Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Update

Thomas Godfrey Med'72

Named Executive Director of Pennsylvania Academy of Music

What exactly qualifies a physician to take over as president and executive director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Music (PAM), located in Lancaster? And why would anyone even want this job, especially if they were only being paid the princely sum of $1 for a year’s work?

The answer should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Thomas Godfrey, M.D., a member of the second class to graduate from Penn State College of Medicine in 1972. It appears to be a simple combination of roots (he was born and raised in Lancaster), a deep love of music, and old-fashioned optimism.

After all, this is the same man who took over a failing healthcare system in California in the mid-1990’s and restored its strength, boosting utilization by 60 percent in three years, according to the Lancaster New Era.

OK, so he’s a retired physician with a proven record of successful leadership and administrative success. But a music school?

“The same things that got me into medicine still motivate me,” says Dr. Godfrey. “It’s about doing things for people who need your help.”

And it’s clear, if you spend even a few minutes doing an online search for PAM, that this is another ailing institution in need of resuscitation. It’s a story about loss (PAM had to vacate its plush $32 million building), disgruntled donors, potential litigation and internal clashes.

Dr. Godfrey hopes he has the right prescription for a healthy turn-around. “I have friends on the board of PAM, and I thought I could help provide some administrative guidance,” he says. “In fact, the problems of a music academy are really not that different from a medical center.

“You’ve got people who are highly trained with certain particular skills in demand, whether it’s performing surgery or playing the cello. There has always been a strong tie between medicine and music for me.”

Although Dr. Godfrey has always loved music (studying the organ and trumpet in his youth), he never envisioned it as a career. But he didn’t originally aspire to become a doctor, either. As he says wryly, “I was not a typical applicant.”

In fact, after graduating from Colgate University (with a B.A. in History and a master’s degree in College Administration), he planned to attend law school at Duke University. He was in North Carolina picking out a room when he got a call from the dean of Admissions at the College of Medicine. Based on relentless prodding from his father, an advertising executive, Godfrey had applied to only one medical school -- Penn State – stating that he was drawn to the humanities-driven culture of its new program.

“I had been doing a lot of counseling for college freshmen, and I thought I could probably become a psychiatrist. I figured with a medical degree I could be much more helpful to students,” recalls Dr. Godfrey.

His time in medical school proved fruitful. He got married and started a family. He also spent most of his third and fourth years off-campus, completing rotations in pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, psychiatry in Philadelphia, dermatology at Geisinger Medical Center, and forensic pathology at the medical examiner’s office in New York City.

The variety and traveling appealed to his curious nature. “I liked getting around,” he says. “It purely fit my personality. I’ve never been someone who was dedicated to medicine first, last, and always. I’ve had a lot of other interests.”

His career over the decades reflects that passion. After post-graduate work at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, he attended journalism school by day (including a writing internship at The L.A. Times) and worked nights as an emergency room physician. Along with raising three children, he found time to edit mystery books.

Eventually, he found his way into medical administration with Kaiser Permanente, first improving utilization in Bakersfield, next serving as medical director in Los Angeles, and then serving as associate director of the Permanente Federation in Oakland in 2007.

“I stopped practicing medicine when I became a medical director,” says Dr. Godfrey. “You can’t do both at the same time and do a good job. People who think that you can are fooling themselves.”

Now officially retired, Dr. Godfrey continues to split his time between Lancaster, PA, and Los Angeles, CA, where his wife still serves as chief of staff for the president pro tem of the Los Angeles City Council. Along the way, Dr. Godfrey continues to teach and consult, always preferring to be active.

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