Tony Holohan, Dr.

Physician, Former Irish Chief Medical Officer, Adjunct Professor (UCD)

Dr. Tony Holohan’s unique experience in leadership in public healthcare provides him with exceptional perspective and insights on influential leadership, building trust, navigating change, stakeholder engagement, crisis planning and leading through difficult times.

Biography

In his role as Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Tony successfully led the country’s national response to COVID-19, building public trust and ultimately helping to save lives. Since graduating as a doctor and moving into public health, Tony has spent his career working to bring about meaningful change and long-term better healthcare for the Irish people. Now an impressive speaker, he is bringing his insights and experience to corporate leaders seeking to empower people and effect change both internally and externally.

Big Picture Thinking

Tony’s stewardship of the public health response to the pandemic earned him wide respect for his leadership, agility and resilience. In a time of unprecedented disruption, he impressed people with his deep understanding of the ‘big picture’ and steadied the nation’s nerves with his humane, straight-talking style.

Together with other public agencies, Tony built up remarkable public trust in Ireland’s strategy for dealing with the unfolding crisis and in its co-ordinated, united approach. Ireland was reported by The Lancet in March 2022 as having one of the lowest excess mortality rates globally during the pandemic, and one of the highest uptakes of COVID-19 vaccination in the world.

Having stepped down as CMO in July 2022, today Tony combines speaking engagements with roles as Board Member of the Irish Hospice Foundation, Adjunct Professor of Public Health at University College Dublin (UCD), and advisor to several high-profile healthcare companies.

From Doctor to CMO

Tony began to think more broadly about public health when, as a young student of medicine in UCD, a senior doctor introduced him to the field of clinical epidemiology. The experience inspired him to pursue a career in public health policy, guided by his innate sense of public service and his belief that optimal public wellbeing is key to a just and equitable society. After GP training, he went on to complete a master’s degree and a four-year training in public health before joining the Department of Health and Children in 2001 as Deputy CMO. He became CMO in 2008.

Tony as CMO

As Deputy CMO, Tony played a leading role in reshaping Ireland’s cancer services. After he became CMO, he led the delivery of the ambitious cross-sectoral Healthy Ireland Initiative and went on to work extensively on policy development in areas such as cancer control, patient safety and quality, prevention, reproductive health, primary care, health information and health technology assessment.

When the pandemic hit Ireland in late February 2020, Tony became a public figure overnight with his national media briefings and guidance on how best to minimise the impacts of the virus. In 2021, he accepted the Freedom of the City of Dublin on behalf of all healthcare workers during the pandemic. In the same year, he also received an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland as well as other awards in recognition of his outstanding leadership during the pandemic.

In July 2022, after 14 years, he stood down from the role to pursue his many interests in both the corporate and pro bono sectors.

Awards and Fellowships

Bartholomew Mosse Medal – The Rotunda Hospital (Dublin) 2022
Freedom of the City of Dublin – Dublin City Council 2021
Healthcare Person of the Year – Irish Healthcare Awards 2021
Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland 2021
Honorary Fellowship of the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017
Alumni Award, Public Health – University College Dublin 2015
Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland 2010
Charles Cully Medal – Irish Cancer Society 2007
Fellowship of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, RCPI 2006

Topics

LEADERSHIP

How to Find Alignment on Complex Issues

In any organisation, much depends on how people with very different perspectives and experiences can work together as a team. Too often, stretched resources, complex systems or structures and competing interests can make consensus hard to reach.
In this talk, Tony shares his expertise on how organisations can build a culture that will bring people together to work towards and achieve shared goals.  

Agile Decision Making: How to Stay on Course

Tony’s approach to solving problems is uniquely suited to today’s VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) environment, where incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements ensure there are no pre-existing solutions for certain complex problems. Their complexity means such problems have to be considered together rather than in isolation, as part of a system of often interdependent forces.

Leaders need a clear approach to nimble decision making, but only, as Tony asserts, when it’s built on the key principles of transparency, consistency and clarity. In this talk, he shows how leaders can equip themselves to take action confidently, and to make better decisions in a world of growing disruption.

Building Trust Through Change

As CMO, particularly during the pandemic, Tony recognised that the most important goal was to build the public’s trust in not just the advice they were being given, but in the people giving it. How do you build trust? For Tony, as for any leader, it comes down to a handful of key principles:

  • Clear and frequent communication
  • Having credible people do the communicating
  • Straight talking even through very difficult messages
  • Vulnerability – admitting it when you don’t know something

In this talk, Tony shares his expertise on how to identify and embed key principles so that leaders and organisations can build trust with both teams and clients.

Crisis Ready vs. Crisis Management

In a world where the pace of change is accelerating and disruptive forces are growing in number, too much planning can be spurious. In any case, the next problem that comes along will be different. In this talk, Tony argues that by sticking to key principles, leaders and organisations will be ready to navigate any crisis.  

Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement: Institutional, Personal, Professional

In an increasingly interconnected world, the number and variety of stakeholders is growing. How can leaders and organisations ensure that stakeholders have proper representation? The reality is that it’s a process: imperfect, iterative, yet essential. In this talk, Tony breaks down the complex issue of stakeholder engagement into digestible parts:

  • The need to understand where people are at, especially if they’re vulnerable or don’t feel empowered to voice their concerns
  • Key principles such as trust, openness, persistence, consistency, delivering on promises
  • How to unite stakeholders around a common purpose: better services (or products), experiences and outcomes

HEALTHCARE 

Reflections on the Future of Healthcare

Medicine and healthcare continue to evolve at astonishing speed. Tony’s long career in public health has given him a unique perspective on the many directions it can, or should, go in years to come, if it’s to meet the often complex needs of patients and other key stakeholders. He covers topics such as: 

  • How to ensure people working in healthcare have the skills and capacity to take on professional challenges
  • How to future proof the healthcare service
  • The critical importance of information and intelligence
  • The need to have explicit, realistic goals and outcomes we want to achieve for the individual, and for the health system as a whole
  • How to empower stakeholders to deliver meaningful engagement and progress

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