The MED Reborn

After a decade of struggle, the MED is back from the brink, profitable, with new leadership, an invigorated staff, and a grand new vision of the future. It may shock you.

photographs by Larry Kuzniewski

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Today, Dr. Reginald Coopwood is CEO of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (The MED), but he started out as a surgeon. It explains a lot.

“You have to pick a field that fits your personality,” Coopwood says in an interview with MBQ conducted at The MED in September. “Surgery was intriguing to me because I could do something: If you come in in pain, I can take you in surgery and take away that pain.” Contrast that to the experience of a psychiatrist or internist, where wellness is relative and a cure may be elusive or nonexistent.

Coopwood practiced as a general surgeon, which shouldn’t connote a pejorative. “The reality of being ‘just a general surgeon’ is you can handle most surgical problems,” Coopwood says. “I didn’t operate on the heart or bones or brain, but anything else I could handle.”

There’s no experience like performing a surgery, he says. “I loved doing surgery, loved the thrill and excitement of the surgical arena, the opening and closing of the patient. When it’s time to make that incision, everyone is focused on the patient and you’re the leader in the room. Everyone’s desire is making sure the patient does well. The surgeon is the conductor of all the moving parts. You’re at the center but everyone is moving together.”

Coopwood exhibited leadership capabilities that he himself didn’t identify. But his superiors did, and his career took a different tack as he became Chief Medical Officer of Nashville General Hospital at Meharry in 2000. He still performed surgeries, but he added crucial administrative duties. “I started developing leadership attributes, making a transition from orchestrating an OR to leading an organization through change and challenges,” he says. In 2005 he was named CEO of Metropolitan Nashville Hospital Authority, permanently trading his scalpel for a pen. After five successful years there, he took over as CEO of The MED in March 2010.

Running a hospital isn’t all that different from being a surgeon, Coopwood says. “With the responsibility and thrill of leading an organization, I traded one drug for another.” He laughs and says, “For lack of a better word. They both create that euphoria that drives us and excites us about getting up every morning.”

He adds, “I can’t hang out in the OR because the juices would start to flow again.”

The same personality traits that led him to being a surgeon have served him as an administrator. “I can be CEO because I can affect change.”

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