In the 16 years since pediatrician Dr. Robert Steele began practicing medicine, the Mercy health care organization has grown in size, scope and revenue. Concurrently, Steele has gone from treating young patients in a busy clinical practice to becoming the first physician president of Mercy Hospital in Springfield — all by age 45.
After joining then-St. John’s Clinic as a pediatrician in 1997, Steele began adding broader administrative responsibilities to the ear aches, respiratory infections and noisy vaccinations of a bustling pediatric practice. Through diverse experiences that include senior-level positions in market development and Mercy Health Plans, his reputation extends beyond the Mercy halls, as evidenced by his appointments to four local and statewide health advisory boards.
During the years, the organization has undergone many changes, including several administrative restructurings, a large-scale physician integration, and by 2012, Mercy Hospital Springfield had grown to more than 1,100 licensed beds, 782 medical staff members and with an operating revenue topping $900 million.
In February, Steele became the first physician chosen to serve as president in Mercy Hospital’s 122-year local history. He says the milestone is by far his proudest accomplishment, adding it gives him “an appreciation of the ability to make an impact on communities not only in Springfield, but across southwest Missouri and into northern Arkansas.”
From his pediatric offices in the Whiteside building on Mercy’s main Springfield campus, Steele brings a strong clinical voice to Mercy strategy and operations. Although it is important that voice is clearly heard during administrative trials and tribulations, Steele said he ultimately believes much of his leadership lies in the guidance of existing groups of talented individuals.
“In both clinical pediatrics and administration, leadership often requires knowing when to get out of the way of your team’s efforts, enthusiasm and execution,” he says.
In addition to his responsibilities with Mercy, Steele has been an aggressive advocate for children’s health care policy and practice through his leadership on the board of directors for Missouri’s Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics. He championed the group’s 2004-06 Pediatric Immunization Awareness project and will serve next year as board chairman.
Through his direction of Mercy’s Administrative Fellows program and Talent Development program, Steele exercises a natural focus on laying the groundwork for others that leads to shared success.
“I feel both a responsibility to our organization and the community to develop talent,” he says. “I stayed an extra year as chief resident at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, specifically to teach and develop the talent of the chief resident coming in after me.”
In addition to paving the way for future health care leaders, Steele maintains a full slate of service to the community. His board service includes the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Ozarks Technical Community College Foundation and the Greene County Health Commission and he supports child-centric nonprofit organizations such as the Child Advocacy Center and Girls on the Run.[[In-content Ad]]