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Physician Musician: Chris Newman ’94

Physician Musician: Chris Newman ’94
In April 2017, Dr. Newman was one of the alumni from the Panuska years who returned to perform with the University’s student Jazz Ensemble in presenting a concert in celebration of the life of Rev. J.A. Panuska, S.J.

A doctor blends his love for music, science and family, propelling him to the pinnacle of his career.

In some ways, music and medicine are diametrically opposite. But for Chris Newman ’94, the two are remarkably similar. Music has helped him create a balance in his busy life as chief medical officer of a major health care system, physician, executive director of a physicians group and father of not one set of twins but two.

According to those who know him, Dr. Newman is a dedicated, quintessential physician who makes it his mission to uphold the character and values reminiscent of a small-town doctor, as well as a musician who plays a mean trumpet, and has studied under the Empire Brass Quintet and jazz legend Wynton Marsalis.

Fathers

Following the advice of his father, Ray Lewis Newman G’75, Chris chose Scranton, knowing he might be able to blend his love of science with his musical avocation. Chris didn’t come to campus as a freshman thinking he would someday practice medicine, but his desire to help others made him want to pursue medical school.

His dream, however, was nearly crushed. When applying to Georgetown University Medical Center his senior year, a computer glitch resulted in his application never getting processed. Lucky for him, his guardian angel came in the form of then-Scranton president Rev. J.A. Panuska, S.J. H’74, who knew Newman from his participation in the University’s music program. When he learned of the situation, Father Panuska immediately intervened, beseeching the school to reconsider Newman’s application. One day later, Newman received the good news: He was accepted to Georgetown.

“Fr. Panuska didn’t have to help me, but that was the kind of person he was,” Newman recalled. “I don’t know how the president of a university knows people individually, but when he heard about my predicament, he immediately went to bat for me. I am super appreciative, because obviously it changed the entire trajectory of my life.”

newman-inline.pngAfter completing medical school and his residency (also at Georgetown), Newman worked as a physician in a rural area outside of St. Louis doctoring an underserved Midwestern community. He embraced the old-time, family-doctor persona where medicine is focused on the person and the local doctor is an integrated and committed member of the community he serves.

(Photo caption: Ray Lewis Newman G’75, on his graduation day, holding his son, Chris Newman ’94.)

Practicing Values

After six years, Newman and his wife, Heather, moved east, where he joined a private practice. Eventually a local hospital acquired the practice, and Newman contemplated a career change due to a resulting cultural shift in the practice’s environment.

He decided to pursue an MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Years later, however, he returned to medicine as the chief medical officer at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Reading. Once again, he found himself working in an underserved community comprised of a large immigrant population.

Today, Newman is the chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs for Penn State Health St. Joseph’s and executive director of the hospital’s physician group. In this dual role, he feels energized about both his ability to provide quality care to a socio-economically deprived community and to create a nurturing environment for the medical staff.

“I not only want to make lives better for the patient; I also want to make lives better for our medical staff by creating an environment where they can thrive. Because if they don’t thrive, it will never translate into quality patient care,” Newman said.

One of the key tenets of Jesuit education that Newman values as a physician is advocacy for others, especially middle-class Americans, who he believes are being priced out of the health care market due to high premiums. This is what concerns him most about the current state of U.S. health care in which “the industry is struggling with a paradigm in which patients cannot afford optimum medical coverage.”

“Traditional reimbursement models have led to decades in which health care costs have greatly outpaced the growth of the economy, and subsequently even middle-class Americans are getting priced out of the market,” he said.

This has created the recent trend of mass consolidation in the industry and evolution of “mega-systems” to ostensibly create efficiencies and reduce costs. “Even though I think it makes sense from a business standpoint, these ‘large corporate entities’ can result in physicians becoming too far removed from the doctor-patient experience.” But Newman is not your typical physician mired in consolidation and detached from his patients.

“We have to provide an environment where doctors can stick to the core of why they decided to go through all the schooling and training to practice medicine,” he said. “Quality care for my patients is what gets me out of bed every day.”

Making Music for and with Others

His devotion to patient care and raising fraternal twins, Miles and Lucy, and identical twins, Molly and Lily, leave little time for outside interests. Yet Newman still finds the time to focus on his music. He jokingly admitted that if his medical career did not take off, he was “Juilliard bound.”

A former member of both Scranton’s jazz and concert bands, as well as a performer for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, Newman credited Cheryl Boga, conductor and director of Scranton’s Performance Music Department, for feeding his instrumental talents. If you ask Boga, the respect is mutual.

“Whether it’s being a featured guest with one of our student groups, teaching a music and medicine clinic for our brass seminar, helping current student musicians with their med school decision-making or medical observation hours, helping us celebrate the life of ‘Papa Bear’ Panuska, or making a donation to help us buy flugelhorns, Chris is unreservedly generous to his alma mater with his time, talent and resources,” Boga noted.

But music isn’t the only Scranton connection Newman values. Some of his closest friends are his Scranton classmates.

Geoff Speicher ’97, who first met Newman in high school through a community band ensemble, reconnected with Newman at Scranton.

“It was always obvious that music would not hold exclusive claim to Chris’s talents,” Speicher said. “He has demonstrated that same level of dedication and commitment to every aspect of his life. It’s hard to think of the Jesuit values that we learned at Scranton without thinking of Chris as an exemplar, helping others through his befitting path to the medical profession.”

Karen Kuehner Ford ’94, a classmate and friend, agreed. “Chris is a true credit to his Scranton education and the medical profession. He is a dedicated physician that truly cares for his patients’ overall well-being. He develops an excellent rapport with his patients by taking the time to get to know them as individuals as well as providing them with excellent medical care.”

Despite his demanding schedule, Newman has found a way to succeed as both a physician and a musician and credits his Scranton experience as the key to his success.

“Here it is 20-30 years later, and what I learned at Scranton still shapes my life,” Newman said.

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