Her approach of continuous learning opens the door to the C-suite at a rural Maine hospital. She earned her MBA through AAPL and is now pursuing a degree in health law.
During its 95-year history, Cary Medical Center in Caribou, Maine, has had only two chief medical officers.
The first CMO was long gone by the time Regen Gallagher took the post in 2012, and “because I was the first CMO here in almost 30 years, I had no shoes to fill. I got to invent my own job,” says Gallagher, a member of the American Association for Physician Leadership since 2007.
Embracing the all-hands-on-deck ethic that comes with rural hospitals, she says, “we obviously have things that we gravitate toward based on skills and position, but if it needs to be done and I am the one free, then I do it. Everyone works this way.”
Q Given the financial struggles and general isolation of rural hospitals, what attracted you to Cary Medical and has kept you there for more than a decade?
A Aroostook County is home for my husband, which is what brought me here. What keeps me here, though, is the amazing team at our hospital. Everyone here, from the housekeeper to the CEO, understands that we are here to take exceptional care of our community. You can feel the "family" when you walk in the door.
Q The timing of your rise through the leadership ranks at Cary Medical seems to coincide with your pursuit of an MBA through our association in 2008. Coincidence?
A I knew almost nothing about the business of medicine coming out of residency. When I got to Caribou, it took about five minutes for them to draft me onto various committees. I learned a lot during that time but wanted a more formal education, so I started taking classes. Soon, I realized I was close to completing the prerequisites for the MBA, so I went for it. In the end, it really did open the door for me to become CMO.
Q You are now pursuing a degree in health law. Do you consider that a necessity for today’s physician leaders?
A A necessity? No. But, I think the importance of continuing to be an active learner cannot be overstated. This happens to be a formal degree program, but that's not the necessary part. The constant learning of new information that changes your perspective and challenges your assumptions is an essential part of being a physician leader.
Q As CMO of a small-town hospital, you wear many hats, among them that of physician adviser, patient safety officer, cancer center administrator, etc. How can a physician leader be successful at so many things?
A This comes back to being willing to learn and grow. It is also about being allowed to learn. My CEO wants me to do an outstanding job every day. But, when I make an error — and I do — there isn't punishment. We work together to fix the problem and learn how not to let it happen again. I have a lot of support above and below me. It is always a team effort.
Q What is the role of physician leadership in saving rural hospitals? Nearly 90 have closed nationally since 2010.
A Physician leaders are uniquely suited to bridge the gap between the business and practice of medicine. Because we see both sides, we can help our organizations take outstanding care of our patients while using our resources wisely. We also have a respected voice with our congressional delegations, so when we talk to them about issues facing rural hospitals, their constituents, senators and representatives listen. We are viewed as a credible voice from the front lines. This has broad impact and is an underutilized tool in my experience.