With Reporting by Jessica Horne and Mason Miller; Around Campus and Beyond Campus Editors
Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings is a leader.
“One of my favorite sayings is ‘always try to leave th
ings better than the way you found them,’” he said. “…And that’s me, that’s what I believe.”
Chancellor Cummings is a goal-oriented leader who has been passionate in many different roles during this life – husband, father, cardiothoracic surgeon, North Carolina state Medicaid director, and, in his latest role, the chancellor of UNCP.
His journey of leadership began in a classroom. In Cummings’ tenth grade biology class, during an animal dissection, his teacher observed the skills necessary for a surgeon.
“He just looked over and he said you look like you’re enjoying what you’re doing and very interested in it and you’re obviously doing well in school, have you ever thought about being a doctor?” Cummings said of his high school biology teacher.
“I went home that day and I just remember thinking, ‘wow he thinks I can be a doctor’ and it just impacted me…” Cummings said. “Maybe he said that to all the students, but to me it found fertile soil.”
From then on, he knew he wanted to be a doctor.
After obtaining a zoology undergraduate degree from UNC Chapel Hill, Cummings attended Duke University Medical School in which he became a UNC Board of Governors Medical Scholar and Henry J. Kaiser Merit Scholar.
After graduation, he interned at Duke before practicing cardiothoracic surgery in Pinehurst.
Cummings was a surgeon in Pinehurst for 12 years until an acoustic neuroma was discovered in his brain. Surgery caused him to lose his fine motor skills so Cummings made the decision to retire early.
This twist of fate was devastating at first, but Cummings took the extra time as an opportunity to soul search, and prepare for his life’s next adventure.
According to Cummings, he had a strong support system led by his best friend and wife, Rebecca, as well as an inner-drive to continue.
“I thought, ‘this can’t be it,’” Cummings said. So, he started asking himself: “Who is Robin Cummings? What is important to me? What makes me happy?”
Helping others made Chancellor Cummings happy.
After his retirement, Cummings took the potential relaxation time and instead, spent hours volunteering and getting involved in local organizations. It was through these channels that he became involved in health care.
“I look back, and that was all learning experience. I learned how to deal with people,” Cummings said.
The next leadership opportunity that presented itself was the at the Community Care of the Sandhills. Cummings took on the role of medical director and executive director in 2009.
Then, after some encouragement from friends, Cummings sent his resumé to the department of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) to apply for the Director of the NC Office of Rural Health and Community Care position.
While watching his son play basketball at UNCW, Cummings received a phone call from NC HHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Zofia Wos who invited him in for an interview.
“I had no idea what to expect, and I literally felt like for the next 30 minutes I made myself into the world’s biggest fool,” Cummings said about the interview process.
Despite feeling embarrassed by his interview experience, the day before Christmas Cummings received a phone call—again from Secretary Wos.
This time she offered him the position and the opportunity to continue his work at the “state level.”
Cummings accepted the position a week later and began yet another chapter of his story.
In 2014, Cummings assumed the position of state medicaid director, according to a Human and Health Services press release.
Then in July 2015, Cummings took on his current leadership position – Chancellor of UNCP.
In his role at the head of UNCP, Cummings feels as if he works harder during many more hours than he did during his time as a surgeon, but the goal-oriented work of making a difference in students’ lives is satisfying, according to Cummings.
“Before I shut my eyes at night, I think ‘we did some good things today,’” Cummings said.
The change from medicine to academia was drastic, and it was the fear of the unknown that gave Cummings an initial feeling of uncertainty.
There is training for surgeons – medical school, and his work within the medical field gave Cummings a preview for his role in health care, but there is no Chancellor-training, according to Cummings.
“But if you can lead in one – you can in another,” Cummings said.
His path has taken a few different twists and turns, but his knack for leadership has helped Cummings in his transitions and to keep moving forward.
For his college students, when their plans change or the unexpected occurs, Chancellor Cummings echoed one piece of advice: “keep moving forward.”