Jeff Renner smiling at the camera
Jeff Renner's administrative residency at Children’s Hospital of Richmond has reinforced his belief that he is on the right path. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Class of 2022: Surviving childhood cancer inspired Jeff Renner to innovate pediatric health care

Pursuing a master’s in health administration, Renner wants to make compassionate leadership and equal access to high-quality care the standard in pediatric health care.

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Most 2-year-olds spend their time blowing bubbles, chasing after soccer balls and climbing jungle gyms. Jeff Renner, who graduates in May from Virginia Commonwealth University with a master’s degree in health administration, remembers IV-pole races down hospital hallways when he was 2 years old. Like his brother and father, Renner is a cancer survivor. “The memories that stuck with me are small moments of compassion by doctors and nurses that made this journey a much better experience for me and my family.”

Starting out as an engineering major, Renner quickly recognized that he wanted to pursue a career in service of others and switched to a pre-med track, aspiring to be a doctor. An internship opportunity in health administration piqued his interest in the business side of health care. “I realized that I could impact communities at a much larger scale on the administrative side, instead of serving patients one at a time. That’s when I knew I wanted to apply my personal experience as a childhood cancer survivor to health care administration in pediatrics.”

Intrigued by the VCU College of Health Professions’ affiliation to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, Renner enrolled in the health administration program. “It was a perfect fit. The health administration track has an emphasis on compassionate leadership and I found mentors to help me launch a career in pediatrics,” he said.

An appreciation for VCU runs in his family. Renner’s wife, a nurse at VCU Medical Center, is currently pursuing a second degree at VCU’s School of Nursing.

At the start of the pandemic, Renner volunteered for the College of Health Professions’ Executive Student Council, an advisory group for the dean’s office. “Our voices mattered and we met monthly to give input on how to operate during the pandemic and how to get everybody’s needs met in that challenging time,” Renner said. He also became a mentor to incoming students interested in a career in pediatrics. “I’m widely known as the peds guy and I don’t mind.”

Rachel F. Haga, director of professional development at the College of Health Professions, noted that Renner came to VCU with a singular focus to learn the skills needed to become a leader in children’s health services. “The patient and family perspective Jeff brings to the field is very unique for an early careerist,” Haga said. “As a result of his childhood cancer experience, Jeff has firsthand understanding of the heavy toll illness can take on pediatric patients and their families.”

Last summer, Renner joined Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU as an administrative resident. His residency has only further reinforced his belief that he is on the right path. “I have always wanted my work to lift up entire communities. At CHoR, every decision is driven by making kids’ lives and the health of the communities they live and play in better.” Recently, Renner provided project management support for a new collaboration for pediatric heart surgery aimed to broaden access to lifesaving care while keeping children as close to their homes as possible.

“Jeff has been great to work with … and has brought excitement to me for the next generation of health care professionals,” said Gary Southard Jr., senior administrator in the Department of Pediatrics at CHoR. “Jeff’s passion, excitement, willingness to learn and ability to build strong relationships will be the foundation of a successful health care career.” 

Following graduation, Renner is planning to use his experience at CHoR to continue working in pediatrics. “This field is near and dear to me. When a child is sick, it is a vulnerable time for everyone in the family. I hope that my personal experience as a patient, combined with my degree, will help create environments that give many kids and their families the medical and emotional support they need.”