Catherine Garvey Goldthorpe Will Always Be a Nurse at Heart

Catherine Garvey Goldthorpe combines an attorney’s acumen and a caregiver’s compassion to defend healthcare providers at the University of Chicago Medicine

Catherine Garvey Goldthorpe
Catherine Garvey Goldthorpe, Associate General Counsel and Executive Director of Professional Liability, University of Chicago Medical CenterPhoto by Matt Schademann

In 2016, Catherine Garvey Goldthorpe accepted her current role as associate general counsel and executive director of the professional liability plan at the University of Chicago Medical Center, which is part of the UChicago Medicine health system. However, she had first worked for the academic medical center decades earlier—as a registered nurse.

“Nursing is my love,” Garvey admits. “I have always kept my license active and will always be a nurse.”

Beyond maintaining an active nursing license, Garvey applies a caregiver’s perspective to her current work as an attorney. She empathizes deeply with the healthcare providers at UChicago Medicine to whom she provides legal counsel and, as a result, seeks to make them more comfortable when defending a lawsuit. She shares wisdom learned from past experiences with colleagues across the health system with the end goal of improving patient care.

Garvey initially joined UChicago in 1984 after completing an undergraduate degree in nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She enjoyed her duties as a staff nurse and considered pursuing a graduate degree in the field but settled on law instead in order to increase her opportunities for career advancement.

For the next four years, Garvey attended night school at DePaul University while continuing to serve as a nurse at UChicago’s Wyler Children’s Hospital (now Comer Children’s Hospital). While there, she instituted a day treatment room, which allowed pediatric cancer patients to begin receiving treatment upon arrival while waiting for bed availability. “We were just starting all of the transplant programs at the University of Chicago,” she explains. “It was a very exciting time to be working at the hospital.”

Once she completed her JD, Garvey left UChicago Medicine to practice law. She spent twenty-five years defending medical malpractice lawsuits at a Chicago-based litigation law firm before starting her own firm, Brennan Garvey (now Brennan Burtker), in 2015. When she returned to UChicago Medicine the following year in her current capacity, she brought with her a wealth of malpractice defense expertise that she now exercises for the benefit of providers and patients alike.

Five years into the position, Garvey has found that no two days at UChicago Medicine are the same. “You think that you’re going to do one thing when you get to work in the morning, but then the phone rings and you get steered in a different direction,” she confirms. “But that is what I love about this job!”

“Because of my nursing background, I know firsthand what it would feel like if someone were to suggest that maybe I hadn’t provided the best possible care to a patient.”

Fortunately, Garvey thrives on the varied nature of her role. She oversees all claims and litigation and provides advice on a varied and unique array of legal matters to providers throughout the system. In addition, she collaborates with the medical staff office on privileging issues and works closely with the risk and patient safety team. “We work hand in hand investigating adverse events that happen at the hospital, both to make changes to improve patient care and identify events that could result in litigation,” she elaborates.

With years of trial experience, Garvey remains actively involved in lawsuits filed against the hospital. She coordinates with outside counsel on defense strategy and attends pretrials and mediations to settle certain cases outside of court.

Just as importantly, Garvey strives to reassure providers facing legal action. “Because of my nursing background, I know firsthand what it would feel like if someone were to suggest that maybe I hadn’t provided the best possible care to a patient,” she says. “It’s stressful to be named as a defendant in a lawsuit or to be asked to give a deposition. I want to be as supportive as I can to our providers, making sure that I provide them the best possible representation. I want to help them navigate the legal process so that they can remain focused on patient care.”

Garvey understands that the trial process can be incredibly stressful and time-consuming to a healthcare provider. “Over the years, I’ve known excellent physicians that have left the practice of medicine after living through a negative trial experience,” she says. As a result, she regularly conducts “trial postmortems” as a way to share the trial experience and educate and support other providers at UChicago Medicine who may find themselves in similar circumstances.

Furthermore, Garvey delivers lectures across the health system to educate doctors on the law and how it pertains to particular subspecialties. Although she looks at each case with fresh eyes, she also tracks recurring issues in the interest of avoiding similar problems. By keeping providers informed of possible pitfalls and providing legal guidance, she facilitates their efforts to provide excellent patient care—an aim that will always resonate with her, as a nurse at heart.

“I understand what it feels like from their end,” she says. “To me, the most rewarding part of this job is when I can alleviate a provider’s anxiety about being involved in the legal process—something that’s very foreign to them—so that they can focus on our patients. I help them navigate this unknown legal world.”


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