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Women of Strength: Dr. Wilma Rowe, Mercy Health Services

Dr. Wilma Rowe | Photo by David Stuck

Growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., Mercy Medical Center’s Dr. Wilma Rowe suspects that she “kind of always knew” she wanted to be a doctor. After graduating college with a degree in political science, Rowe went into banking. Although she loved her work, she felt pulled to medicine and ended up going back to college and then attending medical school at the George Washington University School of Medicine. During her residency in internal medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center, she was introduced to Mercy.

She found that her ambitions perfectly aligned with the mission of the hospital, a downtown Baltimore acute care university-affiliated teaching hospital founded in 1874 by Ireland’s Sisters of Mercy to care for poor patients in the city.

“Mercy is really … committed to the city and to the mission … which is really about those sisters who came here all of those years ago,” Rowe explains. “That really resonat(ed) with me and how I wanted to spend my career as a physician in this environment, where truly all patients are the same and … ensuring the dignity of all ….” With her banking background, Rowe knew “that I wanted a slightly different career path than solely taking care of patients,” which led her to her current position as chief medical officer and senior vice president of Medical Affairs at Mercy.

Her day-to-day responsibilities consist of meetings with Mercy’s leadership team, interviews and visits to Mercy’s different sites, alongside patient care. “I need to keep my hand in it so I can both know what’s going on and also because … it is good to know what decisions (I am) making and how that might impact the people who are actually delivering the care that we are providing.”

This mindset fits right in with her “roll-up-your-sleeves” attitude towards all things. “That’s always just been part of me – if something needs to be done, do it,” she says. Over time, her can-do style of leadership evolved to allow for letting go of “all the little details, and trusting the team to do (them).” Fortunately, she notes, Mercy’s team is a great one.

The COVID-19 crisis of the past year was, Rowe notes, “For the world, a very challenging time, no question, and Mercy is no exception. But, I think Mercy really came together as an organization and did everything that needed to be done in order to best care for our patients and the people of Baltimore.”

Helping to lead Mercy through the pandemic is one of Rowe’s biggest achievements. She’s also proud of all those at Mercy that she’s mentored. “That’s always been important to me – to … foster an environment where everybody succeeds and everybody learns.” While Mercy is a teaching hospital (referring to clinical learning), “I think it’s important on the administrative side (and patient side) as well …. I can definitely say that I have always done that, no matter what my role was.”

Outside of her work with Mercy, Rowe’s free time has been spent with her husband, raising their four sons together. She can often be found in her garden, and, “I always have a project. So whether it’s … making vinegar, making soap, I’ve always got something I’m working on learning.” She’s also an avid reader. “The books are too numerous to count!” she says.

Her advice to future female leaders? “It’s really about that hard work and that getting in there … and not just walking in and expecting that you’re gonna be a leader …. And then, balance. I think (it’s) important for leaders and for everybody to just make sure that you have a life, and you have hobbies, and I think it makes you better, happier and more productive.”

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