Richard Hart: Dialogue with an Adventist health-care administrator focused on international service

Waking up at 5:00 a.m., Richard Hart goes straight to work. Farming has always been part of his life. Taking care of his llamas, fruit trees, and Christmas trees, and being out in the mountain air on his seven-acre farm are all activities he looks forward to each day.

At 7:00 a.m., Dr. Hart heads to his real job as chancellor and chief executive officer of Loma Linda University (LLU). He has been part of the Loma Linda family since 1972, serving in various capacities, including positions as chair of the department of health sciences; director of the Center for Health Promotion; chair of the School of Medicine department of preventive medicine; and dean of the School of Public Health.

Born in Loma Linda, he received his early education in Washington, then attended Walla Walla College. While there, he became the first student missionary (SM) from the Seventh-day Adventist Church to serve outside of North America. In 1966, prior to his first year in medical school, he married Judy Osborne. The Harts now have three adult daughters: Chandra, Briana, and Kari.

In 1970, he earned two LLU degrees—an M.D. from the School of Medicine and an M.P.H. from the School of Public Health.

From 1972 to 1976, Dr. Hart served in Tanzania. As a population intern from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, he developed the department of community health in Moshi. During this time, he co-authored Child Health, a book for mid-level health professionals in Africa. In 1974, a USAID contract with Loma Linda Uuniversity took him to Dar-es-Salaam, where he helped develop a maternal and child health program for the Ministry of Health in Tanzania.

In 1977, Dr. Hart received his doctor of public health degree from Johns Hopkins University and became board certified in preventive medicine.

Clearly, Dr. Hart’s vision extends to the farthest reaches of the globe. His early involvement in student missionary work was key in the development of the student missions program at Loma Linda University and the Social Action Community Health System—a local low-cost health-care system for the medically underserved in San Bernardino County. He is also president of Adventist Health International (AHI), a new organization created to help manage health services in developing countries.

Dr. Hart, how did you become interested in medicine and, in particular, public health?

Growing up, I had no understanding at all of public health. My father was a country physician, however, so I was familiar with medicine. When I heard about public health in the context of international issues, it made sense to me. The whole concept of prevention coupled with global health just hit me and roused my interest. My introduction to international health came during my sophomore year in college when I was a student missionary.

Was your initial interest in international work brought on by your student missionary work?

I’m sure it was. I spent the summer in Peru and worked on the medical launches in the headwaters of the Amazon. I was intrigued by the cross-cultural issues and the health challenges, and from that point on, I certainly solidified my interest in working in developing countries. I loved being at that level of society and helping people improve their health.

Would you recommend student missionary work to Adventist students?

Yes! Cross-cultural exposure at the college level provides individuals with what I call “teachable moments.” Students are trying to discover who they are and whether they enjoy working in those kinds of environments. Often student missionary experience will either clarify in a person’s mind that that isn’t the setting for them or convince them forever that this is what they want to do.

Do you think student missions really impact Adventist international mission work?

One of the challenges I think we face as Adventists is the drift into what I refer to as “tourist Christianity.” This is the tendency to think that short-term trips can make a significant difference in other cultures.

There’s no question that short-term trips can be helpful, but I would argue that the main impact of those trips are on the individuals who go, not on the populations they seek to serve. There’s no substitute for a long-term involvement with people in those countries. I’ve talked to a lot of recipients of short-term mission trips, and they appreciate what visitors have done for them; but it doesn’t have much impact in terms of the long-term development of that society.

What makes Loma Linda University special?

We are the only remaining health-sciences university that is specifically Christian in its focus and mission. A sense of service and working in underserved areas is integral into what this university is and has been. Where I think Loma Linda University is uniquely positioned is its proactive, open endorsement of Christian service as a theme.

Does Loma Linda University have an innovative approach to health care?

Certainly. We stress whole-person care and integrated care. “To Make Man Whole” is the university’s motto. I like to struggle with the argument that good health care is enhanced by understanding spiritual values. And I would argue that the reverse is also true. Having spiritual values is enhanced by having good health. All these tie together as a balanced whole. I hope that is something that this university will continue to capture and convey to our students.

High-tech is important, modern medicine and modern techniques are all valuable, but coupled with that is this other caring, integrated, balanced care that fully recognizes spiritual values as an integral part of it. That makes Loma Linda University programs unique.

In view of the rapid globalization, what role do you see LLU playing?

The Seventh-day Adventist Church now operates 175 hospitals around the world. Traditionally, we have sent out alumni to work in developing countries, but in the past decade we have increasingly recognized that just sending alumni is not enough.

We have two new programs that are closely connecting us to the rest of the world. One is our link with our mission hospitals through Adventist Health International that provides professional and technical assistance to select Adventist health-care institutions that are facing difficult challenges.

On the education side, we are developing collaborative educational programs with the hundred-plus colleges and universities that the church sponsors in many countries. Loma Linda University is in a unique position because we have achieved, through the work of all those that have gone before, publicly recognized credibility in health education and care. It is important that we use that credibility to help the church’s work as it develops other institutions.

How is Loma Linda University seeking to strengthen the quality of service of Adventist clinics and hospitals in developing countries?

That’s probably best manifested in Adventist Health International (AHI), which now is working in 10 countries managing 26 hospitals and about 50 clinics and gradually expanding. The challenge faced by these institutions is not so much decaying buildings or broken equipment, but good governance and management. AHI seeks to partner with these institutions, strengthen management, and get the institutions stable so that they can begin developing and growing again.

What projects are you personally most passionate about?

That’s a difficult question. I feel very passionate about giving every student that comes to us exposure to cross-cultural settings. I am also very committed to stabilizing the mission hospitals of the world, because I believe that they are a key part of our church’s outreach and mission. I feel equally passionate about offering quality academic programs in partnership with other institutions around the world.

How do you manage to balance in your life the demands of your profession, your desire to serve human needs, and your own spiritual life as a Christian?

…and my family life, and manage a farm, and a few other things. I run a pretty tight schedule, but the satisfaction that I get from doing what I do more than makes up for whatever vacation time or other time I may have lost. I wake up every morning being delighted that I have a job that provides so much satisfaction. I have never carried the burden too heavily of what I do because it literally feels so good to be doing this. I can tell you that if balance means being satisfied, then I am. I don’t go to work as a job, it’s just who I am.

Interview by Dustin R. Jones. Dustin Jones is a special projects editor in the office of university relations, Loma Linda University. He can be reached at Dr. Hart may be contacted at the Office of the Chancellor; Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA 92350; U.S.A. Institutional website: