Jim Norman’s winding road of success

He could be called a boomerang surgeon. 

Physician Jim Norman was a surgeon, quit practicing to pursue the dot-com boom of the 1990s and, later, returned to surgery.

One might feel a career as a world-renowned surgeon, in the specialty of endocrine surgery, would be quite enough to round out one’s resume. But Norman is not like the surgeons you see on television programs. Just a surgeon, it even feels silly to write it out, because he’s not. He’s been a Silicon Valley mogul, a rock star (sort of) and a race car driver. He’s built his own aerobatic airplane and is now building a wooden boat. There’s really nothing this man can’t do with his hands. 

His most recent accomplishment, one he says he’s incredibly proud of, is the creation, and growth, of the Norman/Clayman Endocrine Institute at the Hospital for Endocrine Surgery, which has become the largest endocrine surgery practice in the world and Tampa’s newest hospital. 

Dr. Jim Norman wouldn’t be on an ensemble medical hospital drama, probably produced by Shonda Rhimes. Jim Norman’s show would need only one character and it would be wildly entertaining. 

***

These days, the Norman family lives in a stunning waterfront home, on Davis Islands, one of the largest on the island. However, that’s a hot lap from how Norman grew up. 

He grew up in a small town outside of Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a diesel mechanic and he, and his family, lived a quiet, blue-collar life in a small, two-bedroom home on a dirt road. 

“I remember [my dad] getting up early and coming home late, every day,” Norman recalls. “My work ethic is 100% attributable to my father.” 

They didn’t own a car, so his father would take the bus into Cleveland to travel to and from work each day. 

When Norman was in the second grade, his dad became a car salesman and, eventually, a sales manager. 

“Our lifestyle changed, literally overnight, from blue collar to white collar and we moved away from that dirt road,” Norman says. “It was a huge change for me.” 

The Normans moved into a new neighborhood in Aurora, Ohio. This neighborhood had paved roads and sidewalks, he recalls. 

“We went from having no cars to my dad having a new car and then my mom getting a new car, too,” Norman says. 

These days, cars still hold a dear place in Norman’s heart. His custom-built, first-floor, car garage holds up to 23 cars which includes everything from muscle cars of the 1960s to modern supercars like a McLaren and Ford GT, to famous race cars from the 1980s. 

But in childhood, watching his father progress from the bus stop to driving new cars, on a regular basis, was a distinction that left a strong impression on him. 

“My dad came home driving Chargers and Challengers. Very cool cars,” Norman says. “I remember my mom had a Dodge Charger. Cars became a huge part of my life.”

When Norman was getting ready to start middle school, his family moved to Winter Park, Florida, where they owned Dodge car dealerships throughout the Daytona and Orlando areas. And then a new car player entered the game, a little company called Toyota and, later, another brand called Datsun, which later rebranded as Nissan. 

It was assumed, if not expected, that Norman would follow suit and join the car dealership business. 

“I can still hear my mom saying, like it was yesterday, ‘Jimmy, you don’t need to go to college. Don’t you want to take over one of the dealerships?’” Norman recalls with a chuckle. He loved cars, and it wasn’t an awful opportunity, but it appeared he might have a different calling. 

A neighbor of his, from his days in Winter Park, would go on to play a pivotal role in Norman’s professional track. “He was very instrumental in my life,” he says, getting emotional. 

The neighbor, Bob Laird, was the dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Central Florida. 

“He really enjoyed my intellect,” Norman says. At the time, Norman had an interest in building car and airplane models and he was really good at it. A steady hand, which is necessary to be a successful surgeon. “He told me, you need to be a surgeon. You need to be a doctor.” 

As Norman began his high school years, when people asked him what he wanted to do when he got older, his answer changed. Instead of race car driver or a muscle car salesperson, his answer was definitive, “I want to be a surgeon.” 

***

Before Norman would enter the operating room, he was going to be center stage. 

Taking a break from his studies at UCF, Norman joined a rock band and went on tour, opening for other major acts, which he prefers not to name. 

“I was going to be pre-med, but I also had a love for music. [During that time] I wasn’t doing so well academically. I was playing in bands and working on cars,” Norman recalls. “So, I quit school and joined a rock band.” 

While traveling with the band in New Mexico, he had a realization. There was music playing in the hotel he and his bandmates had checked in to, so they decided to crash and check out the scene. It was a Bar Mitzvah. 

“It was like 1 a.m. and it just hit me, in a big way, I’m going to be 50 years old and playing in a hotel band,” he says, laughing. “I called my neighbor crying, ‘I don’t want to play Bar Mitzvahs at Holiday Inns when I’m 50 years old. I want to come back to school.’” 

So, back to school Norman went. From there, he rededicated himself to his studies and returned to his medical school track. 

It’s a good thing he did return to school because that is where he would meet his future wife, Gail. 

After performing well on his MCATs, Norman chose to attend medical school at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

It was there that he met Gail, who was from California. Gail became a family doctor and, later, had her own practice, in Tampa. 

“I really wanted to change my life and get away from my current scene at home. So I went to Oklahoma, which was what God had planned for me,” Norman says. 

After Oklahoma, Norman returned to Florida and did his surgery residency at the University of South Florida. He decided to focus on endocrine surgery, a subspecialty of general surgery that focuses on diseases of the thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands.

“There’s an intellectual side of endocrine tumors that make hormones and the different effects these hormones have throughout the body. I thought that was super cool,” he says. 

He stayed on at USF as a faculty member and rose through the ranks. Within a few years, Norman was a full-time professor, while operating at Moffitt Cancer Center and Tampa General Hospital. 

During this time, he developed a new way of doing parathyroid surgery and, as Norman describes, this is when his life truly started to change. 

“In the early 90s, Moffitt was developing new ways to do breast cancer and melanoma surgery. I applied some of those new mechanisms to parathyroid surgery,” Norman says. “When people develop parathyroid tumors, it makes them quite ill, but it was difficult to tell which one of the four [glands] was bad so surgeons made these huge incisions. I developed a way that changed a four-hour operation through a huge incision into a 15- or 20-minute operation with a one-inch incision.” 

This was a game-changer in the endocrine medical world — one that made Norman famous in the surgical community. It also led to a constant stream of inquiries wanting to know how to perform surgery his way, what technology was needed and a flurry of other questions, often similar in nature, from different people, over and over again. 

“I found myself saying the same thing 20 times a day, so I went to Barnes & Noble and I bought a book called Websites for Dummies,” Norman recalls. Another life-changing move. 

In 1995, Norman taught himself HTML coding and created a website to host the wealth of information he had accumulated. Now, when someone had a question, he had somewhere to direct them. His timing was golden. 

Interest in the World Wide Web was growing but it wasn’t incredibly user-friendly yet and most entities didn’t have websites. 

“I decided I would make money off of this,” Norman says laughing. “The first lesson I learned was that there were a lot more patients going online to figure things out than there were doctors or surgeons.” 

After the site Norman built caught the attention of a venture capital firm, Norman took the chance to, once again, travel a new and exciting track, this one leading to Silicon Valley. 

The firm was Kleiner Perkins, formerly Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which has owned stakes in big time internet icons like Yahoo, Netscape, AOL, Amazon and Google. 

They wanted Norman to replicate what he had built for thyroid and parathyroid medical information for different verticals, like orthopedics and cardiovascular. 

“[People] didn’t know how to make money but they knew if they had eyeballs, they would figure it out eventually,” Norman says. “The dot-com boom was terribly exciting.”

Within a few months, Norman had quit his job at USF.

“I had two small kids and a very understanding wife who shared my passion,” Norman says. “The internet was going to be something cool and I wanted to be a part of it.” 

For four years, Norman commuted back and forth from Tampa to California. By 1998, Norman had founded Healthline.com, which is still the world’s largest publisher of health care technology online. 

“I formed a handful of companies and sold a few, with Healthline being one of them,” Norman says, nonchalantly. 

Fast forward to when the dot-com bubble burst. “At that point, I lost my excitement and I decided to come back home, to stay,” Norman says. 

Norman describes the next year as time spent watching a lot of football, flying aerobatic airplanes and “a lot of fun stuff.” 

But, eventually, even with the “fun stuff,” he looked around and all his friends had jobs, while he was retired and unemployed. He says it without saying it, but even with all his fun adventures, Norman was seemingly bored. The truth is, he could fly planes high and drive fast cars, but there was no denying that Norman was, in fact, a surgeon all along. 

***

Equipped with a unique collection of experiences about the inner workings of the internet and still a passion for endocrine surgery, Norman embarked on his next great challenge. Why not build a big practice and, eventually, a specialty hospital? 

“People will travel across the globe to have an expert operate on them,” Norman explains. He came back to the surgical stage focusing only on parathyroid surgery, in 2003. “You can’t be an expert in everything.” 

Slowly, he began adding more surgeons to his team, replicating his business model and adding surgical verticals to his practice. 

“We perform more thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal operations than the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics combined,” he says. “My success is attributable to my ability to recruit extremely talented people. I’m smart enough to give them the tools they need to be successful and then get out of their way.” 

A few years ago, the HCA Hospital Corporation approached Norman with an interest in helping to build a specialty hospital, in Tampa. A relatively new concept in medicine, the only other specialty hospital, in the world, is the Hospital for Specialty Surgery, an orthopedic surgery hospital, in New York. 

In 2022, the Hospital for Endocrine Surgery opened, in Tampa. 

It has the highest volume of thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal surgeries in the world. The hospital completes nearly 6,000 surgeries per year, has recruited the best endocrine surgeons from the most prestigious universities and does well over $50 million, annually. 

Alongside HCA, there is a vision for growth and expansion. “We’re looking at places like Dallas and Las Vegas, and within the [United Kingdom] to replicate our specialty hospital model.” 

The hospital also has a philanthropic arm. Norman, along with the surgeons at the hospital, started the Thyroid Cancer and Parathyroid Foundation. Funds donated to that Foundation go to sponsor research and promote cures for cancer. 

The Institute also likes to take its services on the road and provide screenings at events in the Tampa Bay area, including Tampa Bay Business and Wealth’s annual Women’s Wellness Invitational. These local screenings for thyroid cancer have screened more than 350 women in the past year and detected more than a dozen cancers that were able to be cured. 

Personally, Norman has a family foundation, which gives to local charities. Gail sits on the board of Starting Right Now and the Norman family is passionate about the organization’s mission and goals. 

And all of this is possible because of the team that Norman has built. 

“It’s my vision, but I need people to execute that vision and I have some amazingly talented surgeons. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are,” Norman says. 

Norman has been married for 37 years, his parents are still alive and live in Winter Park, he has two children and a thriving surgical hospital. He enjoys entertaining at his beautiful home and traveling to races at great racetracks, around the world. But all of this doesn’t change his origin story or his roots. He’s still “Jimmy,” a kid who grew up on a dirt road, in Ohio. 

It’s incredible to think a lot of this journey started with a supportive mentor from Norman’s formative years. He gets teary-eyed talking about him, clearly not wanting to show the depth of his feelings and appreciation. 

“I spoke with my neighbor, Bob, about a year ago. I asked him, ‘Do you know how many people’s lives have been affected by you?’” Norman affirms. “We all have people in our lives who were our teachers and mentors…so, I told him, because of you, lives have been saved – many of them. The best things about being a doctor are those relationships and being able to help people.”  ♦

WINNING THE RACE

When Norman was a kid, cars were a large part of his experience. He was fascinated with them. Cars that drove fast…[since] he is, admittedly, an adrenaline junkie. To this day, cars and racing are a passion of his and a huge part of his life. 

Norman raced on the professional IMSA circuit for 12 years and has 13 professional wins and 34 podiums at the most famous race tracks in the U.S. and Europe. His greatest win being the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, in 2013, as well as the driver’s championship that same year, driving a Porsche.

He has raced Porsches, Audis, Lamborghinis and a number of prototype cars that are special-built race cars with top speeds of 200 mph. He currently owns two famous, historic race cars from the 1980s, a Porsche 935 K3 and a March 85G. He races these cars at tracks around the world on the historic racing circuit.

“I went from not having any cars to having some of coolest muscle cars and race cars ever built. And I use them, and use them hard!” Norman says. 

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