Dr. John Jay Shannon '82
CEO, Cook County Health,
Member of the Board of Trustees,
Spring Hill College
When John Jay Shannon, MD reflects on his undergraduate years at Spring Hill College, his memories crisscross with good times, good influences and a valuable opportunity to take a hard look at the world around him, outside of his hometown of Chicago. “One of the things I used to like to do to clear my head was to bike a lot around Mobile,” said Shannon. “I didn't know where I was going, so I would just go. I biked up through Chickasaw and Plateau and some of those areas around the Bay that were pretty hurting.”
He saw the economic and societal inequities at that time – the ’70s and ’80s – and felt a tug toward a profession that could perhaps do something about them – a tug that manifested itself later in life. “When I look back on it, I think that the education and the kind of worldviews that I was exposed to both in high school and college absolutely shaped my career. It has to this day,” he explained. “I think that my Spring Hill education … put me in a frame of mind where I could be open about thinking both about injustice but also about what I could do as an individual trying to make a little dent in that.”
“The other part was the focus that we did get unconsciously around service to others. The Jesuits made us think about it intentionally. So it wasn’t until I was well out of college that I really began to reflect on that influence.”
After Spring Hill, Shannon received his medical degree from Rush Medical College in Chicago. He trained in Internal Medicine and was a Chief Resident at University of Texas Southwestern Affiliated Hospitals in Dallas. In 2014, Chicago’s Cook County Board of Directors appointed him the CEO of Cook County Health. As a health professional at one of the country’s largest public health care systems, Shannon sees people struggling to get adequate healthcare throughout the United States.
“It’s always rewarding as a physician to feel like you’ve improved somebody’s health but I think the other boost that people who work in systems like ours get is that they’ve contributed to people’s health but they’ve also given them a measure of dignity and respect that they might not otherwise be getting.”
One legacy of Shannon’s Spring Hill undergraduate experience is the scholarship he endowed in his father’s name. “I think the two things that had the biggest impact on his life were his Spring Hill experience and his war experience,” Shannon said. “He should have graduated in the summer of ’43 but after Pearl Harbor, he, like many other people of his age, accelerated school. He went to summer classes in 1942, graduated in December and then in January was enlisted in the Navy and officer training. He died in February of 2017 and he loved Spring Hill and talked about it a lot. He frequently visited. So when he died, my wife and I thought it'd be a good way to honor him.”
As one of 12 children growing up in Chicago, Shannon shares concerns about the costs of college but continues to believe in the positive impact for students with a Spring Hill College education. “People are, and I would say not inappropriately, anxious about their ability to have a successful job that allows them to raise a family in an increasingly competitive environment where a lot of jobs from my generation coming out of college are gone,” he reflected.
Spring Hill College, as one of the 27 Jesuit schools in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities system, brings with it a 189-year legacy of a Jesuit education, empowered by critical thinking, real-world studies and the emphasis on cura personalis, a focus on the whole person; the kind of qualities that still resonate for Shannon. “I think that the humanities that we were exposed to and the broad critical thinking skills that we learned at Spring Hill are going to be useful, regardless of what you do. I’m thrilled about the fact that Spring Hill has such a successful nursing program. I would bet that those nurses graduating are not only good, but they have the ability to think differently. I would hope that the experience they had also allows them to connect more the humanity of their work to the profession and the science and the technology behind their work.”
“Whether students decide they want to go into the sciences, business, law or whatever it might be, they’re going be very, very well prepared by an education that they get at Spring Hill.”