Alumni Profile: Setting the Foundation
by AMBER BEMIS
Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, ’79 MD, credits her academic career at Northwestern University for laying the groundwork for her multifaceted career, including in her latest position as president of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.
“I acquired many important skills during medical school — I became a more careful listener, more passionate and compassionate and more attentive to scientific data — all imperative throughout my entire medical career and now in my new role,” Pescovitz says.
Along with playing a critical role in her career, Northwestern is the setting of many fond memories throughout Pescovitz’s life. She met her late husband, Mark Pescovitz, ’78 MD, on the first day of orientation week; she drank her very first cup of coffee during an overnight shift as a medical student worker at the Chicago Tribune; and she has watched her daughter Naomi Pescovitz, ’09 in journalism, her brother Emmet Hirsch, ’88 MD, ’92 GME, sister-in-law Arica Hirsch, ’91 MD, ’92 GME, and other family members graduate from Northwestern. Needless to say, Pescovitz has a lot of Northwestern pride.
Pescovitz began her academic career at Northwestern in the Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME), a cohort-style program where undergraduates complete a bachelor’s and medical degree in six years.
Our class had a very collaborative spirit. We all thought about the well-being of our patients but also the well-being of each other, and many of us are still close even 40 years later.
“I loved being in the HPME,” she says. “Our class had a very collaborative spirit. We all thought about the well-being of our patients but also the well-being of each other, and many of us are still close even 40 years later.”
In 1974, the HPME was considered progressive for the number of women who were a part of the program. Of the 60 students enrolled, 12 were women.
“Some of my lifelong passions and leadership roles started in medical school. I was encouraged by faculty Arthur Veis and Jack Snarr to get involved in student activities such as the Organization of Student Representatives — this really sparked my love for university administration and played an enormous role in my student life and my long-term career,” Pescovitz says.
Pescovitz celebrates graduation from medical school at Northwestern.
Lewis Landsberg, MD, former dean of the medical school, presents Pescovitz with the 2004 Distinguished Alumni Award.
Pescovitz reconnects with Melani Shaum, ’80 MD, during Alumni Weekend in 2015.
After medical school, she and Mark married and both accepted residency positions at the University of Minnesota. Two years later they moved to Washington D.C., where she finished her pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital National Medical Center and then went on to study endocrinology at the National Institutes for Health.
Following their time in Washington, D.C., the couple settled at Indiana University where she worked as an associate professor of pediatrics and he as a transplant surgeon.
During her 21-year tenure at Indiana, Pescovitz rose through the ranks and held many leadership roles, including executive associate dean for research affairs, president and CEO of Riley Hospital for Children and interim vice president for research administration. She is also an accomplished investigator. Her work focuses on the physiologic and molecular mechanisms responsible for puberty and growth disorders, with an emphasis on developing novel therapies for these conditions.
Although she has published more than 190 research publications, she describes the moments in her career where she brought people together to collaborate as her proudest accomplishments.
Pescovitz’s Career Evolution
“While I was the dean of research, I was the PI on a $155 million grant called the Indiana Genomics Initiative — this was the largest grant the university had ever received — and it was my job to organize the faculty who would be conducting the work,” Pescovitz says. “This is what I am best at: inspiring others to do their finest work and bringing them together. I think this stems from my time at Northwestern where I saw collaboration succeed for the common good.”
In 2009, she was recruited as the first female executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Michigan, where she was in charge of collaboration and activities between the academic health system’s hospitals and health centers and its medical school. There she managed three hospitals, more than 120 health centers and clinics and the University of Michigan Medical School, and oversaw $3.3 billion in revenue and $490 million in research funding.
During the winter of 2010, Pescovitz’s husband Mark was killed in a tragic car accident.
“When this happened I had to think hard about how I wanted to spend the rest of my career,” she says.
After finishing her contract at Michigan in 2014, Pescovitz took a short sabbatical before being recruited to work at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in Indianapolis as the senior vice president and U.S. medical leader. There she focused on learning about the process of drug discovery.
Knowing that her heart was in academia, in July 2017 Pescovitz accepted a position at Oakland University, where she plans to focus on increasing research and the University’s strategic growth plan.
As president, she plans to follow the lifelong leadership principles she calls her “8 Cs,” many of which she says stem from ideas formed at Northwestern.
“My vision is to unlock the potential of individuals and leave a lasting impact through the transformative power of education and research,” she says.
(The 8 Cs)