As a high school student weighing career options, Lander University associate professor of health care management Sam Tolbert knew he wanted to enter a field that would allow him to touch as many lives positively as possible.
"I wasn't cut out to be a doctor or nurse, but I was pretty good at business, so I decided I was going to become a hospital administrator," he said.
After a 25-year career in health care management, followed by a 12-year career as an educator, Tolbert is still making a difference in the lives of those around him, which can be seen in his selection as Lander's 2012 Distinguished Professor of the Year.
The Greenwood native, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial management from Clemson University and a Master of Science degree in industrial management from Georgia Institute of Technology, was the youngest administrator ever hired by the Mayo Clinic, when he began his career there as a 22-year-old in 1975. In the years that followed, he also worked as a manager for an international consulting firm, as a corporate division director for a major multihospital system, and as a medical practice management consultant.
In 1985, Tolbert returned to Greenwood and began a 15-year association with Self Memorial Hospital, where he served as vice president and administrative director of planning and marketing.
In 2000, Tolbert joined the faculty at Lander, fulfilling a lifelong desire to teach. He also established Strategic Directions Inc., which provides consultative and advisory services in planning and marketing to the health care industry and helps Tolbert stay current in his field.
In the dozen years since Tolbert was hired, enrollment in Lander's health care management program has jumped from 65 to 145 students, and Dr. Doug Grider, interim dean of the College of Business and Public Affairs, believes that Tolbert's reputation as a "superb" teacher is a major reason why.
Another reason is that -- as Tolbert puts it -- "health care's a great field to go into." Forty years ago, 5 percent of the gross national product was spent on health care. Today, it's 16 percent, and the number is expected to rise. "We need well-run health care services," he said, "and that's what we're trying to teach students to do."
A published author and speaker on a variety of health care topics, Tolbert is considered an expert witness in the areas of health care planning, purchasing and regulation in the South Carolina Circuit Court. He is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE), a title held by only 8,700 persons worldwide.
He has served as chair or president of the boards of the Greenwood County Community Foundation, Greenwood Area Chamber of Commerce, the Greenwood County Economic Alliance, the Partnership for a Greater Greenwood County, the Kiwanis Club of Greenwood, the Arts Council of Greenwood County and the Greenwood Community Theatre. In 2007, he became the 40th inductee into the Greenwood County Hall of Fame for his work in economic and cultural development and overall service to the community.
Tolbert said that teaching, however, is as enjoyable as anything he's ever done. "I feel so lucky to be here," he said. "Some days I can't believe I get paid for what I do."
One key to his success as a teacher, he said, is his ability to produce real-world examples. "I can talk about what I did last week," he said. "The students like that a lot."
One of his goals, he said, is to get students to think. "If we can teach them to think, they can teach themselves," he said. "We're trying to create lifelong learners."
Tolbert believes that "Lander is full of distinguished people and outstanding staff. We're here because we love what we do and want to make a difference in the lives of our students." Being singled out for praise, he said, "is certainly an honor."