Executive director of Northwestern University Health Service steps down


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

Dr. John Alexander sits at his desk. Alexander (Kellogg ‘75, Feinberg ‘97) will retire from his position as the head of Health Service at the end of August after serving as executive director of Northwestern University Health Service for the past six years.

Matthew Choi, Reporter

Dr. John Alexander has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, an MD from the Feinberg School of Medicine, is an avid sailor and outgoing executive director of Northwestern University Health Service.

“I don’t know what you’ll find interesting about me, though,” he said.

Alexander (Kellogg ‘75, Feinberg ‘97) will retire from his position as the head of Health Service at the end of August after holding the position for the past six years. During his time at Health Service, he used his expertise in medicine, business and engineering to help redesign the new Searle Hall, update the pandemic plan for the University and redesign the sports medicine program. After stepping down from the position, he will remain with Health Service on a temporary basis nine months of the year to see patients.

Alexander first joined Health Service as a staff physician in 2002, having enrolled in Feinberg as a 43-year-old and graduating with an MD in 1997. Before then he had an extensive corporate career, working with Baxter Labs — a medical products and device manufacturing company — in Deerfield, Illinois, for more than 13 years. His experience in business helped him lead Health Service, he said, which is one of the few Student Affairs offices to have its own source of revenue, as it hosts a full, retail pharmacy.

“(Executive director) is basically CEO of the Health Service,” Alexander said. “It’s a little business we run here.”

In 2005, as medical director of health services, Alexander oversaw extensive renovation and expansion to Searle. The building initially was too crowded with outdated facilities, Alexander said. With an undergraduate background in engineering, he was able to lead the renovations, serving as the primary liaison between Health Service and the architects and construction firms, and drawing specs for the clinic to better match modern college health.

“When they found out I could read drawings, it was kind of natural,” Alexander said.

Alexander was made interim executive director in 2010 and full-time executive director two years after. As executive director, he was appointed to chair the pandemic planning committee and process, which updates the University’s pandemic plan every year.

He was also assigned to put together a comprehensive sports medicine program under Health Service. Previously, athletic trainers and the head team physician reported to the athletic department and were concerned only with intercollegiate athletics, he said. Now, the sports medicine program reports to Alexander and is open to all athletic and performing arts organizations.

Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, has worked with Alexander for the past five years and asked him to become full-time executive director. She said his diverse background in numerous fields made him the most qualified for the position.

“(He’s) an incredibly multi-talented individual. He’s a great engineer. He’s a great businessman, and he’s a great doctor,” Telles-Irvin said. “We’re going to miss him a lot, and we thank him for all his contributions.”

Alexander also oversees day-to-day operations of Health Service both in Evanston and Chicago. Susan Whiting, clinical practice manager at Health Service, said she values Alexander’s calm leadership, despite all the responsibilities of the job.

“People around you can be rather excitable about specific issues, but Dr. Alexander (has) — and he’s taught me this — the ability to step back and take a deep breath,” Whiting said. “I’ve found that really valuable.”

The time commitments of being executive director restricted him from seeing patients, Alexander said. After stepping down from the position, he plans to spend his time doing so again, he said.

An avid sailor, Alexander also said he hopes to take advantage of the free summer months to go sailing. As the search for his replacement continues, Alexander said he looks back fondly on his time with the University.

“Going back to the early 70s, I’ve been at Northwestern in one way, shape or form more than I have been away from Northwestern,” Alexander said. “I feel very, very fortunate that I’ve been able to be affiliated with Northwestern in so many different ways for so many different years.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @matthewchoi2018