Drs. Robert Higgins and Lynnette Watkins are helping lead one of the world’s foremost healthcare systems.
Dr. Robert Higgins
Bob Higgins is no stranger to leadership. The first Black president of the world-renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital—an academic medical center based in Boston and a major teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School—Higgins has a long track record of collaborative leadership at prestigious institutions, including Johns Hopkins and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He is also a distinguished academic and clinical physician, a leading authority in heart and lung transplants, and a world class researcher.
Higgins credits his grit and determination to his mother. Widowed when his father was killed in a car accident when Bob was just 5, the tragedy has steeled him as he attended Dartmouth College and the Yale School of Medicine and rose steadily through the leadership ranks. He also credits his wife—a nurse and cardiac transplant coordinator who he met during his residency—for keeping him on his toes.
Today, Higgins not only oversees the clinical, academic and educational mission of the Brigham in support of patients locally and across the globe – but as executive vice president at Mass General Brigham, he also sets and guides strategy, priorities, and performance across the system.
On being appointed the Brigham’s first Black president in 2021, he says, “I’ve been the first person of color in leadership everywhere I’ve been.” Crediting the mentoring and support he’s received along the way, today, Higgins is drawing upon his own life experiences to drive Mass General Brigham’s commitment to equity for patients and employees alike. “Instinctively, we know access to care is important for eliminating disparities,” he says. “It is also essential to diversify our workforce and research efforts as we work towards achieving health equity. So, we must continue to recruit and retain the best and the brightest folks from every community we serve.”
Dr. Lynnette Watkins
Growing up in St. Louis, Lynnette Watkins may not have known that she would one day lead a hospital like Cooley Dickinson – the 137-year institution in the heart of Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley located about 90 miles west of Boston. However, she already knew something about pioneers and strong role models: her father was one of the first Black practicing ophthalmologists in her hometown.
Following in her father’s footsteps as an ophthalmologist and then a widely respected health care administrator and leader, Watkins already had strong ties to the Mass General Brigham system when she was selected to lead Cooley Dickinson in 2021. She had begun her clinical career in ophthalmology and oculoplastic surgery at Mass Eye and Ear, completing her residency there while also serving on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.
Watkins also brought a nationwide perspective. Previously, she provided executive oversight of a $3.45B multi-hospital system that stretched across Texas as group chief medical officer for Baptist Health System/Tenet Healthcare. There she learned “navigating through change and thriving through adversity takes commitment and a certain level of grit and perseverance.”
Guided by her family and faith—her husband, Ed, is a Presbyterian minister and photojournalist—Watkins takes an active role in the community. She participates in “Monte’s March,” a regional event to raise awareness and funding for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts – and helped drive a $500,000, four-year partnership between the organization and Cooley Dickinson to benefit patients who experience food insecurity.
Perhaps above all, Watkins understands the example she sets as a leader. “As we are mentoring our colleagues and young people coming through the ranks, it’s important for them to see people who look like me leading hospitals,” she says. “People that look like us have the ability—and should have the opportunity—to lead organizations that are great.”