Thursday, April 8, 2010 | 2:28 p.m.
When Dr. Joseph Kaufman, M.D., was preparing to graduate from Loyola University with his medical degree in 1969, the global climate was notably tenuous, leading him to serve his country while he continued his professional training.
“In those days, there was still a draft in place, and we were getting more involved in Vietnam,” said Kaufman, who retired earlier this year as president of Southwest Medical Associates (SMA), the largest multi-specialty medical practice in Nevada, which he originally joined in 1978.
“Physicians had the option to go into a program where instead of waiting for the draft, you selected to go into the service of your choice, so I went into the Navy, (later) completing my residency at Bethesda (National Naval Medical Center), where I fell in love with the diagnostic challenges of cardiology,” he said. “Back then we were not relying on a whole lot of tests, so you had to listen with your stethoscope and have the ability to make a diagnosis with your ears.”
A true advocate in cardiac care, Kaufman has served as president of the local and state chapters of the American Heart Association, and serves on its board of directors. He launched his medical career in Nevada in 1978 when he came to Las Vegas to interview with Dr. Anthony Marlon for a cardiology position with Southwest Medical Associates, which was founded in 1972. Marlon – the driving force behind the creation of Sierra Health Services and Health Plan of Nevada – eventually appointed Kaufman president of SMA, where he also saw cardiac patients and served as director of the cardiology division in the 1980s.
As Health Plan of Nevada grew, Marlon and Kaufman realized that they could increase services and improve efficiencies by expanding SMA to include practitioners in family and internal medicine as well as other specialties. It was a strategic move that would prove fruitful.
“This was around 1980 or ’81, and it was rather forward-thinking, at least for Nevada,” Kaufman said, adding that SMA was the first multi-specialty medical group in the state. “It was a combination of trying to make the group more effective, and at the same time, Health Plan of Nevada was growing, so the expansion was important in order to deliver the services to those people who were insured by the plan.”
In 1989, Kaufman left SMA – a wholly-owned subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare – to open a private cardiology practice, returning to Sierra in 1998 as medical director of cardiology services. He went on to serve as senior vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer of Sierra, as well as SMA president from 2000 until his recent retirement from the company.
“I think that as president of SMA, I had the privilege of overseeing our expansion from approximately 100 to 250 providers, who today provide services in 14 different facilities across the Las Vegas valley, including health care clinics, urgent care centers and an ambulatory surgery center,” said Kaufman, who as an administrator was conscientious in balancing the needs of management with physician advocacy, and earned a reputation for considering input from all sides to achieve the best resolution for success. “I like to think the individuals involved in health care still today have the same dedication, loyalties and willingness to provide top-notch care.”