Director of MHA Program Practices What He Preaches

Robert Bonar, DrHA is a connector. Throughout his 40-plus year career as a healthcare administrator, he has excelled at creating the kinds of highly functional workplaces where the physicians, administrators and medical staff felt cared about and valued. Now he is investing his considerable energies in showing students how to create such workplaces.

Bonar moved to the Washington, DC area with a dream of working at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH). His timing was fortuitous, in that the school was recruiting to hire a new director for the Master of Health Administration (MHA) program, the position he now holds.

 “When I worked at hospitals, my opportunity to interact with families and the community was one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job,” Bonar said. He brings the same disarming charm that endeared him to patients and colleagues alike as an administrator to his interactions with his GW students. And he is generous with sharing his connections, which benefits both the program’s students and the many institutions where he has worked and developed collegial relationships that take on administrative fellows each year.

“Dr. Bonar’s extensive background as a successful healthcare administrator was a key qualification that led us to select him to be our residential MHA program director,” said Jane Hyatt Thorpe, JD interim chair of the Milken Institute SPH Department of Health Policy and Management.        

A major green achievement
The institutions where Bonar has served include Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minn. He served as the CEO there from 2014 to 2017. Prior to that, he was CEO of the Seton Family of Hospitals and Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Tex. There, his accomplishments include overseeing the design, construction and opening, in 2007, of the first-ever hospital to receive a Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, the highest level of certification possible. The building also won many architectural awards.

“It was so much fun to build, and we brought it in $1.2 million under budget and delivered it exactly on time,” Bonar recalled.

Bonar was also an administrator at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Va.; at Children’s Hospital at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston; and at the Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.

Over the course of his career, Bonar also taught healthcare administration at schools nearby to or affiliated with the hospitals where he served as an administrator. His most recent position prior to come to GW was at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He also taught at Old Dominion University/Eastern Virginia Medical School, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the University of South Carolina. 

In the months since his arrival, Bonar has been working to implement improvements likely to further ratchet up the MHA program’s steadily rising national rank—which just jumped to #12 from #16--and enhance its appeal for students. He is also finding opportunities to conduct the kind of research that he always wished to have more time to focus on during his career as an administrator.

“I’m just delighted to be here,” Bonar summarized. That delight is abundantly evident in his smile. “This is everything I had ever hoped for. I would go to the ends of the earth for GW University.”