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Faces of Weiss: Phillip Dothard, patient safety expert and opera singer

Phillip Dothard leads a double life.Phillip Dothard leads a double life. By day, he serves as quality coordinator at Weiss, ensuring the safety and satisfaction of Weiss patients. By night, he sings with  the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Dothard sang opera professionally for five years before constant travel and the “dirty sides” of the business got to him. “I’m not sure my heart was in it as a principal artist as it should have been,” Dothard says. “[Opera] is not something you choose; it chooses you.”

An Atlanta native who left the south for graduate school at Indiana University, Dothard has performed in dozens of shows, including The Barber of Seville, La Traviata, Romeo and Juliet, La Boheme and Carmen. Yet, was singing opera what he truly wanted? He asked himself that question constantly.

In search of something more stable (and local), he applied for a job posting as department secretary in Medical Education. Director of Volunteerism Terry Tuohy hired him in 2008.

“I hired him because he was an opera singer,” Tuohy says. “I thought that would be fun. How many people have an opera singer working in their office?”

Weiss employee Phillip Dothard performs at the opera by night.

Tuohy enjoyed his singing in the office, and once in awhile convinced him to belt out “Happy Birthday” when the occasion called for it. “You could always tell he had some song going through his head,” she says.

Within a year, Dothard’s current position as quality coordinator opened. “That’s the nature of the beast in medical education and volunteers. You don’t keep these people very long,” Tuohy says.

Right: Weiss employee Phillip Dothard performs at the opera by night.

Despite having a bachelor’s degree in music from Shorter University in Georgia and no background in healthcare, Dothard took to his new job easily. He says he enjoys the work, which involves extensive research. “Quality in healthcare is a moving target. It’s all about patient safety, satisfaction and outcomes. It’s nice to see improvements and changes implemented.”

Tall, bearded and classically handsome, Dothard spends his days at Weiss developing patient surveys and action plans in response to any citations or new findings. He continues to devote his nights to singing with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Tuohy attended one of his shows in fall 2009. “Their voices were beautiful. It was a fun, raucous show,” she says.

Currently, he sings as part of the chorus in Lohengrin. “I miss certain parts, but the stress level is much lower, which is more fun. It’s a better outlet for me,” he says.

Dothard has now worked at Weiss for almost three years. He joined the Green Committee earlier this year and hopes to implement a paperless charting system to use as physician order entry.

“I would love to see this hospital—because hospitals and healthcare in general are wasteful things—have green and environmental practices marry with patient safety practices to create a cohesive environment,” Dothard says.

The singer and quality coordinator knows firsthand that finding such balance is possible.

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