Dr. Kay Saving

Medical Director, Children’s Hospital of Illinois
Photography by Kira Kwon

Born in Wichita, Kansas, I was a Jayhawk from the start, even though I grew up in Dallas and St. Louis. I graduated from both undergraduate and medical school at the University of Kansas, where I also did my fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology. I did my pediatric internship and residency at the University of California – San Francisco. In 1986, I was hired as an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, where I am now a professor of pediatrics. I have been involved with Children’s Hospital of Illinois throughout my time in Peoria, and have served as its medical director since 2001.

Please reflect upon your major accomplishments of 2012.
I see my job as mainly being a facilitator—helping patients and families get through some pretty serious diseases or episodes in their lives, and helping other members of the medical team get what they need in order to provide the best possible care. So “my” major accomplishments are not really mine at all, but the result of good ideas, hard work and a tremendous love of children shared by my colleagues at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and Children’s Hospital.

In my combined roles with these entities, it has been my pleasure to continue to participate in recruitment efforts this past year, resulting in eight new pediatric, medical and surgical subspecialists joining us. That brings the number of such physicians to more than 115—a significant increase from the 70 or so who were here just five years ago. This growth is the result of longstanding collaborative efforts between the University and Children’s Hospital, working together to improve patient care and medical education in our community and beyond.

Several other programs at Children’s Hospital also deserve mention. One is new: the Pediatric Supportive Care Program, started in March of 2011, which is designed to meet the complex needs of patients and families affected by chronic and life-limiting medical conditions. In its first year and a half of operation, this program has served more than 350 children and their families, and provided education and support for staff caring for these children.

The other program, the Resource Link, provides child and adolescent psychiatric consultation, care coordination and case management, and training for primary care physician offices to help equip them to treat pediatric mental illness within the context of primary care. It began in the Peoria area and has successfully expanded to the east (Bloomington/Pontiac) and west (Galesburg/Monmouth) over the past 18 months. Primary care physicians can access the program for psychiatric consultation on medication management, diagnosis or other issues; to schedule a customized training session; or to refer families for care coordination.

How has your organization adjusted to changes in the business climate over the last several years?
I think most of us are aware that healthcare is changing rapidly and will continue to undergo tremendous change for the foreseeable future. Some changes are scientific and technological, resulting in improved care for specific diseases or medical problems, but the larger change relates to systems of care that will shift focus toward the concept of promoting and preserving optimal health through preventive care and health education, with patients and families as partners in that care.

This concept will apply both to people who are generally well and to those with acute or chronic illness. Medical professionals will be charged with the task of helping individuals optimally manage their medical care across their lifespan. This will require an increased emphasis on transitions of care across the course of one’s life and between different levels of care, as well as coordination of care for those who have more severe or chronic disease. Developing these new systems of care will require new ways of thinking and doing, as well as new financial models, but I think the two organizations I represent are up to the task.

What is your leadership philosophy?
I am a strong believer in the concept that knowledge is empowering, and believe it is my responsibility to share knowledge with those professionals I lead and serve, as well as the patients and families I am privileged to meet. In the work I do, it is critical to always remain in dialogue with colleagues, patients and families to be able to give the best possible care. In doing this, we need to learn to step outside of ourselves and view issues from the other person’s point of view. I also think that along with leadership comes the responsibility of mentoring others, providing those you lead with the tools they need to do their jobs and the opportunity to grow in their professions.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have received much good advice over the years, but probably the best was something my dad taught me when I was a small child—a concept embodied by the phrase, “You don’t have to tell everything you know.” He used it to remind me that often when I thought I knew exactly what was going on and wanted to let others know, it was probably better for me to listen first and then thoughtfully decide exactly what should be shared in that moment. He also used it to teach me that stating the absolute truth to someone, while it might be accurate, may not be the most compassionate or best thing to do.

Our purpose here is to build up and to serve—and sometimes that requires measured silence. That does not mean you can’t express your thoughts or ideas, just that you need to do it with a higher purpose in mind. People who know me might be surprised at this revelation and think that I never follow my dad’s advice! Although I don’t do it nearly as well as I should, I would ask those skeptics to imagine just what I might be like if my dad had never taught me this phrase. Maybe that’s why he felt I especially needed to learn it.

What is one goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
To continue every day getting better at living my beliefs.

How do you unwind after a long day of work?
One of my favorite ways to unwind is to get into my convertible, “pop the top” and enjoy nature on the 20-minute ride home. Of course, this method of decompressing is somewhat seasonal, but heated seats and turning up the heater can go a long way to accommodate the change of seasons.

What is your favorite movie?
I have two favorites, The Princess Bride and It’s a Wonderful Life. The Princess Bride is such a fun, funny movie with well-developed, clever characters, most of whom don’t take themselves too seriously. If you have any sense of humor at all, you have to love this movie. In It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart receives a priceless gift—seeing how the world would have been if he had never been born. The fact that each one of us touches the lives of many others when we don’t even know it should give us the courage to step out even more in our daily interactions. iBi