From hospital cleaner to president, CEO

by Ron Fanfair
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With an interest in Science, Dr. Everton Gooden was happy to work part-time as a housekeeper in Toronto General Hospital’s operating room while in high school.
“That was when the magic started for me,” he recalled. “I could peer through the window during my break and watch the surgeons at work. It was like poetry.”
One day while peeking into the room, an anesthesiologist sneaked up behind Gooden and reminded him that his job was to sweep the floor and pick up the garbage.
“Don’t be looking in there,” he told him. “Just do your job.”
Before the demoralization could sink in, a surgeon doing a scrub for a case overheard the belittling and asked Gooden if he was interested in medicine.
“I told him I was and find it fascinating,” he said. “That surgeon invited me into the operating room and allowed me to watch over his shoulder and see cases. During my six months there, he invited me into the operation room whenever he was doing surgery. I would even listen to him dictate after the case and just be fascinated by it all. That was a turning point.”
Focusing on his studies, Gooden completed medical school and trained in surgery.
After 23 years as an active surgeon and physician leader at North York General Hospital (NYGH), he was appointed president and chief executive officer of the top-ranked academic community hospital in Canada late last year.
Gooden started on December 1, 2023.
He is the second Black Canadian to hold the role after Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor who, after serving as interim president and CEO at London Health Sciences Centre for almost 11 months, transitioned to the position permanently in November 2021.
“North York is growing rapidly and is home to one of Toronto’s most culturally diverse and largest seniors’ populations,” said Bert Clark who is Chair of the NYGH Board of Governors. “Dr. Gooden is the ideal person to lead us forward as we transform patient care in North Toronto and undertake the largest capital redevelopment in NYGH’s 50-plus years to meet changing community needs.
“As a standard bearer for NYGH’s people-centred culture, he has earned trust throughout the hospital and with partners locally, across Canada and beyond our borders for his unwavering commitment to the betterment of our communities and patient care.”
Known for his inspirational and collaborative leadership, Gooden will reinforce and build on the hospital’s excellent culture and galvanize its team, partners and community around a long-term vision to position NYGH to provide exceptional care.
Specifically, he will lead the charge with the Foundation, government and community partners on a major capital renewal that will see a doubling in the number of beds at the hospital, community locations and new long-term care within a decade.
“I am incredibly honoured to have an opportunity to lead this organization,” said Gooden who was honoured with a Harry Jerome Trailblazer Award in 2017. “The appointment for me is significant. Growing up, whenever I saw someone that looked like me in a position of influence, that was very motivating and powerful. Having an opportunity to sit in this role is going to be motivating for a lot of people who are trying to move ahead.”
NYGH has a staff of almost 5,000 and a budget of approximately $400 million.
“I am responsible for the running of the hospital and I report that to the Board of Governors,” Gooden said. “We are an academic community hospital that is well-recognized across the country. Our history is built on the foundation of academics.
“We have one of the largest family medicine training programs and the largest group of family physicians. Our performance has been number one in areas such as efficiency of how we move patients to an emergency department, education is embedded in the culture and there is an emergency medicine update world conference running for 20 years plus that is recognized internationally.
“Academics at the hospital is at the core of what we do.”
Changing times and needs require flexibility and a new approach to leadership.
Faced with declining profit margins, workforce shortages and competition increase, hospitals are turning to authentic and transparent leaders to help balance growth and innovation.
Gooden fit the bill perfectly.
“Our people are our number one asset,” he said. “I believe in investing in your people and treating them with respect, compassion and integrity so that they have opportunities to advance and develop professionally. If they can bring their best self forward every day, that will lead to excellent care.”
Since joining NYGH in 2001, Gooden has served in several senior leadership positions, including Chief of Staff, Chair of the Medical Advisory Committee, President & Vice-President of the Medical Staff Association, Director of the Foundation Board of Governors and Chair of the Foundation Board of Governors Nominations & Governance Committee.
He also established and co-chaired NYGH’s first anti-Black Racism Steering Committee and championed the setting up of the hospital’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Office.
What has kept Gooden rooted at NYGH for over two decades?
“The people and the culture,” said the 2021 recipient of the hospital’s Award for Excellence in Community-Based Teaching. “We are a family. I could not imagine myself anywhere else. I am in this role not because I aspired to be a CEO. It was just a natural progression. I would not be a CEO anywhere else. I wanted to lead this organization because I know the people here, I know what the possibilities are and what they are capable of doing.”
Because of a paucity of medical school spots in Canada, medical students go to the United States and other countries to train and do not return. For Gooden, that was never a consideration.
“Irrespective of what challenges we have in our health care system, it still functions very, very well,” he said. “Some people forget at times that privilege that those of us who are unfortunate to have in terms of a situation that requires medical intervention, whether it be an unexpected accident or perhaps cancer. On most occasions, it does not produce financial hardship here. In the United States, that is not the case. Over 50 million people do not have adequate insurance. We are still able to provide outstanding care that is on par with all of the leading nations around the world and we do that with compassion.”
During his second residency at Toronto General, Gooden ran into the surgeon who mentored him when he was in Grade 11.
An authority in the management of patients with head and neck cancer, Dr. Patrick Gullane helped establish the University of Toronto Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery as one of the most respected of its kind in the country.
“He was the Chief and Chairman of the program that I trained in,” said Gooden. “After jogging his memory, he said what he did for me was trivial for him. For me, it was life changing.”
Gullane said Gooden embodies the essence of dedication and passion in medicine.
“Witnessing his growth and development since I first met him 27 years ago while working as a high school summer student in the housekeeping department at the Toronto General Hospital brings immense satisfaction, knowing that I’ve played a small part in shaping his career and the future of health care,” said the renowned surgeon and Order of Canada recipient.
“Dr. Gooden’s commitment to learning, patient care and leadership is truly inspiring, and seeing him apply his knowledge with compassion and empathy to become the newly appointed President and CEO of North York General Hospital reaffirms my belief in the power of mentorship. As he continues to excel, I take pride in knowing that I’ve contributed to nurturing a talented and empathic healer and leader who will undoubtedly make a significant impact in his newly appointed prestigious position.”
Three years ago, U of T – where Gooden is an assistant professor, Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery – asked faculty members to pen a note to someone they admire to lift their spirits during the pandemic. He put into words the impact Gullane made in his career without hesitation.
“I had already done so in person, but I decided I would pen that to him,” the 2017 Metro Land Media Urban Hero Award in Health winner said. “He responded and was very appreciative.”
At the NYGH Black History Month launch on February 1, Gooden spoke about the importance of mentoring.
“Sometimes, we take it for granted,” the married father of three children said. “Activities of kindness and things you take for trivial could make a huge difference. It goes back to integrity and just treating people with respect.”
To whom much is given, much is expected.
In the early 1990s, University of Toronto Summer Mentorship Program co-founder Diana Alli turned to Gooden to help tutor a student fleeing genocide in Africa. He did not hesitate.
“The kid wanted to be an engineer, but was struggling academically,” she recalled. “I asked Everton if he could help the boy and he agreed. In a few short months, his marks went up from 33 to 85. Everton later told me he wanted to continue to mentor young people.”
In 1994, Alli along with two-time Harry Jerome Award winner Dr. Dominick Shelton, Dr. Kristine Whitehead and the late Dr. Miriam Rossi started the mentorship initiative to offer a focus for Black and Aboriginal students with both an interest and aptitude for the sciences, particularly for those who otherwise would not have available mentorship opportunities.
Gooden was among the first young Black medical students to offer support.
“He has a heart of gold and I am not surprised that he is where he is now,” said Alli.
In addition to Gullane, Gooden had many supporters along his journey.
At George Harvey Collegiate Institute, his focus was on sports and he struggled academically, getting C’s and D’s until a conversation with a guidance counsellor in Grade 10 led to a ‘light bulb moment’.
While at Toronto General, Gooden spent a summer with cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Irving Lipton and met Kittitian-born Dr. Charles Estridge who was the Director of the Dialysis Unit.
“Charles offered me a weekend job as a Dialysis Assistant to help support my studies,” he said. “He also provided mentorship and encouragement along the way. When I entered medical school, I met clinicians who supported me and pushed me forward. When I got into practice at North York General, some mentors reached out and encouraged me to take on leadership roles. After four years practicing, Dr. Ian Forrest – who is a vascular surgeon here – told me I would be really good on the Medical Staff Association executive. I didn’t know much about it, but I said yes and that position put me onto the Hospital’s board.”
Affiliated with the U of T, NYGH provides high-quality acute, ambulatory and long-term care to nearly half a million people across the Greater Toronto Area.
Last December, the hospital introduced advanced technology to manage wait lists that will help clear the surgical backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Novari Access To Care (ATC) is a surgical e-booking and wait time management system that will automate administrative processes and provide surgeons and their teams with real-time patient data to help provide timely access to surgeries.
With hospitals embracing artificial intelligence (AI) that is transforming the healthcare system, NYGH appointed Dr. Ervin Sejdic as a research chair in AI for Health Outcomes in 2019.
Three years earlier, then-American President Barack Obama presented the electrical engineer with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists & Engineers.
Gooden, who sits on the Face the Future Foundation Board, volunteers with the Kenya Relief Organization and is a member of the Black Opportunity Fund’s Healthcare Working Group, acknowledged that AI will be revolutionary.
“I do not think it will ever replace the human care that we provide,” he said. “The advantage of AI is in the efficiency of taking away the task-based roles that remove individuals from direct patient care. The ability to gather information quickly and assist in decision-making will be remarkable. If you are in my office talking about what is the best type of drug to treat a certain cancer, the information I provide you is what I have gathered from reading journals. It is dated. Just imagine you can develop a system that will enable you to pull all the best available evidence instantaneously using AI. When I give you that information, it is current in real-time.”
In 1972, Kenneth and Helen Gooden left Jamaica to lay a foundation in Canada for their son and older sisters who followed three years later.
Sharon Gooden is a Registered Nurse working with the Ontario Poison Centre located at The Hospital for Sick Children and Dr. Amoaba Gooden is the vice-president of the People, Culture & Belonging Unit at Kent State University.

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