Nick W. Turkal, MD

President and Chief Executive Officer of Aurora Health Care, a not-for-profit health care system based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As CEO, he is responsible for overall strategy and direction for one of Wisconsin’s leading integrated health systems and its largest private employer, with more than 31,000 employees.

Dr. Turkal holds true to certain core beliefs that help guide his decisions:

  • Stay true to your purpose
  • Actively listen
  • Never become complacent

The State of Health Care Reform

Read Dr. Nick Turkal’s latest message on health care reform.

Stay True to Your Purpose

When Dr. Turkal was appointed CEO in 2006, he began a shift toward a culture that inspired purpose and centered on patients. Aurora employees became caregivers, reflecting the role that each employee, clinical and non-clinical, has in fulfilling our ultimate purpose. One of his first acts was to develop and codify values for Aurora. Then he commissioned senior leaders, in concert with caregivers, to articulate Aurora’s purpose – a guiding principle that reflects what the organization does every day, now and into the future. The result: We help people live well. That purpose statement has been embraced widely by Aurora caregivers, serving as a guidepost for the organization ever since.

That singular purpose drives all of Aurora’s efforts to help and partner with people for health care and wellness. It also drives Dr. Turkal’s work to coordinate, simplify and improve health care. Bedrock to these efforts is the clinical quality of care people receive. Under Dr. Turkal’s leadership, Aurora has slowed cost increases and achieved quality and cost-efficiency levels that exceed other health providers in eastern Wisconsin. Standardization of quality makes a marked difference in the overall value of care. And the single electronic health record that the organization implemented under Dr. Turkal’s leadership contributes to reduced readmissions, reduced errors, cost avoidance and better outcomes and information for patients.

Dr. Turkal believes patient care is best when everyone moves in the same direction with a shared understanding That’s why he led the integration of Aurora’s 1,700 employed physicians into one medical group, meets personally with leaders from across Aurora’s service area, and regularly communicates with all caregivers throughout the year -- including two-way communication via his weekly blog, On Purpose.

By staying true to Aurora’s purpose, Dr. Turkal has led Aurora’s quality journey to levels that are best in class and recognized nationally. This focus helped Aurora weather the Great Recession without employee layoffs. In recent years, the system has outperformed many similarly sized not-for-profit systems, leading to an upgrade in its rating status to A2 from A3 by Moody’s Investor Services in 2015.

Actively Listen

Dr. Turkal is never the loudest voice in room. Those who meet him are immediately put at ease by the questions he asks and the way he listens. It is a skill he has honed through decades as a family medicine practitioner. (He does still see a small number of patients.) Active listening is the same approach he uses in guiding Aurora, believing that leading an organization is much like practicing as a primary care physician. Doing well by the organization and the patients requires evaluation of good data with the ability to truly listen. It’s also the same approach he uses communicating with employees, business and community leaders. By listening and understanding the health care needs of those communities, Aurora plans projects accordingly, whether it is a new hospital, ambulatory care site, urgent care facility or clinic. It is this approach that has led to a greater investment in mental and behavioral health, including more effective integration of these services into primary care settings. It’s what’s needed in communities that matters most.

Dr. Turkal also understands the wisdom of listening to consumers – those who are Aurora patients and those who are not. Consumers want big things such as 24/7 access to a care team to answer questions they may have as well as small things such as same-day appointments and easy access to urgent care. Input like that is vital as Aurora, through robust consumer insights, plans new services and access points.

By continually listening, Dr. Turkal has formed new relationships with elected officials, business and community leaders and members of the media. That work has transformed Aurora’s image and reputation into a more transparent and inclusive organization and a leader in community involvement and support, in health care services and beyond. Dr. Turkal is a member of Aurora’s 13-member board of directors comprised of local and national leaders. Their task is to chart a course for fulfilling Aurora’s purpose well into the future.

Never Become Complacent

A life-long learner, Dr. Turkal constantly challenges himself and Aurora’s leaders to understand important trends and insights and seek out better ways of doing things. Good is never good enough when it comes to taking care of those whom Aurora serves. Collaboration and innovation are key drivers. The statewide network he championed with other Wisconsin best-in-class providers, branded abouthealth, is a national model of smart collaboration that has caught the interest of other states. Aurora’s investment in StartUp Health, a health transformation enterprise, is an example of how Aurora is looking to harness innovation inside and outside of its walls.

Aurora under his leadership also recognizes the value of community collaboration and taking a lead role in addressing community issues. In 2015, Aurora developed and launched a signature program called The Better Together Fund. Partnering with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Aurora provided $10 million in cash and in-kind contributions to nearly four dozen community organizations to support the expansion of primary care and behavioral health services, as well as sexual assault and domestic violence prevention and treatment programs. This fund helps diverse organizations throughout Aurora’s service area, touching every socio-economic background and community throughout the system.

Under Dr. Turkal’s leadership, Aurora has accelerated its focus on diversity and inclusion in everything it does, from patient care and marketing to purchasing and human resources practices. As our society changes, Dr. Turkal recognizes the need to have Aurora employees reflect the diversity of the communities we serve and recognize the uniqueness of each individual we touch.

A strong believer in reforming health care from the inside out, Dr. Turkal is a frequent speaker at conferences and meetings in Wisconsin and throughout the country.

Dr. Turkal is a member of the Creighton University Board of Trustees; the board of directors of abouthealth, a Wisconsin network of integrated health care systems; the board of directors of StartUp Health, a health care transformation company; the American Hospital Association Governing Council for Health Care Systems; the board of directors of Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce; and the board of directors United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County. He is a past Chair of the Wisconsin Hospital Association Board of Directors. He has also served on the Board of Directors of Premier and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, a coalition of businesses based in Milwaukee.