I’m the Next President of the ACC: Who I Am Matters More Than Who I’m Not
“Yes, I am a nurse,” says Biga. But she’s much more than that, having spent decades working to improve the delivery of CV care.
Early in my career I watched my first open-heart surgery at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, MN, and was hooked. From that point on, I knew it was all about the heart. The critical care unit (CCU) was where I wanted to be. I loved the bedside. I loved the evolving science in the care of the cardiovascular patient. Remember when patients were on complete bed rest for 3 to 4 days postinfarct? As the science evolved, so has the care of CV patients. After just a few short years in the CCU, I knew this was for me.
Who I am NOT has captured a lot of people’s attention. That’s because I am honored to be the next president of the American College of Cardiology (ACC), but no, I am not a physician. And yes, after 6 years as an ACC trustee, more than 25 years in the College—now as vice president—my colleagues, your colleagues, our colleagues have put their collective trust into selecting me to be the next president of ACC.
So, who am I? I am Cathie Biga, a leader, healthcare administrator, nurse, executive, mom, wife, nana, and I still think of myself as a “recovering” critical care nurse. I thrived in the CCU for 15 years and then went on to get my master’s, planning to become a clinical nurse specialist—there were no advanced practice providers back then! My plans were quickly derailed on graduation when I was asked to lead our hospital’s CCUs. It was different, but I found administration and leadership challenging, exhilarating, and fulfilling. Taking down barriers so the CV team could provide exceptional care became my passion.
I am a CV service line leader and a former hospital vice president and CEO with over 40 years’ experience in healthcare, including 20-plus years on the practice side of healthcare (I prefer “seasoned,” not old). I left the hospital world in 1998 primarily because I wanted to part of a team focused on the CV patient and to create environments where clinicians would be able to practice and care for their patients. In other words, I wanted to be part of the change that was needed. I wanted to be in a dyad leadership relationship with my physician colleagues to maximize each of our skill sets so we could do just that. And as they say: so we did. Nine physicians and my admin team of three started a company—Cardiovascular Management of Illinois. No, we are not on the web with big descriptions, and no, we are not on social media, because all we wanted to do was provide the infrastructure for superb CV care in our communities.
As a leader, I am 100% dedicated to my cardiovascular physician partners, and we are true partners: I am not a medical clinician, and my physician chairman is not administrative. Together, for the past 25 years, we have been a whole package that works for our physicians, our hospitals, our CV team, and our communities—our team is greater than the sum of its parts.
We grew and we changed from nine independent cardiologists to 60 independent cardiologists; we provided exceptional care in a sustainable, ever-changing environment. This was not achieved with just our team—we needed a larger “village.” The American College of Cardiology and MedAxiom were those larger villages. Harnessing our colleagues’ ideas, innovations, technologies, clinical guidelines, and administrative tools, and most importantly, the networking they offered, enabled us to stay current in both clinical and nonclinical competencies and our independent practices to thrive.
That is the year that the physician fee schedule was dramatically reduced. Someday I can buy you a cup of coffee and we can dissect this watershed moment, but for now, let me say that it escalated our decision to align with the health system, no matter how we continued to govern ourselves. We grew and we expanded, but my focus never wavered—patient outcomes at the center and my clinical colleagues at my side. These decades of experience and successes in improving patient care, increasing physician reimbursement, and fighting unnecessary bureaucracy have made me the cardiovascular leader that I am. They also perfectly position me to continue advocating for our patients and our practices as the incoming president of ACC.
So, what is a nurse even doing in the ACC? In 2003, the ACC made a big change in welcoming nonphysician cardiovascular team professionals as members, officially recognizing the ever-increasing importance of team-based care in cardiology. CV team members were encouraged to not just join the ACC but also to become involved in councils and committees and to play a larger leadership role, in general, in helping the College achieve its strategic priorities and advance its mission. In 2010, the ACC began offering the Associate of the American College of Cardiology (AACC) designation. I am one of only 72 cardiovascular team members out of almost 30,000 members who have achieved Fellow of the American College of Cardiology (FACC) designation based on my professional achievements.
Yes, I am a nurse—and I was a good one. My education matters less than who I am: I was and remain 100% dedicated to patients. Whatever my role in the team then or now, the delivery of cardiovascular care has to be the highest possible quality. Exceptional patient outcomes have been the core of my entire career, and I believe we achieve this by empowering effective care teams.
And yes, I am a healthcare executive: ask anyone on my team if I am any good—we have been together a long time. I’ll excel as the ACC’s next president because I will bring the expertise I’ve developed from a career spent supporting, working with, and helping to lead cardiology teams. I’ve worked tirelessly to ensure physicians can take the lead clinically, that they have the resources they need, and that their voices can be heard in the boardroom, on Capitol Hill, in the offices of CMS, and where decisions that impact them and our patients have the best chance of surviving and thriving. These are also my goals for my presidency year.
Change is hard.
Change is inevitable.
Change can be healthy.
Instead of resisting change, let us skate to where the puck is going to be, as the legendary Wayne Gretzky put it. While we’re at it, let us seek to modify the direction and cadence of change in cardiovascular medicine to ensure the best possible outcomes for our patients and our respective clinical professions. Let us respect each other, encourage each other’s strengths, and provide the support we all need.
I will be the first nonphysician president of the ACC: a selection that is humbling, brave, and represents forward-leaning change. Our village, made up of our physicians, our CV team, and our patients need to know I will be 100% dedicated to all my colleagues in cardiology, to advancing our profession, and to the practice and science of cardiovascular care. I will lead with passion and purpose, with commitment and inclusivity, and together we can transform CV care and improve heart health for all.
Off Script is a first-person blog written by leading voices in the field of cardiology. It does not reflect the editorial position of TCTMD.