Ep. 6: Marc Woods (w/ Christopher Gomez)

by | Jan 19, 2021 | Podcasts, The Virtuous Heros | 0 comments

Podcast episode

About our Guest

Marc Woods is the Assistant Chief Nurse Executive for Behavioral Health at UK Healthcare, the health care system based on the campus of the University of Kentucky. In this episode, Marc and Chris discuss how leading compassionately can shape a community and the benefits that can be accessed through investment in long-term relationships. Marc’s story serves as an inspiration for business leaders; he was the first in his family to attend college, and he is now on the pathway to earn a doctorate in nursing leadership. He is also a husband, father of two, and member of several professional organizations.



Chris: All right. Welcome back to the Leading Virtuously Podcasts today on the show we have Mr. Marc Woods. So excited to have you Marc. 

Marc: Thanks, Chris. I’m really excited about being here. 

Chris: Marc I always ask the difficult question first. Who are you?

Marc: That could be a deep one, but we’ll keep it up on a superficial level, maybe.

My name is Marc Woods. I’m the assistant chief nurse executive for behavioral health for all of UK Healthcare. And that includes our state psychiatric hospital that we run as well. I’ve been a nurse for 28 years. I’m a father of two beautiful children and my wife, Angela, and I’ve been together since high school.

And It’s just one of those things that kind of keeps me grounded certainly in, in the things that are important, but yeah, those are the things that I do. I’m part of a lot of different professional memberships, like the American Organization of Nurse Leaders American Psychiatric nurses Association on and on, but that’s who I am.

I live here in Alexi or Georgetown, Kentucky, right outside of Lexington. And I’ve been a lifelong Kentuckian which I’m very proud of. And I think that’s who I am.

Chris: I have a bunch of follow-up questions to a couple of things you just spit off there. But before we dive into that wanted to ask you, how did you get to the leadership position that you’re in today?

Marc: Yeah Chris I’ve been blessed. I would say I’ve been blessed to have people around me all throughout my career who. Who to some may seem as if they had no reason at all to, to want me to have good things and to be a part of good things and have support. But again, I think I’ve just been blessed to have great people around me all the time.

Early in my career I was even when we look back and as a manager when I started in 95 becoming a nurse manager I was very young. I’d only been a nurse for two years and I had a lot of people around me that coached me. And I wasn’t sure if I should take that first step.

But one of the mantras that I remember recall people telling me that were important in my life was as doors open up, you walk through them. You prepare to walk through those doors, but as they walk it up, as they open up you prepare yourself to walk through it. So I’ve done that over the course of my career.

I’ve spent. All 28 years in behavioral health, and I’ve been blessed to do a lot of different things from educator to a variety of different leadership positions at the state hospital, approximately eight years ago, seven, eight years ago, UK Healthcare took over management of the state hospital.

And it was at that moment when I had a decision to make, I could retire from the state at that time. Or I could put my best foot forward and attempt to make that transition become a UK healthcare employee and continue to have involvement and oversight for the state hospital that I’d always been a part of and had oversight for.

And. I did just that because I, at the time I think UK healthcare was given the responsibility and the to manage Eastern state hospital. And I think in a lot of ways, they felt like they were bringing their expertise to us in behavioral health here at the hospital. But I felt it was a different story. I felt like we had something that we were bringing to them. We had an expertise that we were bringing to them. The door opened up for me to be the chief nurse for behavioral health that UK healthcare needs to say hospital and make that transition. And I did. And I did so because I wanted to make a difference on continue to make a difference at it on a higher level.

And and I can tell you that my transition was challenging because it was going from being at a state hospital to an academic medical center. But as I said earlier, I had, I’ve always had just these people that show up in my life that helped me make some of those transitions. One of them was Diana Ween.

A nurse leader with a lot of experience was the chief nurse at UK healthcare many years ago was the chief nurse at YaleNew Haven. This person is just an amazing woman and an amazing leader. And I had her by my side and coaching me and helping me make that transition.

And and I felt like it’s been pretty successful. 

Chris: So you’ve obviously had a wildly successful career in behavioral health. What, obviously like we’re still in this country continuing to. Shake off that, that stigma behind mental health. So as a behavioral health leader, what are some things that you know about the industry that your average person wouldn’t know?

Just as an outsider looking in. 

Marc: Yeah. So as a leader, with fiscal responsibilities as you said, there’s this there’s a statement that’s made with no margin no mid. And it basically means, that if we we can have the greatest mission on the planet, we can seek and hope to do all the best things in, in the world and have the perfect plan to do but if we don’t have the money to do it, or if we don’t have the means to sustain or support it, then we can’t do it. It’s all for nothing. And I would say, Chris, I think there’s times when that’s the truth, that’s the case. But I think in behavioral health, that’s one of those areas where it’s often not the case.

And so as a leader over the course of, decades I’ve been in the business or had the challenge of having to convince people that these were worthy causes or this was worth the profit loss. And so the only way to do that sometimes is to be able to, hope that your you’ve got profit gains in other areas that will sustain some of those profit losses.

And you talk a little bit about, some, Vince that, that kind of like reminds you of that virtue. It’s hard for me to pull any one. In fact, so many come to my mind. I can remember. I can remember a time when we had a patient here who passed away. And I have the habit of if we, if a patient passes away it’s a, it’s a rarity, but it does happen in psychiatric hospitals.

It’s rarity. And I would come in for it. And I would do it just to support the staff and support the process and just make sure that things went smoothly and whatnot. And I can remember coming in. For this one, this gentleman that was had been a patient for well over a year, had no family that wanted any sort of involvement at all.

And he lived out the rest. He was, he had palliative care. So he lived out the rest of his life here at a state psychiatric hospital. And this was a challenging patient. It was a patient that was combative and aggressive and assaultive and and whatnot. And I remember. Driving in. And I remember just having a conversation with God and you’re saying how horrible this would be, how terrible this would be to live out your last days of your life.

When in a psychiatric hospital, how terrible that would be with no family around you. And. Just seemingly strangers or people just doing their jobs. And so I came in with that attitude and I knew, I obviously did not show that to my staff or else it might, impact them. And so when I got there I might have to pause when I got there.

I’ll never forget it. I knew how aggressive this man was and often hurt the staff. And whatnot. But they had never given up on him. In fact they knew he was dying days before his death and they argued over who was going to sit with him. They held his hand, they handed him, they washed him, they made sure he was comfortable.

And I remember leaving that day and just having that affirm that affirming just feeling that affirming event, that this is what we should be doing particularly in behavioral health. It’s a challenge. It’s challenging work, but it’s work that has to be done. And it’s not often a big moneymaker and it’s not often, and oftentimes it loses money, but it’s important because I thought to myself, We should also be so lucky as this gentlemen to pass away with people that love us around.

That are around us. That love us, that are taking care of our needs that are praying with us. The staff were praying with him. They were praying upon his death. They prayed after his death. And then when I came in that day, they were all coming up to me and just telling me how honored they were to be able to spend the last hours and days with this gentlemen.

And this is a guy that was hitting them, hurting them resisting. For months almost to over a year. And I just thought we should all be that fortunate. To have that have people like that in our lives, upon our passing. And so for me, you walk away from that and it was just another story that reminded me just how important some of this stuff is.

And just how unimportant sometimes making money or that margin actually is. So got a lot of those types of stories, Chris, that’s the one that I feel like probably over the last. I’d say the last four or five years, that one was really impressed me pressed upon my heart. 

Chris: Yeah.  I obviously you have not had a longstanding behavioral health career, so I have trouble like being able to dive into that specific example, having a mother or grandmother who died of Alzheimer’s.

And taking care of her, it’s her end of life. And my grandfather, even though he had the money he made each of his kids that were living in a six flat basically do rotating nights to take care of her in her last couple of months. And, as a 20 something year old punk, it’s why do I have to do this, blah, blah, blah.

Now looking back on that situation and recognizing that. What a blessing. It really was to be able to, spend those intimate nights, not only with my grandma, but also with my grandfather too, as he was bedside with us going through all of that. Yeah. So I really no, thank you for sharing that story and.

Yeah. I was going to ask you the question about where business and virtue intersects, but I think you nailed it there, brother that, like, how do you, when you go through these like supercharged moments of love with another human being, it’s opens your eyes to wow like this is what 

Marc: It’s like, and this is what matters.

This is why we got into this. Yeah, and it, and I can’t say it enough, man. It’s a blessing it’s like for you and your father, your grandfather, it wasn’t even just, it wasn’t just the blessing that was bestowed upon you or the blessing of giving the care to your grandmother. It’s the blessing that you gave your grandfather.

Then at that moment, as a child or as a young adult, you didn’t quite get all of that, but what a blessing to be able to give him the comfort, the safety and the comfort of knowing that his wife was being taken care of by people that loved her. Absolutely man, I, we it’s that stuff’s important.

And you come across that all the time with behavioral health. It doesn’t make a lot of money but I think that’s why disruptive innovation and behavioral health things that really pushes the the limits of we’ve always done it this way, let’s think about doing it a different way, that’s why that’s so important in this field.

Because it’s not, it isn’t a big moneymaker and the challenges are very, are great. So and varied so.

Chris: So I wanted to circle back on a, another thing that you, she will, there’s two themes that I’m picking up from your interview today. And the first is that you mentioned that you feel like there’s been these people that have been planted in your life to help you to grow and develop in the moments that you really needed them in your life, but I can’t help, but think, it was a recent episode.

I was talking to this HR executive. And he was talking about how he had witnessed a leader that wasn’t leading as his genuine self at the workplace. But then at home, he was like this loving and kind father and her husband, et cetera, and then a completely different persona for who he thought the business needed him to be.

And I, so I, I tell you that story because I’m curious about. Like when you say that you’ve been with your wife since high school with some of the divorce statistics here in the United States I’ve been through one of those, et cetera that you’re definitely like, start unfortunately like one of the minority and being able to have that long of a successful marriage.

So I wanted to just ask you how have you guys made that work and how does like also. I guess the theme of kinda leading virtuously, being your genuine self, all that kind of applies both to, we’ve talked about work, but also like in your married life too.

Marc: My wife she helps me get ready for speeches or talks or conferences.

She’ll still look over things I write. She’s a, she’s an English teacher. She has more degrees than I have actually. She has quite a few she’s also a librarian on and on. But the funny thing is that she’d be very proud that you asked that question today, Chris, because she’s constantly, when I’m given, thank you’s to lots of different people.

She’ll. Nudge me a bit and say you and your beautiful wife. And so she is beautiful. She’s a more than me and beautiful. She’s a really super smart Chris, she’s just been a great partner. We’ve there have been times when I think we’ve been both been pretty supportive of each other.

I think family matters to us. The most. And we’ve been able to just lock into certain core values that are important to both of us, at least. And we’re just like every other couple we have ups and downs and argue and whatnot. But at the end of the day, I just, I think we both had this understanding that no matter the argument, no matter whatever the latest challenge is it’s just us.

It’s, there’s always going to be us. And this is who we are. But more than that, some of the values that like we’ve. We’ve held onto again, aside from, family, which I think is the most important piece of this is God, I believe that’s a piece. I believe education for us, that’s something that both of us have valued greatly.

And I say that because we didn’t come from families that graduated college. And between the two of us, we have quite a few degrees that we’re proud of. And we, and at different times we’ve had to support the other person. So for us, I think there’s been ups and downs, but there’s just been this ongoing, just like understanding that it’s no matter what it’s just going to be us.

And so there were times when. She struggles and I’ll have to pick up the 80% to her 20 and there’s times when I’m struggling or I can’t be as available and not just physically, but emotionally available and whatnot. And that’s the time when she picks up the 90 and I’m the 10%. And conversely, the other the opposite is also true.

There’s been times when. It’s her moment to shine and I want to celebrate her and I want to make sure she has her moments and she does the same thing for me. She’s very understanding and I couldn’t have picked a better partner. 

Chris: So I’m curious as you mentioned that you guys both grew up in…

Just like this, your current lifestyle and quality of life was not what your upbringing was. So did you guys ever have to go through a a Rocky patch kind of going through those learning curves of living in a higher quality of life work, which can, sometimes unfortunately calm the ego in a different way, which can, obviously present some challenges within that.

Marc: That’s, you know what that’s yeah, that’s a great point. And we both grew up from Eastern Kentucky and from those they’re from that area, that’s it’s a pretty impoverished area of Appalachia. And so when I say, oh, our families, no one had ever gone to college, graduate college before that was the norm, really, for the most part.

We’re also a. You talk about, where there have been rough, there were lots of rough patches brother. There was lots of times when we just didn’t have the money for things or whatnot. But and in fact, we still keep each other kind of honest, when, on things that we’re, when we’re spending money or whatnot, we’ll look at each other and say, Is this real, or should we be doing this is this smart thing.

So we keep each other in check, it was but often times both of us have just. Just a, I think, great sense of humors laughing at things and each other at times, and ribbing each other super important to us. And it’s hard to get so full of yourself in our house because there’s always somebody there to bust you, choppier, give you some shots.

But at the same time, we’re also extremely exceptionally supportive of each other. I will say, there’s been times in our lives as we’re raising our own children where we’re, they’re afforded something or they’re allowed to do something that it was like my wife and I’ll look at each other and say, my God, I’d lived my entire life.

I’d never been outside of the country, and here my daughter has taken a trip with her school or whatnot to Europe and doing some things like that, which, I think most parents want their children to be able to do more and so forth, but. But my wife and I, Angela, we will look at each other times ago.

Is this real? Has this happened? Are we able to do these things? And so I don’t know. I think we still stay pretty grounded in that, but yeah, no question. We’ve had some, we’ve had some rough times and but again, I think stand together and being honest with each other has been something that’s been helpful for our entire family.

Chris: Thank you for that testimonial. Yeah, because, I guess the reason I ask is because I haven’t really dove deeper into a lot of other people’s kind of family relationships, because we’ve had other conversations. I feel like it was more comfortable to go there, but I think that is important as a lesson to share too, is if you can have all the success that you want in the business world, but if you don’t have someone at home, That’s blocking and tackling for you and helping to carry the load.

It’s going to, it’s going to manifest in some sort of way. 

Marc: Oh yeah, no question. And like you said, I don’t know what’s coming up around the corner. I don’t know what’s going to come up tomorrow, but what I do know is that no matter what’s coming up around the corner or week a week from now or a year from now or six, whatever it is, whatever the challenge is.

I know who’s sitting at home, I know who I can go to and who I’ll be facing that challenge with. And that’s comforting, man. That’s comforting. 

Chris: Yeah. Marc I absolutely loved having you on the show today. How can people get ahold of you or what your organization is up to? 

Marc: Yeah, if they like to email me directly, they can email it M A R C. [email protected] or they can look through my company’s website at

www.uk healthcare.uky.edu. 

Chris: Excellent. We’ll love to having you on the show today. Oh, yes. Connecting with you about life and business, et cetera. So it’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know you, Marc. And yeah, I really am excited about the way that this episode is going to bless many people.

So thank you for having been a part of the podcast.

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