Alumna Min Lee leads with heart

Lee (BBA ’06) builds relationships as COO of a major academic medical center
Min Lee

Photo by Kay Taylor

As chief operating officer for the University of Virginia Medical Center, Min Lee knows strong relationships underpin every aspect of a viable health care system. Without trust and transparency, there’s no point in focusing on key performance indicators or strategic decision-making. It all begins with the people.

Lee sees these relationships at play on a daily basis as she connects with all departments across the medical center. Some days, she’s on the hospital floor during rounds, talking to team members and patients to understand how frontline operations are running. Other days, she speaks with facilities employees about new construction projects, pharmacists who are driving the health system forward and data scientists doing cutting-edge research.

“Many people find health care to be a calling — to be able to help people in their greatest need when they are at their most vulnerable,” she says. “Direct health care providers are truly heroes in that regard, and I’m there to care for the people who take care of people.”

For Lee, leading in operations means focusing on community and mentorship. She takes time to listen to people and emphasizes the common values, guiding principles and supportive work environments that encourage people to be their best.

“It doesn’t happen overnight, but when you’re intentional about leading with values, being consistent and being accountable, people feel like they can give their best ideas and best selves to the work,” Lee says. “That’s the most important work we do as leaders.”

Pairing Business and Health

Hailing from the Marietta and Kennesaw areas, Lee was drawn to UGA because of the Terry College. She dropped out of high school to help her mother financially, and after obtaining a GED and attending college elsewhere in Georgia, she transferred to UGA to focus on business administration.

“To this day, I remember classes that emphasized the importance of critical thinking,” she says. “That sticks with me now when talking with team members about problem-solving. I try to take the same spirit and ask the second or third follow-up questions to encourage them to think critically.”

While working in banking and finance after graduation, Lee looked for a role that would bring human connection into her work. She had a positive experience with a health care administrator and realized people with business backgrounds could make a profound impact on the industry. She decided to simultaneously pursue master’s degrees in business administration and health administration at Georgia State University while also seeking a fellowship with Emory Healthcare.

During her time at Emory, Lee moved from an unpaid intern position in market strategy to communications specialist and then program manager. After participating in the Emory Healthcare Administrative Fellowship Program, she launched a career in operations, ultimately becoming vice president of operations at Emory University Hospital Midtown.

Lee then served in the same role at Reading Hospital in Pennsylvania, where she oversaw more than 1,600 full-time employees and $1.6 billion in revenue. She enjoyed working in close partnership with the chief nursing officer, chief medical officer and chief financial officer as they focused on creating a better patient experience.

“At the height of the pandemic, the health care workers at Reading talked about how this was their hospital and their community — the place where they were born and where their families received health care,” she says. “That ideal and love for community was so inspiring, which I carry with me.”

As part of her leadership roles, Lee highlights the importance of mentorship, empowerment and recognition of others, which she credits to fellow Terry alumna Kelly Frazer Johnson (BBA ’97), who mentored Lee at Emory and now serves as a health care marketing consultant for Crystal Lake Marketing.

“The health care industry can be challenging, with passionate leaders who bring heartfelt views and strong opinions,” says Johnson. “Min is now in a position where she is making massive strides in changing the culture with her focus on developing relationships, her positive attitude and encouraging and empowering others. Not only is she increasing productivity and job satisfaction for everyone she works with, she is developing future leaders who will follow her example.”

Looking Ahead

When Lee joined UVA Health in June, she wasn’t sure where the industry and her new institution would be along the journey of recovering from COVID-19. Many health care organizations are still grappling with the ongoing effects of the pandemic, she says, and some haven’t had the opportunity to lift their heads above the fray to see what’s on the horizon. However, Lee is excited to play a role in making proactive plans.

“I’m incredibly impressed with UVA’s journey through the pandemic and how we’re poised for the next evolution of health care,” she says. “We’re focused on growing our way through the impact of the pandemic and redesigning several aspects to meet the new demands of the industry.”

From the organizational side, Lee hopes to provide the operational infrastructure that helps providers transform health in the aftermath of the pandemic. She wants the UVA Medical Center to be a top place to work, both in terms of workplace culture and as an institution with outstanding research, patient outcomes and worker safety.

“I want people to be aware and mindful of the toll the pandemic has had on the health care industry. One of the biggest challenges is workplace violence, where patients are aggressive toward their providers,” she says. “Health care providers are tired, and many have left the industry. For those who are still here, they need grace, kindness and recognition for what they’ve endured.”

This year, Lee received recognition for her many roles in health care, as she was named to UGA’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2022.

“She’s a strong advocate for others and for doing the right thing. She has a true north and focuses on developing all of her people, including the top performers, which sets her apart from other leaders,” says Shailly Shah, inpatient director of pharmacy for Emory University Hospital Midtown.

When Lee left Emory, Shah gifted her a wooden block inscribed with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create.” Lee keeps the gift in her office as a daily reminder.

“Many people step into leadership roles and don’t fully understand the obligation of being a leader, which is to change the trajectory of someone’s life,” Lee says. “Some leaders don’t want their top performers to leave, but instead, we should support them to grow and thank them for being part of the journey with us.”