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Thomas D’Aunno, PhD, Faculty Director, EMHM Programs
In January 2014, HPM professor Dr. Thomas D’Aunno will begin his new position as Editor-in-Chief of Medical Care Research and Review (MCRR), a prominent healthcare journal which tackles a broad range of healthcare issues. “I’m proud to have this position because MCRR is a journal that has been around for over 50 years, and it has made a number of distinctive contributions with the articles that it publishes,” D’Aunno says. One reason he took the job as editor is because he believes the papers it publishes are crucial for advancing knowledge and practice in the field of health services research and management. MCRR publishes a range of articles including review papers, which examine large bodies of literature; conceptual papers, which offer theoretical models to attack a problem; and standard empirical papers, which present data to answer a specific question. There are no page limits on the papers—a feature exclusive to MCRR. He points to the importance of MCRR as a journal which “crosses policy and management lines along with clinical research; it’s quite a broad journal with a broad mission.”

D’Aunno knows the position will come with challenges, including competition with a number of high-quality journals in the field, but he becomes animated when he talks about his vision for MCRR. He has plans to improve the profile of the journal so that the papers have a larger impact. “Specifically, we will need to take advantage of social media and other media outlets that get the word out about the important findings that our papers have. It’s a lost opportunity not to try to affect practice in terms of policy or policy- maker and manager decisions. MCRR has an excellent editorial board and a well-established history, but I think strategically, the challenge is to get a little more recognition to have a greater impact.”

Making an impact seems to be D’Aunno’s strong suit. His enthusiasm is contagious, and his students are quick to distinguish him as an engaging, challenging professor. Before joining HPM, D’Aunno spent six years as a faculty member at INSEAD (The Institute for European Business Administration) a prominent international business school, located outside of Paris. His experience at INSEAD presented new challenges which helped him sharpen his teaching skills. “In terms of content, I learned new cases and materials to teach,” D’Aunno explains, “in terms of process, I really learned how to use the case-method and other experiential learning. I also learned a lot about teaching in a multi-national, multi-cultural environment. My experience at INSEAD was an important part of my career.”

D’Aunno has taught organizational behavior across HPM’s programs. Regardless of the population he is teaching, D’Aunno emphasizes that to be effective managers, students must ask the right questions, not only of their organizations, but also of themselves. He encourages his students to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses as leaders and look for areas for self-improvement. D’Aunno also explores the knowing/doing gap in his courses, and stresses the importance of self-reflection in light of this phenomenon. “A lot of what is evidence-based practice for managers, we know intellectually, but we don’t follow through with,” he argues. “Because of human nature, we’re hardwired to make different kinds of decision errors. I’d like my students, as part of their questioning, to ask themselves ‘How am I doing with respect to this knowing/doing gap problem? Do I know what evidence-based practice is? Am I following it? How can I overcome these barriers?’ Asking these types of questions is really the key to improving leadership and management practice.”

D’Aunno’s professional path was not always so clear cut. “In high school I decided I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, possibly from watching the Bob Newhart Show,” he recalls, laughing. But he began to rethink his academic career in clinical psychology during his first field placement in a regional psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents. He questioned the impact he was having as a clinician, and encouraged by a course he was taking in community mental health, he decided to shift his focus. “I believed we could organize our services and outreach more efficiently to really make a difference. So I became very interested in the community approach, away from clinical one-on-one practice,” he remembers. The shift prompted D’Aunno to enroll in a doctoral program at University of Michigan that specialized in organizational psychology. The program was a better fit for his interests, and ultimately helped him establish a career using organization theory and research methods to study healthcare and social service organizations.

Over the years D’Aunno has been active in many research projects focused on organizational change. One specific angle that he explores is how alliances among organizations within a community—particularly in the context of hospital service providers—can work together efficiently to improve service delivery. D’Aunno is currently involved in a number of long-term research studies. The aim of one such project, funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, is to evaluate collaboration among community organizations broadly involved in health. The initiative began several years ago. “They funded alliances to work in 16 different communities across the US,” D’Aunno explains of the study, “now I’m part of a team to evaluate the survey and interview data that they collected to try to understand how these alliances work and how they contribute to improving community health.” D’Aunno recently started work on another project, funded by the National Institute of Health, to conduct a five-year study of how healthcare reform will affect the nation’s drug abuse treatment system, specifically, examining the ways healthcare reform might improve quality of care, keep costs down, and improve access to care. “It’s an interesting time in healthcare,” D’Aunno says, “and the studies take advantage of the changes that are anticipated, or in some cases, those that are finally starting to take place.”

It is difficult to imagine with all of this on his plate that D’Aunno has much free time outside of his professional obligations, but when he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his four-and-a-half year old son, and can be found chasing after him in New York’s parks. He also has a standing pick-up basketball game on Wednesday evenings, which causes him to “limp into the office on Thursday mornings.” In his more introspective mode, D’Aunno prefers to lose himself in a good novel. “Right now I’m reading Canada by Richard Ford. I like to read fiction because it takes me away from my work.” In light of all D’Aunno does, it’s easy to see why he might need an escape.