Former cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Robin Gary Cummings was recently recognized for his distinguished medical career prior to being named chancellor of his hometown university–UNC Pembroke.
Cummings is the 2019 recipient of the Jim Bernstein Community Health Career Achievement Award. He was presented the award during the 14th annual Jim Bernstein Health Leadership Dinner in Chapel Hill on October 3.
“Jim Bernstein made it his life’s mission to help people live better lives. He set the standards all involved in health care should rise to,” Cummings said. “I consider it a personal honor and privilege to receive this very special award named in honor of this great person.”
The award recognizes individuals who have dedicated their careers to improving the health of communities. Bernstein served as president of the National Rural Health Association and formed the first Office of Rural Health in North Carolina—now every state has one—to improve access, quality and cost-effectiveness of health care in underserved communities.
A resolution honoring the late Jim Bernstein by the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services reads, “Throughout his life, Jim remained an innovator and a motivator, helping local leaders and communities to come together to find local-based solutions to their healthcare problems.”
Anne Thomas, president and CEO of the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation (FHLI), believes Cummings’ career is defined by Bernstein’s ideology,
“Dr. Cummings exemplifies the values lived by Jim Bernstein and this award that was created in Jim’s honor,” Thomas said.
“Through his lifetime efforts to improve health, education and well-being for everyone in his community, Dr. Cummings has made a profound and long-lasting impact on the North Carolinians’ lives he has touched.”
When FHLI launched under Bernstein’s leadership, he set values the foundation still believe in: everyone has the right to health care, health care should be delivered in a respectful manner, and community health systems are shaped by the people they serve and the providers serving them.
The annual fund dinner brings together more than 300 health care professionals to celebrate the legacy of Bernstein and the work being done to advance health care access and community health in North Carolina.
Dr. Cummings was presented the award by his good friend and colleague, Dr. Jim Jones who has also played a significant role in health care as a former president of the National Academy of Family Physicians and founder of the family medicine program at East Carolina University.
Jones praised Cummings’ dedication and commitment to improving the lives of citizens in North Carolina’s rural communities through health care.
“He is well deserving of this great honor,” said Jones, former UNCP trustee. “Each year, the foundation gives three awards and this was the highest of the three. I was so proud to see him be recognized for his tremendous work.
“I can’t say enough nice things about Chancellor Cummings and I can’t imagine anyone more deserving of this award. He is a blessing.”
Prior to being named chancellor in 2015, Cummings practiced cardiothoracic surgery at the Pinehurst Surgical Clinic and Moore Regional Hospital. He later served as medical director of Community Care of the Sandhills before being named deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. He was then appointed as the Director of Medicaid for North Carolina, where he oversaw the health care of more than 1.8 million patients.
Throughout his career, Cummings has been a constant advocate for effective delivery of high-quality health care to all North Carolina citizens—especially those in rural and traditionally underserved populations.
Most recently, Chancellor Cummings was instrumental in the establishment of a new College of Health Sciences at UNC Pembroke. The new college will meet the health care needs of southeastern North Carolina within the next decades by educating qualified health care providers. In coming years, the university plans to establish new programs such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Doctor of Occupational Therapy.
“UNCP is located in a region that consistently ranks low in health outcomes. By educating our students to fill the in-demand health care positions in this region, we’re giving our community an opportunity for a healthier and better tomorrow,” Cummings said.
Following his retirement from surgery Cummings remained active in health care, serving on the Moore Regional Hospital Board of Trustees and FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital Foundation. He was the founding chair of the N.C. American Indian Health Board. He is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University School of Medicine.
Cummings is married to Rebecca Godwin Cummings. They have four children and four grandchildren.