Thomas A. Ellison is a 2015 graduate of the PhD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dr. Thomas A. Ellison with his Dissertation Committee at his dissertation defense, July 29, 2015, Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Left to Right: Dr. Alan Guskin, Chair; Dr. Thomas A. Ellison; Dr. Jon Wergin, Committee Member; Dr. Laura Roberts, Committee Member

Dissertation Committee:

  • Alan Guskin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Laura Roberts, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • William Plater, Ph.D., External Reader


practice theory, organizing, organizational change, dynamics, culture change, narrative, practical inquiry, exploration, integration, transformation, professionals, collective action, health systems, academic medicine, practice studies, leadership

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Transformation of health care systems will be grounded in new professional relations and collective, cross-disciplinary actions to impact care delivery. Organizing such relations and actions involves practical inquiry rather than applying professional knowledge. This dissertation presents an exploratory, performative study of the initial organizing of the Health Systems Innovation and Research (HSIR) Program in Health Sciences at the University of Utah. The HSIR program was conceived principally to catalyze cross-disciplinary innovation and health services research and enhance care delivery changes by documenting care improvements and publishing research. This study includes a composite narrative of the organizing and practical inquiry work of HSIR organizers, which highlights many questions, issues, possibilities, and priority shifts that would likely face those who would seek to transform care delivery and the cultures of academic medicine. The study identifies improvement, integration, and transformative strategies as pathways to effect change in health systems. The study includes a narrative-based analysis of cultural, dynamic, and narrative resources to enhance understanding of the HSIR story and the implications of cultural and dynamic influences for the Program’s future and health systems transformation. This analysis emphasizes the cultural and dynamic influences of academic and clinical departments and other sources of dynamic influence that were operating to hinder or facilitate the larger objectives of HSIR organizers. The study also explores the significance of collective practical inquiry, exploratory inquiry, and culture change to the practice and theory of leadership and change. The HSIR study was conducted using a practice study methodology developed from practice and narrative theories, with contributions from complexity, process, learning, organizing, social construction, and relational theories and empirical studies of professionals undergoing change. The methodology recognizes an expansive, relational complex of practice as the empirical world to be studied, and was designed to explore practical inquiry, organizing, and collective actions of professionals in changing organizational situations. Methodological design principles focus data collection and analysis on situated activities, local discoveries, practical understandings, dynamic and cultural influences, narrative connections, future possibilities, and significant matters identified by practice participants. The electronic version of this dissertation is at Ohiolink ETD Center, and AURA,


Dr. Thomas A. Ellison

Dr. Tom Ellison pursued his Ph.D. in Leadership and Change at Antioch University to enhance understanding of how professionals change, organize, and expand collective practice capabilities to engage in new forms of collective action. The success of strategies to transform the delivery of health care, higher education, and legal services will require professionals to organize in new ways to meet changing professional expectations and required organizational outcomes. Tom's exploratory study of the organizing of the Health Systems Innovation and Research Program in Health Sciences at the University of Utah documents one exemplar of this work; informed by cultural theories of practice and narrative theories, this study of practical inquiry and organizing is anchored in the ground-level perspectives and performances of professionals who were organizing a cross-disciplinary practice to catalyze health systems transformation through scientific researcher and clinician collaborations. The analysis emphasizes the cultural, dynamic, and narrative features of the situation faced by the organizers and the implications of those features for health systems transformation.

Dr. Ellison’s academic work in leadership and change is informed by his nearly four decades of law practice as a recognized leader in real estate development and land use, his leadership and strategy roles at one of the country’s 200 largest law firms, and his 25 years of experience in higher education governance as a member and former chair of the Board of Trustees at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Tom’s experiences have highlighted the challenges of applying traditional management theories in professional organizations and the importance of exploring how professional practice and collaborative cross-disciplinary work can inform theories and change practice in professional life. Tom was pleased to be able to return to health care for his dissertation research; early in his career, he had worked to expand community health care facilities and, as a lawyer, has served as counsel for leading health care institutions in creating strategic ventures. Tom expects to continue his academic and consulting work with professionals and institutions in health care, higher education, and justice that provide the settings for their practices.

Tom Ellison graduated Magna Cum Laude from Yale University in 1974, majoring in Psychology (with departmental distinction) and Urban Studies. His undergraduate research, co-authored with his professor, was published in the Journal of Personality. Tom deferred his interest in doctoral studies to pursue law, graduating with a J.D. degree from the University of Utah College of Law in 1977 with honors. He served as Editor-in-Chief of the Utah Law Review.

ORCID Scholar ID # 0000-0002-9030-9436