For Doctor Granato, Saving Lives is the Biggest Gift


Jerry Granato ’75

When one pictures the trajectory of a doctor, few imagine beginning with a degree as a chemical engineer, but that is exactly how it started for Dr. Jerome Granato, ’75. Yet to hear Granato tell his own story, Stevens was instrumental in that journey, largely in part to a program called UPTAM (Undergraduate Projects in Technology and Medicine), which was run by Professors Ajay Bose and Ritter. Students selected for the program spent the summer working with the College of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark. Granato worked with a lung specialist and spent two summers building a portable artificial respirator, a prototype model.

“It was really during the UPTAM program and those interfaces with the College of Medicine and Dentistry that I started to think the better path for me would not be chemical engineering, but getting a medical degree and becoming some sort of medical researcher,” he said.

Granato began figuring out what he needed to do to get into medical school. He took a year’s worth of biology in six weeks and applied to over a dozen schools. On Christmas Eve in 1974, New York Medical College accepted him, followed by the College of Medicine and Dentistry. But he was waitlisted at Yale and Johns Hopkins, the two places he was most impressed with. His hope was rewarded shortly before graduation, when he got the call from Johns Hopkins and accepted on the spot.

While all of that demonstrates his keen ability to focus and accomplish goals, it doesn’t reveal his nature as readily as when he was faced with the dilemma of how to spend his summer before medical school. Granato planned to work as a chemical engineer intern for Colgate-Palmolive, which would give him enough money to pay for a year’s worth of school. But Dr. Bose told Jerry that they needed him to finish work on the UPTAM project and they could only pay him $600. The previous summer, he worked on an UPTAM project that was building a device that would help the heart contract, a device that is now called a ventricular assist device. Jerry recalls telling Bose that his father was an electrician and they could use the money. Bose replied, “Jerry, I understand. But in general, you should never follow the money, let the money follow you. Do what you think is best.”

Jerry went home and spoke to his parents, who advised him to do what was fair and assured him they would find a way to pay the bills. “I turned down the job and spent my fourth summer working with UPTAM because it was the right thing to do, and it was critically important advice about ethics, doing the right thing, and to this day, I thank Dr. Bose for that,” said Granato. “I have shared that advice repeatedly with virtually every medical student and resident I’ve trained.”

How students learn fascinates Dr. Granato. It might be said that he learned how to learn his first year of med school under the tutelage of Dr. Vernon Mountcastle, who had no curriculum for the class and told them to use any book they wanted. When asked what would be on the exam, Mountcastle answered, “everything.”

“As a young student, to hear that, you can imagine how that shakes you,” said Granato. “But again, one of life’s great lessons. Thirty years later, has anyone ever told me what to read? Has anyone ever told me what to learn? Has anyone ever told me how to learn? It’s a life skill that you need to develop on your own.”

Now a leader in his field, he is the one people look to for answers. How he imparts that knowledge is equally as important as the answers given. A natural storyteller, he wraps the moral in a narrative that is easily accessible. It’s easy to see why students and residents gravitate towards him. Decades later, Granato still remembers a kindness from a professor at Stevens or advice given and he freely gives it back. Every tough decision or unfavorable outcome is a link on his never ending chain of connections, which always goes back to people and how he can help. When he sees that a patient died because of a variant in procedure, Dr. Granato doesn’t stop at why. He asks, how can I fix this?

He has practiced cardiology for over 20 years, and the esteemed doctor’s career continues to rise. He has received numerous awards, including the Dean’s Special Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching at the Drexel University College of Medicine and the Baxter Circle Award for patient safety, and he is renowned as one of “America’s Top Cardiologists.” He and his team were awarded the Milton Fine Silver Award twice, among others. In 2013, he became the system vice president and medical director at Catholic Health Initiatives, where he oversees cardiovascular care in 12 health systems across the country.

In addition to all the accolades and medical training that he earned, Granato also has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. Years ago, he realized the healthcare industry was changing and he believed he needed to play a larger role in its evolution and management, he said. Now his scope of care is much larger. It is not merely one patient or one hospital that has the benefit of his guidance, he employs industrial process improvement methodologies to healthcare related problems in all 12 health systems that he manages.

“I teach at Carnegie Mellon with respect to healthcare quality and safety,” he said. “None of that is what it was a year, two, three, five or ten years ago. I’ve had to continue to learn and evolve. And it’s something that I think we, as educators, need to figure out how to imbue into our students.”

We expect our doctors to be good, with their decision making process and surgical skills, and we want them to have high moral standards. Some might say we demand it. We want them to be better than us, because what really is more important than saving a life, especially if it is your loved one? Dr. Granato understands the weight of this responsibility, perhaps he even thrives on it. He and his team worked to standardize the process of central line insertion in order to save more lives. He and Dr. Richard P. Shannon and their teams worked with the Jewish Healthcare Foundation to develop programs implementing procedures learned from the Toyota manufacturing process.

“We essentially standardized the process of central line insertion. We developed educational programs for all of our practitioners that they had to go through. We made them do a simulation to insure standardization, and we made them have annual certification and verification. And guess what? Our infection rates went from an enormously high number to virtually zero,” he said.

The benefit was enormous. Not only did the system save countless human lives, but it reduced costs incurred by infections and saved the institution money as well. “Our teams got awards from Baxter. I received a Physician Champion Award. We were able to present our work both here and abroad. But this is now 15 years ago, this was really at the very beginning of the use of industrial process improvement methodologies to healthcare problems,” he said.

Currently, Granato works as a full-time administrator. His main focus is to improve quality and enhance efficiency with medical procedures. While his role has changed over the years and his responsibilities have grown, the underlining motivation behind everything he does has not. He has always worked to save lives.

“One can never minimize the loss of life. Particularly in the discipline I have, interventional cardiology, the death of a patient becomes, for lack of a better word, an occupational hazard. I don’t want to say one becomes immune to it, but one comes to realize that the death of a patient will be inevitable. The flip side of that is the many patients who you’ve been able to pull back from the edge, who should have died that didn’t, and the benefit that you’ve provided them and their family.”

The cards he receives from satisfied patients are numerous, including a card he gets every Thanksgiving from a patient who wanted to reach his 50th wedding anniversary and is now seven years past that milestone. What he tells his residents and students hones his point even more: He says if he gave you the keys to his car and told you to drive it all week, you’d be flattered. If he loaned you his house in Florida for a month, you are even more flattered with the trust given. When someone says, “Here is my wife. I trust her to you. Or here is my father. It is a responsibility. It is a privilege. It is an honor that can never be taken for granted, it can never be underestimated, and the ability to fulfil that trust is what keeps you past the dark days,” he said.

On a recent visit to campus, Granato saw the improvements that have happened at Stevens in the decades since he attended. He believes that the changes are remarkable in the field of engineering, particularly in nanotechnologies and with the development of biomaterials. Granato is a member of the Edwin A. Stevens Society. Recently, he generously gave guest lectures to current biomedical engineering students at Stevens. “Stevens needs to continue to cultivate its interests in health sciences in a way that will help its engineering programs and allow it to extend into what can only be described as a burgeoning industry,” he said.

He noticed too that there were plenty of activities and events for students to participate in – enough to make any student inclined into a well-rounded individual. He stresses that it is not enough to get good grades to get into medical school.

Although he didn’t realize it at the time, his love of Shakespeare is what secured his acceptance into Johns Hopkins. In preparation for his interview, he brought his large portfolio that included all his research, every news clipping he ever had, but his interviewer surprised him by asking why he took a course in Shakespeare during his senior year. Jerry replied that he liked it. Then Jerry was asked if he thought the witches in Macbeth were real or figments of the imagination.

“For the next hour, we discussed Shakespeare – not a word about my research, not a word about medical school, not a word about anything, but what I liked about Shakespeare and what I learned from it. And needless to say I went home thinking that for sure I wasn’t getting in. Thirty years later, I realize that is the reason I got in,” he said.

The reason he says that now is simple. By the time you come for your interview, your grades and research are known to them, but what they are interested in finding out is who you are as a person, he explains.

“You need to build your character, build your interests, have other things that continue to make you whole in a way that enables you to relate to a large body of people. The most successful people are those who continue to evolve, continue to learn and have a number of balls up in the air at once. Here at Stevens they are uniquely poised to tap into that, both within the institute and to that village across the river,” he said.


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