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Dr. Pate’s Prescription for Change

St. Luke’s Health System’s Journey to Transform Health Care

A Valentine for St. Luke’s President

By Lynette Pate, News and Community
February 14, 2017

Editor’s note: Dr. Pate celebrated a milestone birthday recently. On Valentine’s Day, here’s everything you need to know about our president and CEO from someone who’s been a keen observer and sidekick of his for about four decades: his wife, Lynette.

— Roya Camp

Wedding Photo

David was born in Augsburg, Germany, while his father was stationed in the Army. He is the first child of Jim and Charlene Pate and has one brother and one sister. 

After his duty ended, Jim returned to the United States to begin his education and professional career.  He earned a Ph.D. in economics and awards recognizing him as the most accurate economist in the country. He worked for what was then BFGoodrich and in President Gerald Ford’s cabinet as undersecretary of commerce before concluding his career as president and CEO of Pennzoil in Houston.

To appease his parents, he applied to Rice University, knowing the admission deadline had already passed. Rice historically has had a strong association with both the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Baylor College of Medicine, but David was attending Ohio State University and having a good old time. Much to his surprise, he was accepted to Rice as a biochemistry major.

When David was very young, his younger brother became quite ill. This made a lasting impression on David, and he set his sights on becoming a physician. In high school, he attended a career day at his local hospital — he was the only boy to do so, and the only student who fainted. For someone who wanted to be a doctor, this was not an auspicious start.

While attending Rice, David thought it might be a good idea to get more exposure to the medical field to see if he had the right stuff. The Texas Medical Center is directly across the street from Rice, so he tried to get a position that might give him some experience.

The TMC is one square mile of hundreds of medical institutions, and he went from hospital to hospital, asking to take any position that was available. One of his last stops was Hermann Hospital, which held two distinctions: it was the first hospital in the Texas Medical Center and it was the second hospital in America to use Life Flight. (The first was in Denver.)

This put Hermann in a unique position to have a large variety of patients admitted, and at that time in the early 1980s, intensive care units were not as highly specialized as they are today. If you had a traumatic injury and were an adult, chances were that you would end up in the surgical intensive care unit (SICU).

Hermann’s ER and SICU were administered by Dr. Jim “Red” Duke — who later had a TV show about his work at Hermann. When Hermann turned him down to be an employee, David offered to volunteer in the ‘grossest’ area possible. He was assigned to the SICU – where I happened to be working. His first ‘job’ in the medical field was the summer he spent helping burn patients, shooting victims, major vehicular accident victims, patients who required neurosurgery, etc. He did not faint again.

He subsequently was hired as an orderly. Back then, that meant you did whatever anybody asked you to do: burn scrubs, turn patients, clean up messes and so on. He then became the unit secretary, stamping order slips, ordering meals for the few patients who could eat, running blood gases down to the lab, answering the never-ending phone calls and again doing just about anything anybody asked.

Two conversations from that summer stand out in my mind. One afternoon, Dr. Duke cornered David and told him he shouldn’t go in to medicine because by the time he finished, there would be a glut of doctors on the market.

The second conversation was one I overheard one afternoon. He told his mother that he wouldn’t be home for dinner; we had gotten slammed with new admissions. When he got off the phone, I looked at him and said, “That was so thoughtful. Whoever marries you will be one lucky woman.”

And I have been. David and I married at the end of his first year of medical school and just celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary.

He finished medical school at Baylor College of Medicine and I attended his graduation eight months pregnant with our first daughter, Lindsey. He chose to specialize in internal medicine. His internship was carried out at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in the TMC. He did his three years of residency there, and was chosen to be the chief resident as well. It was during his chief residency that our second daughter, Laurie, was born. He began his practice in a small group, and after several years, he wanted to be out on his own.

Did I mention he also wanted to go to law school? During that time, his days were split into thirds: he practiced medicine in the mornings, he spent half a day in administration at the Texas St. Luke’s and at night he went to law school at the University of Houston Law Center.

By the end of law school, he knew he wanted to start shaping the future of health care. In his spare time, he began teaching health law at the University of Houston, and wrote and published the first textbook on regulation of healthcare professionals, a book adopted by several law schools.

He became the CEO of St. Luke’s in Houston, but when Boise came calling and he flew north to interview, he called me and said, “Hon, I think you better come see this.”

I knew only two things about Idaho: potatoes and Paul Revere & the Raiders. Boy, was I wrong. We moved to Boise, leaving our families behind. The following year, Laurie and her husband, Clif, moved to Meridian and the next year, Lindsey moved to Boise. Our three grandsons (ages 4, 4, and nearly 2) and one granddaughter (age 3) all are Idahoans and St. Luke’s babies.

Coming to this community has been one of the best decisions we ever made. My husband? He started out fainting and finished at the top, at every point along the journey gaining respect and perspective for every single person who works to care for patients.

And by the way, if you see him at the grocery store, go up and introduce yourself. He IS as nice as he appears to be.