March 02, 2022

Meet medicine leadership in 2022, a series: Get to know LaKisha Mack

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artwork 01 8The first days of 2022 marked a new beginning for UAB’s large Academic Medical Center. On Jan. 1, Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS, was named to his new role as CEO of UAB Health System and CEO of the UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance, while continuing to serve as Dean.

This change has brought structural leadership changes to support the new Dean/CEO model. The Heersink School of Medicine communications team has introduced each of its top leaders in the past few weeks to support these changes.

In our final installment of Meet medicine leadership, the communications team sat down with LaKisha Mack to discuss her trajectory from student worker to senior associate dean, how she learned to think beyond black-and-white as a thought leader, and why she mentors ten women per week.

LaKisha Mack has served in various roles across UAB since 1999, all of which prepared her for the leadership role she serves in today.

While CEO and Dean Vickers transitions to his new dual role, LaKisha plans to lead her teams with intentionality, transparency, and visibility as she anticipates increased collaboration between the Heersink School of Medicine and the UAB Health System.

A UAB trajectory: Student worker to senior associate dean

Born and raised in Long Beach, California, LaKisha said she knew that she wanted to work in finance and accounting as early as the ninth grade.

“At my high school, students needed to pinpoint their career choice early on,” LaKisha said. “I took a computerized accounting course and immediately knew accounting was for me.”

LaKisha’s career story is a true UAB success story—one that illustrates how a student worker can begin their career here, even before graduation, and stay on a thriving trajectory.

“I began my career here at UAB as a work/study student in the General Accounting Department in UAB’s Central Administration. I ran mail, made copies, and so on,” she recalled about her first job. “I was an undergraduate getting my accounting degree,” she said.

"I worked with Darryl Brown, the director of General Accounting. And, as I got closer and closer to getting my degree, I would go to him and say, 'hey, listen, I hope you have a position open because I am not leaving!' He would laugh," she said. "When I was eligible for a junior accounting position, I asked him, 'okay, I am ready. Do I start on Monday?' And he said, 'okay, LaKisha, let me figure this out!"

The rest was history, and since then, LaKisha has held various positions in accounting and finance across the organization, becoming an integral player in the growth of our Academic Medical Center over the past two decades.

Navigating a career across the health system

Her first full-time role was in the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she served as a financial assistant in the clinical studies unit under the leadership of Allen Bolton. She also worked in the School of Health Professions and UAB's Central Administration.

In 2005, she joined the Heersink School of Medicine dean's office as a financial officer. There, she worked under the leadership of Stephanie Meadows, who was sitting in LaKisha’s previous role as associate dean. “She took me under her wing and taught me everything she knew about the finances of a medical school,” LaKisha remembered. Though Stephanie is retired, she still serves as LaKisha’s mentor.

After a few years of working with Stephanie, LaKisha knew she wanted to advance in the dean's office but needed more experience. "For me to move to the next level in the dean's office, I needed to have some department and division level experience," she said.

“So, I stepped out there and applied for the division administrator in Gastroenterology and Hepatology and gained four to five years' experience at that level.”

artwork 03 6Leading by example with strength, reliability

In 2014, LaKisha returned to the dean’s office to work with Dawn Bulgarella as an associate dean for Finance and Administration.

When asked if she ever pictured herself in a leadership role as a student or her early career, LaKisha said she always wanted to give back at a greater level but didn't understand what that was—not until Dawn asked her to consider taking the associate dean role.

“The way I’ve always worked in terms of my roles across the years is to focus on that specific role at the time and focus on doing it well,” she explained. “In the back of my mind, I have always had the passion of doing more and serving at a more organizational level.”

In 2020, LaKisha was named senior associate dean, and now each day looks a little bit different.

“Serving in my role today means ensuring organizational alignment in the areas of Finance, Human Resources, Facilities, Compliance, and Communications,” she said.

“I work with countless faculty and staff across the school allocating and approving budgets, conducting financial forecasting, interpreting policies and managing federal regulations regarding funding and research, collaborating with Executive Administrators, and continuing to assure policy compliance.”

LaKisha also oversees the dean's office budget and leads the implementation of the RCM model. She serves on countless task forces and committees.

A strong and reliable leader, LaKisha said, “I see myself as someone who provides support in all the areas that I lead.”

In addition to her work role, she is also a leader by example. LaKisha is currently enrolled in UAB's Masters of Science in Health Administration executive program, demonstrating to her teams that personal growth is important at every career level.

Creating more access for women leaders

On top of her busy schedule, LaKisha mentors eight to ten women at any given time.

“I set time aside on Friday afternoons to work with other women. We talk through challenges in their work area, and I do my best to give counsel and guidance to early careerists and those trying to navigate their next steps,” she said.

When asked why mentoring is important to her, she answered, “Because I had that guidance. Not many people have that, so it’s a way for me to give back.” Mentoring is a structured avenue for LaKisha to help propel more women to the top of their game while sharing her own career story of a successful career path at UAB.

Likewise, her mentor has helped her navigate the next steps several times in her career. “My mentor Stephanie Meadows, the former CFO and assistant dean for Resource Management at Heersink School of Medicine, is retired but still serves as my mentor.”

“During a time when I struggled to believe I had what it takes, my mentor was there to help me.” Plus, as a spiritual person, LaKisha said that when doubt has crept up, she refused to let faith and fear reside in the same place. “I had to learn to separate that.”

LaKisha’s advice to young women is to be encouraged and stay confident. “Know you have what it takes to achieve your vision and goals. It may not be easy, but reach out to people and create a support system of women who can help you navigate your career. The path may not always be clear, but you can make it clear.”

A Momentum Executive Leaders Program graduate, LaKisha enjoys helping people find confidence and talent in themselves.

Recharging to stay driven

Aside from her many duties in the dean’s office, time spent seeking a new degree, and devotion to helping multiple women reach the next step in their career, LaKisha’s free time is spent with family, exercising, reading, and rejuvenating.

“I refuel in my free time,” she said. Engaging in activities to recharge that allow LaKisha to come back to work energized is essential to her. And even during her busiest weeks, she finds time for herself.

artwork 02 9“I like spending time with my husband and my daughter Morgan who is in the ninth grade. She is a creative teenager and loves to paint and sculpture. She teaches me," LaKisha said. "We often go to exhibits, and frequent the Birmingham Museum of Art.”

Increasing visibility and collaboration

On the changes coming from CEO and Dean Selwyn Vickers’ role change, LaKisha said that no matter what comes her way, she wants to be there however CEO and Dean Vickers needs her to be.

“I will continue to be the point of contact for finances in academics and the medical school. I will be financially stewarding with internal partners and external constituencies around budgeting and financing.”

But the most significant change in LaKisha’s role, perhaps, is ensuring that leadership across the organization understands she can answer their questions, whereas before they may have gone to Vickers. “There will be more visibility into my role and what I do so that leadership can come to me with their needs."

“I am excited to embark on something, at a high level, that allows me to be a strategic partner—to think bigger about the vision and mission of the school. I am excited to play a different role in how we collaborate with the health system, university and practice plan.”

LaKisha said that a finance and accounting background typically means black-and-white thinking, but her role as senior associate dean has asked her to see projects and tasks in grey. "Being a thought leader made me nervous at first because I am very tactical. I had to learn to be okay with not necessarily crossing every t and dotting every i. That's a place I've had to come to in my career—which has been exciting to do."

What lies ahead: executing our vision

Looking ahead to the future, LaKisha is excited to integrate the goals of health system leadership and school leadership.

"With the CEO and dean as two separate roles, it's always made sense to have different goals. But now, under one leader, it makes sense to have aligned goals," she said. "I look forward to understanding how we work together as a team and move forward as an AMC."

"For us to check the boxes in terms of raising our National Institutes of Health ranking, increasing quality of our patient care, and providing excellent teaching—it will take all of us to move the mission forward."

“Our vision will remain the same. It has not gone anywhere. But now, as combined forces and under one singular leader, the execution of that vision is much more palatable.”