ND Founders Profile #17: This Former Football Playing Alumnus Has a Proven Game Plan for Success: Kindness

Author: Melanie Lux

Facebook Web Nd Founders Jack Shields Jack Shields (communications, class of 1983) founded Shields Health Solutions in 2012


Company Founded: Shields Health Solutions Year Graduated: 1983
Title: Founder and CEO Degree: B.A., Communications
Location: Stoughton, MA Residence Hall: Dillon (Big Red!)

Growing up in Boston, Jack Shields’ dream was to play football for the University of Notre Dame and win the 100-yard dash in the Olympics. In 1979, one of them came true when he was recruited to play middle linebacker for the Fighting Irish.

Shields credits his scholarship to Notre Dame with changing the trajectory of his life. “I was one of seven children of working-class, Irish-Catholic parents. Being able to attend Notre Dame, with its legacy of academics and athletics, was a gift I could never have afforded on my own.”

Among his greatest football memories is the 1980/1981 season that culminated with the 1981 Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome against the number-one ranked Georgia Bulldogs and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Herschel Walker. To reach that game, the Fighting Irish had to travel down to Alabama to play Coach Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide in Birmingham. Despite the extremely hostile environment, Notre Dame came out the victor, winning 7-0 in a defensive battle that put the team in position for the Sugar Bowl.

Shields’ years at Notre Dame instilled him with a sense of energetic optimism and the importance of service to others. After graduation, he earned a law degree from the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He practiced law for several years in Boston before joining his father as president of the Shields Health Care Group, which was opening MRI imaging centers in Massachusetts.

“My inspiration to get into the healthcare industry was my mother, who was passionate about her nursing career. She worked in nursing homes when I was a kid and saw how important her patients were to her,” he says.

The Shields family eventually grew Shields Health Care Group into New England’s largest MRI network with 30 locations.  In 2011, Shields decided he wanted to find the next challenge and opportunity in his career, so he left the family business in the capable hands of his brother.

“I dedicated a year to research what I wanted to do next. I have deep relationships with hospital systems so that’s where I focused my search for a problem to solve,” he says.

The opportunity he found was in the specialty pharmacy industry, a niche that provides oral and self-injectable medications for patients with cancer, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, organ transplants, multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions treated with intricate, expensive drug protocols. These patients have severe illnesses that require complex therapies and face a very fractured care delivery model. 

“This patient population is typically treated at academic medical centers because of their ability to provide advanced, lifesaving drug treatment protocols,” Shields explains. “However, getting patients the drugs they need can be difficult due to a delivery system controlled by a few major players outside of hospital systems. This can delay a patient getting their drugs by days or even weeks while waiting on a slow, bureaucratic system.”

In 2012, Shields launched a new care model for specialty pharmacies that put pharmacies back into health systems, integrating physicians, hospitals and patient data to better manage patients and their medications and thus be more responsive and nimble in executing pharmaceutical regimes. Now, instead of a newly diagnosed cancer patient waiting 21 days to get their drug therapy, Shields Health Solutions enables patients to get their scripts in as little as two.

“We’ve found the most complex problems often are solved with simple solutions,” he says.

Medical chiefs in oncology, transplant medicine and other specialties have led the adoption of Shields’ patient-centered care pharmacy model. Shields remembers one chief of transplant telling him in the early days of the company, “If you can deliver that patient-centric, integrated care model, which no one has been able to do, I will drive your bus! My patients can’t wait for their anti-rejection medications. They need them now.”

More than 40 academic medical centers, representing 250 hospitals around the country, have adopted Shields’ specialty pharmacy model. The company has close to a 90 percent satisfaction rating among physicians and patients, and a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 85, which is higher than top consumer brands like Apple, Amazon and Netflix.

“Our satisfaction rating is unheard of,” Shields says. “It’s truly an indictment of just how broken the old system is.”

The secret to his company’s success comes down to one thing: kindness.

“Kindness is a trait the blind can see and the deaf can hear. We treat all patients like we want our own mothers to be treated—with compassion. You would be shocked how many companies have lost sight of that,” Shields says.

The global coronavirus pandemic has underscored the value of Shields Health Solutions. The former communications major has put his Notre Dame degree to good use. “In addition to making sure our health systems stay open so patients have the drugs they need, I am doing a lot of talking, comforting and hand holding,” Shields says. “The moral support is invaluable; our health system customers know they can count on us to help them get their patients through this. It gets back to our culture of kindness.”

In addition to his healthcare company, Shields is also the founder and co-chair of Waterline Ventures, which is now on its third fund. Waterline invested in a telemedicine startup during their first fund. Because of the pandemic, interest in telemedicine is off the charts. “For 15 years people have fought telemedicine, now everyone wants it as its safer and more efficient for many office visits,” he says. “The pandemic will open the doors to more healthcare innovations.”

Football taught Shields how to compete. Notre Dame reinforced the importance of service he learned from his parents. Ever the optimist, the self-described “entrepreneurship evangelical” encourages others to “Go out on a limb; that’s where the fruit is.”

 “My advice is: jump in and compete. Entrepreneurship is what makes America great. Like a sports competition, it’s a binary risk. Either you win or you lose. If you fail, go right back at it. Losses are motivational because we learn from them and they push us to try harder. You only have to be successful once!”