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Advancing Family and Institutional Legacies: An Interview with Dr. Robert S.D. Higgins

6 minute read

In this article, Dr. Higgins discusses his personal and professional journey, his vision for Mass General Brigham, and how he hopes to steward an engaged community of healthcare workers that better the lives of the communities they serve.

Learning the importance of support, perseverance, and resilience as a child

Following the loss of his father, Dr. Higgins’ family lived with his maternal grandparents in upstate New York. They faced their share of adversity growing up as an African American family in an all-white neighborhood in the 1960s and 70s, but his family ensured that he and his brothers had every opportunity to achieve their goals. His mother worked multiple jobs, while his grandparents helped keep him out of trouble. This whole time, the desire to fulfill his father’s work and maximize the opportunities he was given motivated Dr. Higgins to consistently work hard towards his goal.

“Not everybody gets that academic support and foundation to create a career, so I made it a point to live up to those expectations that my mom had and that my dad's vision was to create,” he says.

Fulfilling his father’s legacy while providing ways for others to create their own

Dr. Higgins attended Dartmouth College for his undergraduate studies and Yale School of Medicine for medical school, graduating in 1985. He then trained at some of the leading transplant centers in the world and at inner city hospitals, providing a broad view of the disparities in care delivery and the work that needed to be done to fix the issues.

After practicing as a cardiothoracic surgeon and specializing in organ transplantation, in 2010, Dr. Higgins was named the Department of Surgery Chair and Director of the Comprehensive Transplant Center at The Ohio State University Medical Center. He then served as Director of the Department of Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins from 2015 to 2021, before joining Mass General Brigham as the president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and executive vice president at Mass General Brigham.

As a hospital and healthcare leader, Dr. Higgins strives to create environments where young doctors have the tools they need to be successful, mirroring his experience growing up. 

“I am motivated to create a platform for our educational programs to be more diverse and inclusive and a safe place for people to get great education and fulfill their dreams, says Dr. Higgins. “They can accomplish everything they want if we give them the tools and support they need to be successful.” 

According to Dr. Higgins, for Mass General Brigham to continue to be a leader, the organization must ensure that practitioners from all backgrounds are equipped to provide care to the diverse patient populations they serve. This is especially critical when racial disparities in healthcare have been clearly highlighted at both the patient and practitioner levels. This work starts with engagement at the community level: ensuring that young people have the coaching they need to develop fundamental academic skills, then enhance those skills in a way that helps them to stand out and achieve opportunities in healthcare.

Furthering the impact of the Mass General Brigham community

To that end, Dr. Higgins takes pride in the work and engagement of Mass General Brigham alumni. Alumni are critical to Mass General Brigham’s mission to advance racial equity in healthcare not only by the resources and time they provide to the organization, but also in the ways that they positively affect their communities. He is thankful for the ways that alumni continue to support the organization and looks forward to continuing to work with them to facilitate the success of those around us.

“Even though I didn't train at the Brigham, I feel a special kinship to those who trained here,” he says. “They've distinguished themselves in their own rights, and I'm proud to be part of that and to have the opportunity to continue the legacy.”

Message from Robert Higgins, MD

Dr. Robert S.D. Higgins, president of Brigham and Women's Hospital and executive vice president of Mass General Brigham, shares why Mass General Brigham alumni were a key reason why he decided to join the organization.

Mass General Brigham Alumni Association

Visit the Mass General Brigham Alumni Association page to learn more about how alumni can stay engaged with their programs and the Mass General Brigham organization.