Starting in Iowa with stops in Vietnam, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and around the world, the arc of Bruce Spivey’s career has been marked by a singular focus on medical education, organizational brilliance, and an infectious zest for living.
His legion of admirers describe him as “ an Energizer Bunny”, “consummate physician leader”, “one of the global giants”, a “builder” who is “not judgmental” with “an uncanny capacity to bring in the right people”, who is “unmatched administratively”, with the “infectious kindness” and the “rare capacity to lead (as if you know it all), at the same time having the humility and thirst to learn”. One friend wrote, “he will celebrate your triumphs or attend you in your losses.”
Below is a brief outline of Bruce Spivey’s achievements. For additional fascinating insights into his life story, click here to access stories from many of his friends and family who have contributed their thoughts to illuminate his life and work.
A proud Iowan, Bruce graduated from Coe College in Cedar Rapids in three years, the first member of his family to attend college. He attended medical school at the University of Iowa and during his residency, he received his master’s degree in Ophthalmic Science, also from Iowa. Drafted into the United States Army Medical Corps, he was the first American ophthalmologist in Vietnam, serving as the Triage Officer, at the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon, South Vietnam for which he was awarded a Bronze Star.
Returning from Vietnam, he joined the Medical School faculty at the University of Iowa Medical School. While Chair of the University of Iowa Medical Education and Curriculum Committee, he earned a Master of Medical Education degree at the University of Illinois displaying an early tendency to manage multiple responsibilities with vigor and excellence. In 1975 he was and remains, the youngest member to be elected to the American Board of Ophthalmology.
In 1976, Spivey was recruited to the Pacific Medical Center and the University of the Pacific in San Francisco as Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Dean of the School of Medical Sciences and in 1976, he became CEO of the California Pacific Medical Center. Achieving major advances in each entity, he maintained these positions for more than 15 years. In 1977 he helped to establish the Pacific Vision Foundation which continues to support the residency program. Notably he also served as CEO of the California Healthcare Network of four hospitals from 1985 to 1992.
During this same period, Bruce Spivey emerged as a national leader of many other organizations including the American Board of Ophthalmology, the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the Council of Medical Specialty Societies. He left San Francisco in 1992 to become President and CEO of Northwestern University Healthcare Network in Chicago and five years later to take a similar position with Columbia Cornell Care in New York City.
His many contributions to the success of the American Academy include service as the first Secretary of Continuing Education in Ophthalmology, the first Executive Vice President and CEO of the AAO, Chair of the Basic and Clinical Science Course, and Chair of the Joint Committee on Medical Student Education—among many others.
When the American Academy of Ophthalmology was formed as a separate entity (from the legacy American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology) in 1976, Spivey agreed to become its first Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer—serving from 1976 until 1992. During this time the organization moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, grew from four staff to over one hundred, merged with the American Association of Ophthalmology, formed the Academy’s Foundation, developed a Code of Ethics, birthed the Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company (OMIC) and initiated the National Eye Care Project. In recognition of his service, he received the AAO Laureate Recognition Award, its highest recognition, in 2015.
International ophthalmic care has been a major interest of Bruce Spivey since his work in Vietnam. From 2006 through 2014, he served as President of the International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO) and presided over a dramatic refocusing and resurgence of that organization as a force in global ophthalmic education. With its transformation, the ICO became involved in curriculum setting, certification, fellowship education, and ‘teaching the teachers’ in developing nations.
After his term as ICO President he served as an officer of the international Ophthalmology Foundation and the Africa Eye Foundation which established the Magrabi ICO Cameroon Eye Institute at Yaoundé, Cameroon. Earlier in his career, he was one of the individuals who helped initiate the King Khalid Eye Specialist Hospital in Saudi Arabia.
Bruce Spivey is widely admired for his collaborative style of leadership and deep enthusiasm for all people, resulting in the fact that he has served as Chair or Board Member of eighteen national and international societies and non-profits since 1980!
The CPMC Department of Ophthalmology is profoundly grateful for his support since his arrival in 1976. Truly, we would not be who we are without him and in the words of his friend, Professor David McInally, President Emeritus of Coe College, “The answer to our world’s problems is to plant and grow many more Bruce Spiveys!”