Corner Office: Boston Medical Center CEO Kate Walsh takes a page out of Maya Angelou's book

Kate Walsh considers two pieces of advice to inform her leadership style — one practical and one spiritual. 

The former is to have one "to do" list for personal and professional items. The latter is a quote from Maya Angelou expounding on what makes a lasting impression.

In her role, Ms. Walsh looks to both pieces of advice as she helms Boston Medical Center, a system that includes a 514-bed academic medical center, a Medicaid managed care organization and a network affiliation of community health centers.

Ms. Walsh became president and CEO of Boston Medical Center in 2010. Before that, she served as executive vice president and COO of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. 

Here, Ms. Walsh answers Becker's Hospital Review's seven Corner Office questions.   

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Question: What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

Kate Walsh: I had an internship in college at a community health center in Boston and was able to witness the critical role CHCs play in the lives of the people and communities they serve. It was a safe and welcoming place for people to receive medical care and support services and also a place where people could build relationships with their neighbors. Healthcare is so personal — people experience some of the greatest and most challenging moments in their lives in a healthcare setting, and I was drawn to being part of that. I also loved the variety of work that healthcare leaders address in the course of their workdays.  

Q: What do you enjoy most about being in Massachusetts?

KW: Massachusetts has rightfully earned the reputation as a mecca of healthcare, and time and again the healthcare community has come together to address the challenges within our state. The COVID pandemic really reinforced just how interwoven our obligations and opportunities are as a broader healthcare system in Massachusetts. The collaboration and coordination we had with public health organizations and leaders in the state — all the way up to Gov. [Charlie] Baker — ensured we all had the resources, information and tools to respond to this pandemic and were critical in our ability to care for those in need.  

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be? 

KW: Eliminating racial disparities in healthcare would have an incredible impact on people's ability to live healthier and fuller lives. Equity has been central to the mission of Boston Medical Center, whether it was establishing the nation's first preventative food pantry or investing in affordable housing. The disparities that the COVID pandemic revealed and worsened in our patient population, as well as our nation's overdue reckoning on race, led us to look deeply at ourselves and at the role of healthcare in equity. In November 2021, we launched the Health Equity Accelerator to focus on closing the most pervasive healthcare gaps among people of different races and ethnicities.  

Q: What is your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite? 


KW:
As my family and many of my colleagues at BMC know at this point, I am passionate about music and consider myself a very skilled purveyor of playlists! I pride myself on putting together the best musical selections for a range of occasions — whether it be my eldest daughter's recent wedding or BMC's annual Employee Service Awards ceremony or my "Hey 19" playlist, which helped me through the pandemic.  

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

KW: I love getting together with family and friends. The past few years I have been part of a book club which we dubbed "the non-book club" because we more often discussed our Netflix queues, politics and our kids. Most importantly it was a great excuse to get together with friends, even when we needed to meet on Zoom.  

Q: What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

KW: I reflect most on two pieces of advice, one practical and one spiritual. The practical advice was one "to do" list. If you are juggling work and family, you should put everything you need to do on one list and take things off the list over the course of the day; you can answer an email after 5 p.m., but if you call the orthodontist after 5 p.m., you can't change an appointment. The spiritual advice comes from Maya Angelou: "I've learned that people will forget what you've said, will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel." I try to live by and live up to those words every day.  

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at Boston Medical Center so far? 

KW: Amazing things happen at BMC every day thanks to the hard work and compassion of our staff. I have been fortunate in that my colleagues are not daunted by working to solve big problems — whether it is establishing a mobile vaccination clinic during a pandemic or opening a crisis housing program to help people who are homeless and living with SUD and BH issues. I think my greatest accomplishment is helping to create an environment where great things happen every day.

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