no longer at 110 percent, and he could not justify returning to heart surgery – with each operation, there was simply too much on the line for him to return in anything less than peak condition. So Cummings, who was in his early 40s at the time, retired from surgery. And then his life shifted to an unexpected gear. “As a surgeon, the last thing you can think of yourself is being an administrator – as a surgeon, you got a problem, I’m going to operate,” Cummings says. Yet against his own reservations, he accepted a friend’s invitation to be the medical director of Community Care of the Sandhills. And against his own preconceptions of administrative work, Cummings loved it. “That got me into healthcare administration,” he says. “It was over seven counties, so there’s a statewide office that oversees that whole system. I was given the opportunity of, ‘Why don’t you come to Raleigh and run this office?’ I did that for six months. Then the person I was working for said, ‘Why don’t you be my deputy secretary for Health and Human Services?’ I did that for two months and then they said, ‘Well, we really need to you to run Medicaid.’ All of the sudden, I found myself taking care of 1.8 million patients, $14 billion budget, and I’m thinking, ‘How did this happen?’”
learned in Raleigh back to Pembroke. “I learned the value of communication. I learned the value of collaboration,” Cummings says. “You’ve gotta have integrity. You can’t sell for anything. The minute you start selling yourself or selling a part of you, you lose. “I learned how to multitask lots of people coming at you with different agendas, wanting different things,” he continues. “You’ve got to get to the root and always remember I’m here to take care of that patient. When I came here, ultimately it’s about that student. That student is my patient, in a way.” And if the surgeon in him still sees the individual student as his responsibility, the administrator in him looks at Robeson County as a whole – and southeast North Carolina – and thinks, what can I do? How can this university elevate the region?
After several years in that world Cummings came full circle, and the local kid who grew up three miles from campus became chancellor of UNCP in July of 2015. He’d already made the shift from surgery to medical administration, so the move from that to academia wasn’t all that jarring. And he was able to take the things he’d
DECEMBER 2018 |
The Trading Traditions Issue