Leader spotlight: James Volk

“I’ve always tried to come at leadership development from the aspect of being a servant leader."

Jim Volk

Dr. Jim Volk’s life and career are all about servant leadership: developing people, helping them succeed, and in the process, transforming the organization.

Early years

Volk, M.D., grew up in north-central North Dakota in the small town of Karlsruhe. He attended the University of North Dakota where he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and then pursued a medical degree at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. His residency training in internal medicine took him to Southwest Michigan Area Health Education Center in Kalamazoo. After completing his residency, he had an internal medicine practice in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for a decade.

Pursuing medicine

It was as an undergraduate at UND that Dr. Volk decided to pursue medicine as a career.  “The intersection of science and the art of relationships with patients fascinated me,” he said.

Joining Sanford Health

Dr. Volk came to what is now Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota, in 1997.  “I was looking for new opportunities, and I really wanted to be part of an integrated health system,” he said. “I believed that would help me provide the best care to people, that’s what brought me back to North Dakota and to Sanford.”

Dr. Volk joined Sanford Health internal medicine and was named department chair in 2000. It was around this time that he decided to become a hospitalist, a new specialty where physicians are based in the hospital to care for patients 24 hours a day so their colleagues can spend focused time in the clinic. Hospitalists provide comprehensive around-the-clock care and serve as a critical information bridge between the patient, their physician and hospital staff. Dr. Volk was one of three original hospitalists at Sanford Health.

“I’m really proud of the hospitalist program,” he said. “Today, the culture we started at the beginning still continues because it’s all about the patient, and how can we best care for them.”

There are currently more than 40 hospitalists on staff in Fargo who cover in-house care at all three medical center campuses on a 24/7, 365 days a year basis.

Becoming a leader

After several years as a hospitalist, Dr. Volk moved into a leadership role in the clinic. He also earned an MBA in health care from the University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities and became a certified physician executive through the American College of Physician Executives. His new passion became process improvement and he was very active with efforts in office practice redesign at Sanford Health in collaboration with the Institute for HealthCare Improvement.

Over the next decade, Dr. Volk held many titles and responsibilities, typically moving into a new leadership role every three years. He served as managing physician partner, executive partner, senior vice president of the clinic, chief medical officer and was promoted to his current role as vice president of Sanford Clinic for the Fargo region in 2016. In this role, he provides leadership for all physicians in the Fargo region. The various department chairs report to him, and he serves as the executive on the Fargo Physician Executive Committee (PEC).

An important function is overseeing physician recruitment for the Fargo market where he works closely with Susan Jarvis, vice president of operations, to approve all new positions for physicians or advance practice providers and sign contracts. And while he’s not involved in any day-to-day operations within the clinics, he keeps up on what’s going on in the various services and locations.

Servant leadership

What he enjoys most about his job is the opportunity to work closely with physicians, and he is very passionate about developing current and future physician leaders.

“I’ve always tried to come at leadership development from the aspect of being a servant leader. That’s very appealing to me. I greatly admire Ken Goodpasture, professor emeritus at the University of St. Thomas, and his work in this area.”

Servant leadership is often referred to as a “best model” for health care organizations because it focuses on the strength of the team, developing trust and serving the needs of patients. Servant leadership takes place when leaders serve their fellow workers and work to develop people and help them flourish.

“One of the things I always try to instill in physician leaders is to own their part of the work, their responsibilities. And to always assume good intent on the part of others when making decisions.”

Looking to the future

Looking to the future, Dr. Volk is passionate about “really fulfilling the Sanford 2025 vision, especially as it relates to the physician practice and achieving excellence in our services, research and education.”

And he is also looking forward to some downtime when he can enjoy his other interests — gardening, travel and bird-watching with his wife.

“When we travel, we try to plan it around bird-watching sites,” said Dr. Volk. “We recently had to delay a trip to Ecuador, but we are looking forward to doing some bird-watching there soon.”

Posted In Faces of Sanford Health, Internal Medicine

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