McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Trading cases: Joshua Tepper's path from aspiring lawyer to health-care leader

By Tina Depko
Published: January 29, 2019
McMaster alumnus Joshua Tepper is the new president and CEO of North York General Hospital.
McMaster alumnus Joshua Tepper is the new president and CEO of North York General Hospital.

Joshua Tepper was going to be a lawyer.

Born and raised in Ottawa, he was confident in his career choice as the son of parents who were wholly immersed in the realm of social sciences academia. The idea of law, and only law, appealed to him.

This career choice took him to Duke University to pursue a bachelor of arts degree in the Sanford School of Public Policy.

It was late in his final year in university, after his law school applications were submitted, when a friend jokingly challenged Tepper to sign up as a volunteer at Duke University Medical Center.  

The seemingly innocuous action changed his life.

"My entire time at Duke was spent focused on getting into law school, but after a short time at the hospital, I realized I was more interested in patient care and building those relationships," said Tepper, 47.

"I was volunteering on Sunday afternoons in the general internal medicine ward and I found tremendous joy in serving patients their dinner trays, sitting beside them and helping them eat. I also enjoyed the camaraderie with the nurses as I restocked shelves, took temperature readings, changed bedsheets and moved patients."

Tepper said McMaster University was an easy decision when it came to selecting a medical school.

"When you spend your whole academic career training to be a lawyer, and you suddenly want to be a doctor, the best medical school for you is McMaster," he said.

Tepper graduated with his medical degree in 1998, and transformative is the word he uses when asked about his experience at McMaster.

"It was an incredibly powerful time," he said. "Growing up in Ottawa in a middle class family, I had certain assumptions about access to care, but through my electives at McMaster that took me to places like Red Lake, Ontario, I began to see the tremendous barriers to care for patients in the rural part of Ontario and in Indigenous populations."

Tepper's passion for longitudinal relationships, range of practice and equity of patient care led him to a residency in rural family medicine at the University of Toronto.  

Early into his career as a family physician, Tepper realized he wanted also to be part of policy changes and leadership.

"What I realized in almost every clinic, if not in every patient, is that there are huge challenges that are beyond my immediate ability to solve just as a doctor, and that has driven my ongoing participation in more system-level leadership," he said.

Since then, he has served in such roles as member of the Health Results Team and assistant deputy minister with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, president of the Inner City Family Health Team, and medical director of medical professional practice at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, to name a few. He has maintained clinical responsibilities through most of that time.  

He also pursued additional education, earning a master of public health degree from Harvard University, as well as an executive master of business administration from the Richard Ivey School of Business.

After spending five years as the president and CEO of Health Quality Ontario, he officially started as the president and CEO of North York General Hospital in November 2018.

"I have not done a role like this before, but one of the things McMaster teaches you is to be a lifelong learner," he said. "There is going to be a lot of new things, and just like tackling a new case or module in medical school, I am going to thoughtfully and intentionally approach these new challenges with an open mind."

When Tepper is not at the hospital, he's spending time at his other dream job – as a husband and father. Tepper and his wife reside in downtown Toronto with their three children, including a son aged 12, and two daughters aged five and two.

Tepper credits McMaster as a key factor to his success, and advises upcoming medical students at the school to make the most of their time at the university.

"I encourage them to remain curious," he said. "Curiosity is how we find new opportunities and innovate. I want them to explore new things, find out what they are passionate about, and to be unafraid to pursue that passion."

This story originally appeared in the winter 2019 edition of the Faculty's magazine, Network.

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