like to be on the frontline. He also has a deep understanding of Cincinnati Children’s and can hit the ground running.

Steve’s commitment to professional development is unmatched. As a champion of diversity, he promotes the development of women faculty and faculty of color. My hope is that he will serve as an inspiration for other leaders to do the same.” --Ndidi Unaka, MD, MEd, associate program director, Pediatric Residency Training Program

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