Paul Torrens, MD – Lifetime Achievement Award
Partners in Care Announces 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
Partners in Care Foundation is pleased to award a Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Paul Torrens, Professor Emeritus of Health Policy and Management at UCLA and founder of the Paul Torrens Health Forum at UCLA.
Part 1 - Overview
A natural-born teacher and an outstanding role model
Dr. Paul Torrens earned his M.D. at Georgetown University and his Master of Public Health degree at Harvard University, but California is where he’s built his legacy.
“Southern California is home to some of the greatest and most innovative healthcare institutions in the world,” said Jack Schlosser, Founder and Principal at Desert Vista Advisors in Los Angeles. “When you consider that he has been here since 1972 educating students, mentoring leaders and sitting on governing boards of both payers and providers, I can’t think of anybody who has had a greater impact on Southern California healthcare and the delivery system.”
In recognition of his years of wide-ranging service, Partners in Care Foundation (Partners) will honor Dr. Torrens with a Lifetime Achievement Award. This is only the second time that Partners has presented this award.
“More than anything else, Dr. Torrens is treasured as a mentor and guide to hundreds of essential healthcare leaders,” said June Simmons, President and CEO of Partners. “His impact is immeasurable and continuing to grow.” Torrens is a former Partners Board Member.
Dr. Torrens, who lives in Newport Beach with his wife, Jacquelyn, and is the father of four, is Professor Emeritus of Health Policy and Management at UCLA and founder of the Paul Torrens Health Forum at UCLA.
“The prominence of the school of public health at UCLA today is largely due to Paul Torrens,” said Thomas Gordon, former Executive Vice President of Cedars-Sinai Health System.
“The faculty members, the students and the administrators that he mentored and cared about are the reason that we are in the top 10 of schools of public health in the United States.”
A physician by initial training, Dr. Torrens focused his career on health care management and health care policy. In his 40-plus years at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, Dr. Torrens taught courses in health services organization and financing, health services organization and theory, managerial processes in health service organizations and managed care.
“He cares about his students and, in a very respectful way, challenges them to stretch,” said Schlosser.
Diana Hilberman is Adjunct Professor of Health Services and Director of the Master’s in Public Health Programs in Health Policy and Management at UCLA. Dr. Torrens was one of her first teachers when she was studying for her doctorate.
“He has always been an outstanding, natural-born teacher,” she said. “Healthcare can be very complex and he’s able to take all the complexities and synthesize it down to a crucial understanding, making things easy to understand without being either pedantic or patronizing.
“He’s always been like that. I became a colleague of his and we would teach classes together and he’s got the same method. He is able to put these concepts into different kinds of graphics, which shows all these complex ideas in relationship to each other, such that it allows the student to draw conclusions.
“I heard him speak at a dinner once where he talked about teaching. He said, ‘If you don’t wake up in the morning loving what you do, you should not be doing it.’
On student evaluation forms, the highest rating was a nine. For several years he co-taught a class with another professor, who complained that he put in hours of time working on presentations and would get mostly fives. “In strolls Paul, who speaks off the top of his head for two hours without any notes, and he gets nines,” said Hilberman. “He’s an amazing teacher.”
When Paul Viviano, President and CEO of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, was a senior at UC Santa Barbara he was considering going to law school or pursuing a graduate degree in economics. Then just a few months before graduation, he was introduced to Dr. Torrens by a friend who was attending UCLA.
“Paul was the Director of the Master of Public Health program and he convinced me to sign up for one of his courses,” said Viviano. “There were 35 or 40 students in the class, and his love of public health, his love for caring for the community and for the policy implications of healthcare was infectious. Everyone in the class was on the edge of their seat for the hour. That convinced me then and there that a career in healthcare management was the best place for me.
“He was so impressive and such a master of the impact that public health has on the country. It was alluring to think of a career where you can put those kinds of skills to work, as he had. I took every course he offered. I tried to stop by his office hours as often as I could, and he helped me think about which classes to take and what I needed to do to round out my experience, to be prepared to be a healthcare executive and healthcare manager.
“He influenced more young students to go into healthcare management than anybody because he did it for so long and was such an outstanding role model.”
Dr. Torrens is perhaps best known among his colleagues in the healthcare world for patiently guiding, mentoring, and advising generations of students, helping to shape many distinguished careers in public health.
“There are so many people who can say that they owe their career to Paul Torrens and that he was their biggest influence and their biggest mentor,” said Viviano.
“There are people who are leading health systems around the world who studied under him at one point,” said Jack Schlosser, Founder and Principal at Desert Vista Advisors in Los Angeles.
“I’m one of hundreds of people who look to him as a very special person in their professional lives and also in their personal lives.”
Tom Priselac, President and CEO, Cedars-Sinai Health System, hired Dr. Torrens in the late 1980s as a consultant on Cedars-Sinai’s performance and quality improvement efforts and the development of the related educational programs for the organization’s leaders. A few years later, Dr. Torrens invited Priselac to be a guest lecturer in a class at UCLA.
“There’s a class on leadership, which, as Paul liked to describe it, was the capstone course for the program,” said Priselac. “Part of the format of that program was inviting people from different organizations and leadership roles to talk about their own career paths and their own career development and their own perspective on the question of leadership.”
After Priselac had been a guest speaker for about 10 years, Dr. Torrens asked him to co-teach the course.
“It was among the most enjoyable aspects of my career,” said Priselac. “I had the chance to watch him in action. I’d like to believe that by osmosis and otherwise, my own leadership style and mentoring abilities have been enhanced as a result.
“I think he was way ahead of the game with regard to the role of emotional intelligence in leaders and I think his incorporation of those concepts early on was extremely helpful to several generations of students.
“I was a beneficiary myself of Paul’s mentoring. I had no experience in a classroom or things of that nature. Paul was enormously helpful in instructing me about techniques and then slowly but surely turning over the reins. It was an incredibly professional and gracious way of allowing me to grow and evolve in that kind of a role.”
As the co-editor of “Introduction to Health Services,” a widely used textbook, Dr. Torrens has shared his expertise with students far beyond the UCLA campus. The book covers major topics such as the practice of clinical medicine, government policy, information technology, and health care cost containment, along with in-depth information on health care finance, health care access, managed care, and insurance. Research and statistics throughout make the book the premier reference for understanding all the services that compose the health care landscape.
Among Dr. Torrens’s highest priorities is finding ways to connect the academic and practice worlds. One of the ways he did so was through monthly forums at the Fielding School of Public Health that provide a venue to debate and discuss critical issues in public health.
Named in his honor in 2017, the Paul Torrens Health Forum at UCLA brings together local and nationally known public health leaders, community groups, faculty, and students. It is a respected source of discovery and conversation about the prevailing public health issues of the day.
Recent topics have included transportation and homelessness through a public health lens. Featuring a panel of experts (many of them former students of Torrens) and a robust question-and-answer session, the Paul Torrens Health Forum draws a knowledgeable and engaged audience who cares deeply about the future of public health.
“It’s a chance for experts to talk about what’s going on in the industry and exchange ideas,” said Schlosser. “It’s a natural outgrowth of what Paul has done from the get-go, which is to help his students build a bridge from academia to the practice worlds. In a world where many people are not open to other points of view, he seeks it out. And as a result, his students are challenged to look at all sides of an issue. I just can’t tell you how important that has been to the reputation for the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.”
Bringing in experts with real-world experience in different aspects of healthcare management gives students an important perspective, said Jonathan Fielding, Distinguished Professor of Health Policy and Management and of Pediatrics in the Schools of Public Health and Medicine at UCLA. “It’s really different than having a professor talk about ‘The Theory of Change’ or whatever,” he said. “The people who are out there in the field facing day-to-day problems and strategic problems give a perspective that is essential for students.”
The Paul Torrens Health Forum is “the go-to place, if you want to know what’s going on in healthcare,” said Hilberman.
Dr. Torrens has shared his health policy expertise with a wide variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations in all parts of the United States and in 18 foreign countries. He has served on the governing boards of numerous health care organizations, including Blue Shield of California, SCAN and PacifiCare Behavioral Health of California. He is also a member of the Financial Solvency Standards Board, Department of Managed Care, State of California, and the Attorneys General Task Force on Charity Care.
Viviano recalled asking Dr. Torrens to serve on the board for Saint Joseph Health System. “To have him in the boardroom contributing to policy decisions, allocation of resources, strategic initiatives and the like was invaluable. When I became the vice chancellor for health sciences at UC San Diego, I asked Paul to be on the board for our health sciences division, which includes the medical school, the pharmacy school, and a big health system. His insights into how healthcare affects the community and what public health policy means were important to our success.”
Dr. Torrens’s leadership style is based on respect, integrity, and commitment to excellence, according to Priselac.
“I think Paul long ago recognized that leadership is about relationships and the importance of creating a strong personal foundation on which to build a professional relationship,” said Priselac. “Everyone who comes in contact with Paul immediately senses his appreciation for them, not just as a professional, but as a person.
“The biggest impact he’s had on me is the example of the humanity that he exhibited in every interaction I’ve had with him and every interaction I’ve seen him have with anyone else. We need more people like Paul Torrens.
He would take all the time in the world with his students, said Hilberman. “You go in for an appointment with him and it’s like, there was nothing ever, ever before you, and he’s completely focused on you. He’s extremely polite and a very soft-spoken guy, but he knows exactly what’s going on.”
Dr. Torrens has a very subtle dry sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously, according to Schlosser, but when he believes strongly in something, he will take a stand.
“He will let his opinion be known and isn’t afraid to state his opinion,” said Schlosser. “He is always respectful, but I’ve seen that he has a lot of mettle beneath that soft-spoken exterior.”
Schlosser admires Dr. Torrens’s endless curiosity about the healthcare industry. “He was very innovative in terms of sensing trends and then welcoming in the individuals who were perhaps leading at the bleeding edge of a movement in healthcare, whether it’s diversification, multi-hospital systems, the growth of physician executives, managed care and just so many areas that he was on top of. He is a searcher in terms of where things are going.”
Schlosser said he’s studied leadership and one of the common threads is that great leaders have the ability to focus on the individual person they’re dealing with while not losing sight of the big picture. “When you’re in his presence, he’s at a hundred percent and people feel that and appreciate it. To paraphrase Maya Angelo, ‘People may not remember exactly what you said, and may not remember even what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.’ That makes me think of him.
“He’s thoughtful, humble, respectful, caring, passionate, innovative, giving, courageous, strategic. He has a lot of characteristics that add up to a very impressive list and he’s very consistent. The person I met in 1972 shows up virtually the same through all through the years.”
In 2019, an endowed chair at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health was named in his honor. The Paul Torrens Chair in Healthcare Management will support the teaching and research activities of a faculty member with healthcare management expertise.
Funded by a gift of over $1 million from the Don S. Levin Trust and Edna and Tom Gordon, the chair is based within the Fielding School’s Center for Healthcare Management and the school’s Department of Health Policy and Management.
“Paul Torrens has influenced the careers of generations of healthcare management professionals,” said Ron Brookmeyer, interim dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “This transformative gift ensures that his impact will continue well into the future.”
Among those inspired by Torrens was Tom Gordon, who served as executive vice president of Cedars-Sinai Health System for 22 years, during which time he oversaw the organization’s medical network of primary care and specialist physicians. Gordon’s involvement with the Fielding School began in 1995, when Torrens invited him to deliver a lecture to his students.
“Paul Torrens has made a tremendous impact on healthcare management and policy in California, the state recognized as a national leader in transforming the U.S. healthcare system,” said Gordon. “As a teacher and mentor, he has set an example for so many of us. It is my honor to play a role in furthering his legacy through the Paul Torrens Chair.”
Presentation of Dr. Torrens’s Lifetime Achievement Award will take place at Partners’ Annual Tribute Dinner on Monday, June 21, 2021. To learn more about this event, register to attend the event, or sign up as a sponsor, please visit: Partners’ 2021 Annual Tribute Dinner.
Partners in Care Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in San Fernando. Its mission is to shape the evolving health system by developing and spreading high-value models of community-based care and self-management for diverse populations with chronic conditions.
Part 2 - The Mentor
A trusted and passionate mentor who has guided generations of students.
Respected as a teacher, textbook author and healthy policy expert, Dr. Paul Torrens perhaps wins highest praise for his role as a mentor.
Dr. Torrens has been “incredibly helpful” to many students and former students, said Jonathan Fielding, Distinguished Professor of Health Policy and Management and of Pediatrics in the Schools of Public Health and Medicine at UCLA. “Whenever I sent a student of mine to Paul, they were always overjoyed with the kind of attention he would give to their problems and to advising them about potential different careers and that aspect of public health. He is tireless in helping students with their career goals.”
“Paul Torrens has what I would describe as a limitless commitment to the field of healthcare and the field of healthcare leadership development, and by extension a limitless commitment to the students,” said Tom Priselac, President and CEO, Cedars-Sinai Health System.
“He also has an ability to identify and develop and mentor talent in ways that I think very few people do. He has probably played a role in the education and career development of more individuals in the Southern California healthcare deliveries scene than any other individual in the last 30 years.”
Dr. Torrens, Professor Emeritus of Health Policy and Management at UCLA and founder of the Paul Torrens Health Forum at UCLA, has been connecting with students since he came to UCLA in 1972.
Jack Schlosser, Founder and Principal at Desert Vista Advisors in Los Angeles, also arrived at UCLA that year.
“He was the head of the division of healthcare services, I was an entering master’s student, and I was fortunate enough to have him as my advisor. We have stayed connected ever since. Because of how he approaches life and his profession, he is like a magnet to people who want to stay connected with him.”
Dr. Torrens played a key role in Schlosser’s career. “When I made a career move from hospital management to a consulting role, I said to him, ‘I’ve heard that the consulting world can be quite competitive but I’m looking forward to giving it a shot.’ And I just remember him saying, ‘If you’re good at what you do, the market will find you.’
“That’s how he approaches so many things – set a high bar, strive to achieve and the rest will take care of itself.”
Dr. Torrens also played a role in the career path of Schlosser’s daughter.
“She was in high school and became interested in science and medicine ultimately. Over the years I’ve spoken to many physicians who look back and wonder if they made the right decision, so I encouraged her to talk to Paul for some advice. She ultimately went to medical school, became a neurologist and is a partner in San Diego with Kaiser. He played a very important role, giving her objective insights into what it would be like to be a physician and was always there whenever she wanted to reach out.”
Richard Sinaiko was in his 20s and trying to figure out a career path when someone suggested he meet with Dr. Torrens. He said he felt “an instant connection.” After sitting in one of Dr. Torrens’s classes, Sinaiko enrolled in UCLA’s MPH program.
Sinaiko went on to hold senior executive positions at the UCLA Medical Center and American Medical International and served as Assistant Dean of the USC School of Medicine before forming Sinaiko Healthcare Consulting, a leading healthcare management consulting firm.
“All of this time, Paul Torrens was my constant go-to person for career advice, health care, business advice, personal advice,” said Sinaiko, whose family helped fund the Center for Healthcare Management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. The center draws from the expertise of industry leaders to shape research questions designed to influence healthcare management practices and is the home of the Paul Torrens Health Forum.
“What success I’ve had, I owe it all to him. He was not only an advisor, but he became a very close friend. I referred a huge number of people into his program and they all ended up having the same kind of relationship with him.”
“He always had time for people, every student. He’s very engaging, always attentive, never wants to dominate a conversation. He’s always interested in what the other person has to say.”
Among the lessons Sinaiko learned from Dr. Torrens was the value of patience and the importance of staying current with healthcare trends. “He also stressed the need for healthcare managers to understand physicians. Successful people in business oftentimes are extremely aggressive, and you can’t behave that way when you’re dealing with doctors.”
For those lucky enough to have Dr. Torrens as a mentor, the connection is long-lasting. “He never leaves his sheltering position,” said Fielding. “Once you’ve been coached by him, it’s kind of like he’s the go-to person, and he cares about you and he wants to help. He’s always anxious to be of service. He stubbornly looks out for the interests of his students and advisees. I can’t think of anybody who’d be a better advisor if I was interested in healthcare management.”
Diana Hilberman, Adjunct Professor of Health Services and Director of the Master’s in Public Health Programs in Health Policy and Management at UCLA, was a student of Dr. Torrens when she entered the doctorate in public health program in 1989. Before she finished her doctorate, she was the Director of Internships.
“He would tell me who was who in the field,” she said. “He knew his students and he knew the people in the field, and he knew what they were looking for. He would say, ‘Find out if so and so wants to work at such and such,’ or, ‘Call them and see if they have something available, because this student would be good for that particular task at that organization.’ He did wonderful brokering.”
Hilberman said one of Dr. Torrens’s greatest gifts is his ability to help students fine-tune their career goals. “It’s a big field, with lots of different places you can go. You can go into operations. You can go into analysis. You can go into pharmacy or hospitals or health plans or policy. He’s really good at helping students clarify what their interests are, and then he starts them off by connecting them with the right person in that field.”
Thomas Gordon, former Executive Vice President of Cedars-Sinai Health System, offered internships to Dr. Torrens’s master’s students between their first and second year. “I had an intern for 25 years and I ended up hiring every one of them when they graduated,” he said.
“I happen to love mentoring, and I learned a lot about it from Paul. Paul takes a deep interest in all of his students. He’s thoughtful in his nature, not professorial, but fatherly.”
“He landed people in jobs, because when Paul Torrens calls you and says this is a good fit for your organization, he wasn’t just calling everyone he knew to find someone a job. He actually cared enough to figure out where the good matches would happen.”
Gordon also sent students in Torrens’s direction. “I would call him and say, ‘I have a young employee here who I think would be a good fit for your program. Would you mind taking the time to meet them?’ They would go to meet him. They would immediately leave with the same reaction everybody else had, what a great place to do my master’s work and what a great opportunity to meet a man like Paul Torrens.”
For eight years, Gordon was MC for a gala event organized by the Fielding School of Public Health where health care dignitaries were honored. The event drew about 350 people. “One of the things I did as the MC was to ask those in the room who had been affected, had their career affected, or been mentored by Paul Torrens to stand up. Almost the entire room would stand up.
“I can’t think of one person in the city of Los Angeles, or maybe the state of California, who would tell you that Paul did anything but care about them and offer them help, even people that he may not have been that close to. He offered himself up as a resource and is responsible for so many people being in the positions that they hold today. It’s incredible.”
Tom Priselac, President and CEO, Cedars-Sinai Health System, saw Dr. Torrens in action as a mentor when the two were co-teaching a course. “The students were looking for, among other things, career advice. Among the things I witnessed when Paul did that was him exhibiting the important leadership characteristic of role modeling when it comes to listening. His approach to mentoring was really built around asking questions of the students in order to help the students find the answer for themselves, as opposed to him imparting his own sense of what the answer is. I think that’s a unique and special skill.”
One of Dr. Torrens’s great assets is that “he knows everybody,” said Paul Viviano, President and CEO of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “He knew people at the Public Health Department, he knew people in hospitals, he knew people at the health plans, and he knew people in Washington, DC in the Medicare administration. If he thought someone could help you, he connected you.”
Viviano has known Dr. Torrens as a teacher, program director, advisor, colleague, and ultimately, friend.
“You never lose the admiration that you have for someone who’s so impressive. He’s been devoted to not just helping me and my career, but hundreds of executives over his career. You’ll hear my story from countless numbers of young executives he has helped in the same way.
“It’s always wonderful to have somebody who you can count on no matter what to give you advice, and that you can count on it to be real advice, not gratuitous advice, not comments like ‘Oh, you’re doing great, yada, yada.’ Not him. No, he would say, ‘You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to think about that. You need to challenge yourself.’ It’s reliable advice, sage advice, challenging advice. If you deserved a pat on the back, you’d get it. More likely, you’d get, ‘You can do more. You have to think about stretching yourself in this way. Your organization can do better. You can do more.’
“You always want to do more for people who challenge you like that and that you rely on and that you trust. He’s been all the things that you dream about in terms of a mentor in your career, someone who cares, somebody who provides great advice, real time feedback, knows people to connect you with, will take the time, selfless, sacrificing time to help.”
Viviano hired many graduates from Dr. Torrens’s program, and he was always expected to provide some follow-up.
“Several times a year, he would call and say, ‘How’s your fellow doing? Are you giving that fellow exposure and opportunities, stretching them and challenging them and rewarding them?’ These were recent graduates, within a year of them walking out of UCLA. He supported them and was an advocate for them. That’s how much he cared about his students. And that sounds easy, but if you have 30 or 40 students graduating every year to keep track of, and he’s tracking them all. It’s just amazing.
“He influenced hundreds, probably thousands of people, directly and indirectly at UCLA. How lucky am I, how blessed am I that he did it for me? He did it for so many people. How blessed are all of us to have his presence in our life?”
In recognition of his years of wide-ranging service, Partners will honor Dr. Torrens with a Lifetime Achievement Award. This is only the second time that Partners has presented a Lifetime Achievement Award. Recognition will take place at Partners’ Annual Tribute Dinner on Monday, June 21, 2021.
To learn more about Partners’ Annual Tribute Dinner, register to attend the event, or sign up as a sponsor, please visit: Partners’ 2021 Annual Tribute Dinner.