Christy Lemak, Ph.D., new HSA chairChristy Lemak, Ph.D., new HSA chairChristy Harris Lemak, Ph.D., the newest chair at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, laughed when she was asked to talk about what she plans to accomplish in her first 100 days as head of the nationally ranked Department of Health Services Administration.

Lemak said it is “unrealistic” to think she will come in and start changing things immediately because the department already “has a tremendous reputation and a rich tradition of academic excellence.” So rather than deconstructing something that is not broken, Lemak plans to do some construction – like building bridges.

“We have strong faculty and staff doing tremendous work in teaching and scholarship but I do see room to support their work even more,” said Lemak, who will also serve as a professor for the UAB School of Health Professions. “I firmly believe that together, working across programs, we can take their great work and make it even greater.”


Lemak arrived on UAB’s campus July 1, 2014. Within three weeks there was a departmental faculty retreat. The focus of the retreat was, in her words, “examining what we teach and how we teach.” She wanted to find out if there was room to innovate in the way faculty teaches

She says she will look for ideas to lead in an industry that will become increasingly fragmented and difficult to maneuver without a fundamental transformation. Lemak sees the retreat as the perfect opportunity for everyone, including her, to learn.

“We need to make sure that what we are teaching is the right thing – not now, but five to ten years from now,” said Lemak. “I see opportunity to bring future orientation because the healthcare industry is changing so much. So when we do research or scholarship work on best practices in healthcare we need to make sure that our findings are brought to the classroom setting.”


Lemak took over HSA department July 1, 2014Lemak took over HSA department July 1, 2014Lemak is a firm believer of silo busting and created cross-departmental committees when she was at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. She will do the same at UAB, creating long-term committees that will continuously search for synergies within.

“We have a tremendous opportunity here to have more synthesis and more integration between our diverse programs ,” said Lemak. “I would really like to help build bridges that more effectively integrate the research, teaching and service we already do so well.”

Lemak is a researcher by nature and points to ‘implementation science’ as one area with opportunities for Health Services Administration faculty to be groundbreaking leaders. Implementation science is an emerging area that discovers best practices and then helps those practices become adopted nationwide. She points to her team’s reputation in the healthcare world and history of academic merit as catalysts. 

“I would like to see us deepen and extend our ability to build the evidence base for healthcare management, In part because the evidence base for this field is not as deep as it is for others,” said Lemak. “We have great faculty and alumni so I know we can push ourselves to do more in research and scholarship to see what works in the field and determine how best to implement what works across the industry.”


Lemak identifies a few areas of focus for the department moving forward. She believes HSA can “expand our look at healthcare and understand how we can improve the health of communities with our work and our collaborations.” 

Lemak plans to use HSA strengths to expand impactLemak plans to use HSA strengths to expand impactTo succeed in these areas Lemak will rely on four strengths of HSA:

  • Faculty/Staff – “helping the brilliant do their job better”
  • UAB Alumni – “expanding, strengthening relationships”
  • UAB Students – “learning from their experience”
  • UAB Center for Healthcare Management and Leadership – “building this as a recognized source of evidence on leadership and learning in health care”

The UAB Center for Healthcare Management and Leadership, established in 1966, will provide the structure and resources for departmental growth. It is renowned for efforts in continuing education, including a highly specialized curriculum in healthcare management, and has hosted the National Symposium for Healthcare Executives for 34 consecutive years.

Lemak envisions adding expertise, increasing effectiveness and expanding diversity within the Center as well as the department.

“There is so much evidence today, from every industry, that the more diversity and difference you have, whether that is differences in philosophy, background, race/ethnicity, or where you were raised, the better the decisions you make and the better the organization performs,” said Lemak. “I want people to look at us and think ‘Wow! It would be great to be a part of that team’ and as department chair I see my main job as building and supporting that.”