William W. McGuire, M.D.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer,
UnitedHealth Group

Dr. William McGuireWilliam McGuire, M.D., School of Medicine class of 1974, is a man of diverse accomplishment, from high school basketball star, to honor medical graduate, to one of Worth magazine’s top 50 CEOs. A physician and researcher by training, he now leads a Fortune 50 company that seeks to “make the health care system work better.”

Born in Troy, N.Y., Dr. McGuire and his family moved to League City, Texas, when he was a child. He attended Clear Creek High School, where in 1965 he led his basketball team to a 28-3 season. As the six-foot-five-inch center, he was considered both the height and the brains of the team.

As a child, Dr. McGuire dreamed of becoming a physician. An illness in his family let him see the practice of medicine up close, and his family doctor, Dr. Ned Dudney (School of Medicine class of 1949 and an Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus) had a powerful influence on his career choice.

Dr. William McGuire class photoUpon graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1970, he enrolled in UTMB’s School of Medicine for its location, its affordability and its reputation for quality. He felt fortunate to study under such UTMB greats as Dr. Truman G. Blocker, Jr., and Dr. William Deiss, among others, and remains impressed by the breadth of experience he obtained during his studies in Galveston. He married his UT Austin sweetheart, Nadine, in 1971 and received his medical degree in 1974, graduating with highest honors.

Dr. William McGuire with fishBut being an honor student didn’t stop the doctor-in-training from engaging in his favorite hobbies. Armed with a much-envied photographic memory and the ability to readily understand all he took in, Dr. McGuire was able to make straight A’s in a demanding curriculum while enjoying what nature had to offer on the island. An avid fisherman even at a young age, he would sell his day’s catch to the legendary Galveston eatery Gaido’s—perhaps hinting at his future success in business. And he would spend evenings in city parks, collecting moths and butterflies. (Dr. McGuire has such a passion for Lepidoptera that, over the years, he made many notable discoveries in the field, published journal articles on the subject and had several new butterflies named after him. His collection of more than 30,000 specimens now resides at the University of Florida, housed within the internationally recognized McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.)

After completing his internship in internal medicine at UTMB in 1975, Dr. McGuire was an internal medicine resident, chief resident and pulmonary fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Following his graduate training, he joined the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in 1978, where he conducted basic research on immunopathology of the lung. The work was exciting and rewarding, but he found himself missing the interaction and challenge of patient care. Leaving academia, he and Nadine moved to Colorado Springs in 1980 where, board-certified in pulmonary and internal medicine, he worked as a critical care and pulmonary medicine specialist.

Dr. McGuire soon became involved with the Colorado Foundation of Medical Care and its Quality Assurance Committee. This experience spurred his involvement with a local health plan in the early days of health maintenance organizations. After leaving his clinical practice in 1986 to work in that arena, he was named executive vice president of United HealthCare Corporation in Minneapolis in 1988 and became chairman and chief executive officer in 1991.

Dr. William McGuire as chairman of United HealthCare GroupUnitedHealth was a relatively small and very challenged business then, which allowed the senior management team to reshape the thinking, structure and direction of the company. The organization transformed its role in the marketplace from that of a traditional HMO company into a diverse and revolutionary health care services business that promoted physicians as gateways to better care—a stark contrast to the popular physician gatekeeper model. Among its many efforts, the company focused on using data to help providers and care managers improve health care services and outcomes.

The direction proved successful, and Dr. McGuire now leads UnitedHealth Group, the renamed organization in which innovation is part of the culture and where over 65 million people currently access services that include programs for the elderly and those with chronic illness, health insurance, data and information, and technologically advanced administrative services.

Dr. William McGuireNamed among Worth magazine’s 50 best CEOs in America in 2001, Dr. McGuire has repeatedly called for specific actions to improve health care: essential health benefits for all Americans; the mandate that science and evidence define health care decision-making; the positioning of physicians as the center point of health care delivery; the use of relevant health care information by all parties to help realize optimum care decisions; and the application of modern technology to improve and simplify health care service administration. He strongly believes that our nation’s health care system has unparalleled potential, but has not yet realized that promise or extended its capabilities to all those in need. His focus today is on the imperatives of improving access to care, simplifying the health care experience, promoting quality and making health care more affordable.

UnitedHealth Group has been credited with numerous advances under Dr. McGuire’s leadership. They include programs that provided direct and open access to physicians; the first report card on health care access, quality and cost measures; clinical profiles reports that physicians use to compare their own clinical practices to those of their peers as well as against nationally accepted benchmarks for care; the replacement of pre-certification rules and processes with care coordination programs; knowledge and information tools that help people gain understanding of the clinical and financial implications of their decision processes; electronic medical ID cards that use existing magnetic stripe technology and standard credit card systems to more easily and quickly verify patient eligibility, benefits and even transient essential clinical information; and early programs to bring health and financial services together to facilitate less costly and faster administrative service interfaces.

Dr. William McGuire receives Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus AwardDr. McGuire’s commitment to philanthropy is as strong as that to accessible, affordable and quality medical care. In 1996, he and Nadine established the William W. McGuire and Nadine M. McGuire Family Foundation, which provides support for education, the arts, medical research, and biodiversity and the environment. Dr. McGuire is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and in 2004 received the Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus Award, UTMB’s highest alumni honor. In May 2005, he was honored for his medical and philanthropic work with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.

Dr. McGuire attributes his success in part to his medical training and research background, which enabled him to recognize critical differences between anecdotal and objective approaches to problems. The rigorous work ethic and commitment to excellence demanded in the UTMB medical experience provided him a solid foundation for future success across a variety of endeavors. That determination has proven to be vital in his ongoing efforts to build an important patient- and physician-responsive organization—one that is, indeed, helping to make health care work better.

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