The corner office: Carilion Clinic CEO Nancy Howell Agee on a life well lived

Nancy Howell Agee has seen almost every side of healthcare.

Ms. Agee, RN, MN, has served as president and CEO of Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va., since July 2011. The $1.5 billion nonprofit integrated healthcare organization includes eight hospitals, a multispeciality physician group, the Jefferson College of Health Sciences and a joint ventured medical school with Blacksburg-based Virginia Tech.

Ms. Agee began her career as a nurse at Carilion Clinic and has served in various capacities there ever since. She was appointed vice president of medical education in 1996. In 2000, she was named vice president of Carilion and in 2001, she became executive vice president and COO.

In addition to serving as CEO, Ms. Agee was appointed to the American Hospital Association board of trustees and will begin her three-year term January 1, 2016.

Here, Ms. Agee took the time to answer Becker's Hospital Review's seven questions.

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

Two things contributed to my interest. First, at age five, I was given a nurse's cap and a puppy, and luckily my puppy tolerated being bandaged. Ever since, I've wanted to be in healthcare.

Later as a teenager, I had surgeries on my knee for a serious health issue, and I spent the better part of two years in crutches and a wheelchair. The experience let me see what it's like to be inside healthcare from a patient's perspective.

NH Agee-2 webWhat do you enjoy most about the Roanoke area?

I love Virginia and I love our region. I was actually born in the hospital that's the flagship of our system.

We have a mix of urban, suburban and rural life in the area. In Roanoke, there's a big farmer's market operation that's been active for over 150 years. There's also so much beauty in the area, especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which actually do look blue. There's an 88-foot-tall neon star on top of the mountain, which you can see from the hospital. Because of the star, we call the Roanoke area the "Star City of the South."

Of course, at the end of the day it's all about the wonderful people.

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

After 40 years in healthcare and five years of the Affordable Care Act, it's hard to know where to begin. If I could truly blink my eyes and change one thing, it would be a complete transition from volume to value. Although there are a thousand other things I'd change, it's the right pathway to pursue.

What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside the C-suite?

I'm not a cook, but I'm learning to be one. However, I am a bookworm and a speed reader. I read a lot of books related to healthcare and leadership, but I like biographies, historical novels and the occasional beach read as well. I'm also interested in management books, and someone just sent me an interesting book about mindfulness and compassion.

I recently completed All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I also finished The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman, which is a translation from German about an ordinary German family who got caught up in World War II and the Holocaust.

How do you revitalize yourself?

I'm high energy all the time and I have a pretty positive outlook on things. In addition, I'm fairly spiritual, I exercise and I have a dog. My family and I enjoy traveling and spending time together. We enjoy local travel and this summer we visited Virginia Beach. I'm also going to Cuba in February.

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

My background is in oncology and as a hospice nurse. The most obvious advice is to live every day as if it's your last. But I don't think it's that simple. I like the phrase, "Live life well." To color that up, a life well lived is about extraordinary courage, compassion and really enjoying the great life we have.

What do you consider your greatest achievement at Carilion Clinic so far?

I can easily say it isn't my greatest achievement — our greatest achievement is what makes all the difference. We operated our visualization for a greater clinic, meaningful physician leadership, patient-centered care and a medical school in collaboration with Virginia Tech. But at the end of the day, it's about paying attention. The most important thing is taking care of patients, followed by making sure our staff has a great environment.

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