Vituity's Imamu Tomlinson teaches resilience in healthcare — and on the basketball court

Imamu Tomlinson
(Graphic by David La Cava/Image courtesy of Vituity)

Imamu Tomlinson, M.D., CEO, Vituity

Age: 47

Education: Tomlinson earned a bachelor of science in biology, history and creative writing from St. Lawrence University and a master of business administration in health care management from California Coast University. He earned his doctor of medicine from the University of Cincinnati.

About him: Tomlinson serves as CEO of Vituity, which is a physician-owned multispecialty partnership of 5,000 doctors and clinicians. He’s also an emergency medicine physician at Adventist Health Selma in California’s Central Valley. Tomlinson has more than 16 years of experience practicing in rural and medically underserved areas.

Tomlinson serves as cofounder and president of the Vituity Cares Foundation, which aims to improve the health of underserved communities and address inequities in healthcare. He also coaches for the 24/7 Basketball Foundation. “Through sport, we teach youth resilience, grit and teamwork in an underserved area of the country. I also speak frequently and personally about my experience as a Black physician and leader and have shared my perspective on healthcare equity through numerous bylined articles, podcast and webinar appearances, blog posts and interviews.”

His biggest impact in the last year? “Over the last year, which has been marked by a series of defining moments, I have had the great privilege of working alongside over 5,000 doctors and clinicians as we stood together on the front lines of COVID-19. We served over 8 million patients in need of acute care across 450 hospitals, clinics and virtual settings.

“Early in the pandemic, the California governor’s office approached us about assembling a delegation of clinicians to provide medical disaster relief to New York City Health & Hospitals as they underwent a brutal first surge of COVID-19 cases. Within our partnership, we recruited and credentialed over 50 physician and advanced provider volunteers who supported the city for two months at the very early stages of the pandemic. This team of volunteers traveled to New York City for several weeks each to ease the burden on the city’s overwhelmed public healthcare system.”

He regularly mentors diverse leaders and expanded Vituity’s career development program to include more than 90 free clinical education workshops. In addition, he led Vituity to join the California division of the National Diversity Council in 2020. Meanwhile, this past January, he launched a forum for Black residents and medical students to discuss medical careers. Tomlinson appointed the first chief innovation officer for Vituity in 2017 and has championed telehealth during COVID-19. Under Tomlinson, Vituity has rolled out teletriage, telerounding and telenavigation during the pandemic.

Tomlinson won an Employer of Excellence Award from the American Academy of Physician Assistants Center for Healthcare Leadership and Management and an Innovation in Healthcare Award from National Medical Fellowships in 2018.

First job: Selling stereos and Atari gaming systems on weekends in his dad’s electronics store in Toronto. “But my first professional job was as a counselor with the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) in New York. I created counseling and tutoring experiences for youth who wouldn’t otherwise have had access to a college education. It was an eye-opening experience for a Canadian from a middle-class background.”

Proudest accomplishment: Being a parent to two teenage kids. “I’m also incredibly proud of the tens of thousands of patients I have helped in my career as a physician. There is nothing more impactful than caring for someone in need.

“As an executive, I’m most proud of transforming Vituity and its culture to challenge the status quo in healthcare. This means shifting from taking care of the patient in front of us to meeting patients wherever and whenever they need us. It also means doing what’s right to serve our patients and communities—from tackling social determinants of health to building a more diverse clinical workforce. This is a journey we are still on, and I tell my team every day that we are changing the world.”

Problem he’s most passionate about trying to solve: “I’m passionate about achieving equitable healthcare in this country. This includes creating a sustainable path for the next generation of diverse healthcare leaders to have a healthcare workforce that reflects the communities we serve. To foster this representation at all levels of our healthcare workforce, I strive to uplift, encourage, mentor and support current and prospective minority medical students and residents.  

“I’m equally passionate about my team's role in redefining how a frontline leadership delivery model can transform the future of sustainable and compassionate, patient-centric care. It’s critical that we, as an industry, better serve our patients and advocate for their health—both physical and mental.” 

Book he recommends: 'David and Goliath' by Malcolm Gladwell. “In our current environment, it’s a helpful meditation on motivations and how to define success. It reminds me that it’s often the small and agile that prevail and thrive.”

Advice he would give his younger self: "Leverage the opportunities you have to advocate for others."

What he would with his career if it wasn’t this: "Coach basketball, hands down."

Biggest lesson so far from the global pandemic: “Before the pandemic, Vituity was already looking at new approaches to deliver convenient and accessible care, in-person and virtually. A year into this new healthcare landscape, I have come to realize that not only will things never go back to ‘normal,’ but convenience in patient care will also continue to be at the forefront of medicine for a long time to come. Convenience isn’t just about where a patient is physically; it’s about where they are in their care journey. This approach to care will be paramount to business success and driving equitable healthcare delivery across the country.”

Vituity's Imamu Tomlinson teaches resilience in healthcare — and on the basketball court