October 22, 2017

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Welcoming Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith as ACMC-President and CEO

Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, ACMC President and CEO, Dermatology

Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith is hitting the road, traveling from one ACMC clinic to another. “You may not find me in the corner office much. I plan to visit ACMC clinics and staff as often as I can to meet everyone, say hi and see what’s happening.”

As we said goodbye to long-time president and CEO of ACMC, Dr. Ronald Holmgren, we welcome in our new president and CEO, ACMC dermatologist Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith. We asked her to share her thoughts on her first few weeks on the job. Here’s what she had to say.

You have a long history of service and advocacy, including having served on multiple committees, boards and organizations and in multiple leadership positions including most recently, as president of the Minnesota Medical Association. You are an alternate delegate to the American Medical Association, were appointed to a Governor’s Commission, have maintained an adjunct faculty position at the University of Minnesota medical school for 25 years, have testified at the legislator on patient safety issues and spearheaded the Minnesota Dermatological Society’s successful campaign to see tanning bed access in Minnesota banned for teens. How have these roles prepared you for this new chapter in your career?

My career has been a series of “happy accidents.” As a teen I would never have predicted this end result. I tell the young men and women I have mentored to never say no to an opportunity to grow, learn or do what’s right. If you can’t accept the challenge today, set a date and accept it then, but don’t close the door.  I accepted tasks, appointments and leadership roles because in the end, I thought I had something to give. In each case I received far more from the experience. If I leave this world a better place for having lived, I will leave with no regrets.

As you reflect on your first couple of weeks as president and CEO of ACMC, how do you feel?

I feel excited about the opportunities, optimistic about our future and a little upside down. I’ve become pretty dependent on my Outlook calendar, iPhone alarms and Sue, an assistant in ACMC administrative offices, to tell me where to be and when to be there.

Transitioning my dermatology practice from full-time to one-third time is an ongoing challenge.  Our staff—nursing, IT, scheduling, coding and multiple other support staff—have been working tirelessly to make this as easy as possible for everyone involved. My partners, Dr. Julie Schultz and Dr. Leah Schammel are assuming the care of many of my patients. The patients themselves have been incredible, offering congratulations, support and understanding. We are modeling some new “collaborative documentation” that will allow me to increase my ability to spend time with patients while sharing some of the administrative tasks that take physicians away from patients.  We are hoping that this might be a model to eventually make life easier for other ACMC docs and staff.

The administration staff has been great getting used to the “new normal” of having me in their space.  To borrow from Tim Gunn, we’re all “making it work.”  I think we’re doing a great job.

What do you see as the possibilities for ACMC in 2016 and beyond? What excites you the most?

We are being challenged to really think about why, how and where we deliver health care. We need to invest health care dollars so we get the most return for that investment and allow people in our communities to live the longest, highest quality lives possible. We need to ensure that our friends and neighbors get the right health care, at the right time, in the right place, for the right cost. This is going to require a commitment not only from health care professionals, but from everyone at ACMC. The opportunity to fundamentally change the way health care is delivered and sustain the health of our communities is a pretty exciting opportunity for ACMC.

What does new leadership mean for ACMC and your administrative team?

I recognize that change is scary because it can create feelings of insecurity. We get used to living in our bubble, and it makes us uncomfortable to step beyond it. I personally am invigorated by change.  The changing leadership at ACMC creates opportunities to design new systems, innovate, learn, grow, meet new people and make ACMC and the world around us a better place for the people we serve.

What appealed to you most about being president and CEO of ACMC?

I went into medicine to take care of people.  Every single day of my career, I have focused on making a difference in people’s lives, one day at a time, one patient at a time. Working in advocacy and public policy taught me that working for patients outside of my office walls can allow me to make a difference on a bigger scale for thousands of patients for generations.

The challenges facing rural medicine right now are daunting.  At ACMC we are committed to caring for the people in our rural communities. We live here.  Our kids go to school here.  Our families get our health care here, too.  I wanted this job so I could take care of people on an even bigger scale.  I will advocate for the patients in our communities with local, state and national leaders.  I will share the challenges we face and the importance of supporting rural medicine. We have many talented, smart and compassionate people in our communities.  I’ll ask every one of them to help us innovate and invest in the future of rural medicine.

As ACMC president I want to continue to make a difference.