Corner Office: How meeting a stranger helped lead Anita Jenkins to the Howard University Hospital CEO role

An encounter with a stranger played a key role in the beginning of the road that led Anita Jenkins to the CEO role at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

She told Becker's that experience helped ignite her love for all types of people, which has extended to her healthcare career.  

"My love for people started because my parents invited any visitor into our home from church for a meal," she said. "Offering that kindness to a stranger was powerful to me."

Ms. Jenkins has served at the helm of Howard University Hospital since February 2020, when the hospital finalized a management services agreement with Gaithersburg, Md.-based Adventist HealthCare. Previously, she served as president of Sycamore Medical Center in Miamisburg, Ohio, and as COO of Dayton, Ohio-based Kettering Medical Center.

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

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length. 

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

Anita Jenkins: My love for people started because my parents invited any visitor into our home from church for a meal. Offering that kindness to a stranger was powerful to me. This has carried over to healthcare. Everyone is different, and I find an interest in individual nuances in people that I get to meet and work with each day. My love for human beings is evident, and I have never shied away from inviting and getting to know people from all walks of life and diverse cultures. I've worked over a decade in hospital emergency departments (trauma, to be specific), and there was always that element of surprise and the unknown regarding who would come into our facility needing our services. As healthcare professionals, we would always have to be prepared to treat their needs. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about being in Washington, D.C.?

AJ: Throughout my career, I have moved a lot. Between myself and our CNO, who has also moved extensively in her career, it's probably up in the high 20s or 30s between the both of us. I have learned after living in five different states that there is always something interesting to see and do and to love. Washington, D.C., is a great place to live. The city boasts an abundance of history and diverse cultural offerings, from every kind of restaurant, theater, museums, monuments and outdoor activities to experience — [from] performances at the Kennedy Center to the local rhythm of events taking place in Meridian Hill (Malcolm X Park). And then there is the political nature of the city, which is a magnet for nonprofit and civic associations, protests and rallies, events on the National Mall, think tanks, international consulates, etc. There is a variety of everything for everyone. On any given day, there is always somewhere to go and something to do. It is such a fun city. My husband and I take in the city and often go on date night to a new D.C. restaurant. 

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

AJ: I would immediately address healthcare inequities for the underserved. This is a huge issue in our country. Can you imagine a world where everyone would have equal access to quality healthcare no matter their socioeconomic background? This would also include eliminating food deserts, addressing housing shortages and improving healthcare access, all before anyone ever enters a hospital.

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

AJ: I believe I am a fairly talented public speaker, and I am also a singer.

Q: How do you revitalize yourself?

AJ: My husband and I love to have fun learning and experiencing new things. We recently bought costumes online and participated in A Bridgerton Experience, which came to D.C., a few weeks back. Imagine being transported back to 19th century London. It was billed as a once-in-a-lifetime evening of music and dance complete with acrobatic performances, interactive experiences, a stunning dance show and plenty of surprises. We also ballroom dance, listen to jazz, attend concerts, travel when we can and visit our five children. These are the many ways we revitalize ourselves. Why not have fun and create new and lasting memories!

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

AJ: When making the decision to come to Howard University Hospital, my daughter said to my husband and I that, "Sometimes you have to do things that are bigger than yourself, and sometimes you have to do things that God has in store for you to do." That was one of the determining factors in my decision to move to Washington. Another piece of advice I received, which still sticks with me, says, "There is no deadline for you to advance in your life." I was a part-time student throughout my tenure in college, and I worked the entire time. I've learned that time stops for no one, whether you move forward or not. So, the goal is to keep advancing. 

Q: What do you consider your greatest achievement at HUH so far?

AJ: My vision for Howard University Hospital is to be a world-class hospital. One of my greatest achievements so far is that we have been able to share this vision with our hospital leaders and caregivers, and they are truly beginning to see the potential and embrace this mindset. This goal is very attainable. I have worked at world-class hospitals in the past and I feel that we have the right staff in place to reach our goal. It will take a lot of time, effort and hard work, but it will get done. In addition, the partnership between Howard University and Adventist HealthCare puts us at a great strategic advantage for our long-term growth and success. Our front-line caregivers believe that we can continue to carry the longstanding legacy of this great institution in Washington, D.C.

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