Health care CEO learned how to live a balanced life at Penn State

November 04, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a Penn State student, when Gene Woods was not studying, he could be found playing guitar for bands like Stolyn Hours at downtown State College, Pennsylvania, spots such as Café 210 West, the All-American Rathskeller and The Phyrst.

“As a mentor once told me, the secret sauce to a life well lived is to follow your passion both professionally and personally,” Woods said. “Penn State gave me the foundation to do both.”

Woods, who earned three degrees at Penn State, took that advice to heart and has found a balance in life that has allowed him to advance his career. This year, Carolinas HealthCare System named Woods president and CEO, and members of the American Hospital Association (AHA) elected him chairman beginning in 2017.

Carolinas HealthCare System has more than 60,000 employees, 900 care locations, and sees 11.5 million patients annually. Previously, Woods served as president and chief operating officer of CHRISTUS Health, a $5 billion health system where he oversaw operations in the United States, Mexico, and Chile. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

How Woods landed on this career path was by chance. During his freshman year, he accidentally went to the wrong career-day event.

“It was one of those serendipitous happenings in life,” Woods said. “I thought I was going to the one on business, and as luck would have it, I mistakenly went to the one on health planning and administration.”

Woods listened as a local hospital executive explained that a career in health administration could positively impact people’s lives.

“He had me at 'Hello,'” Woods said. “Up until that day, I had never even known there was such a career as hospital administration, but I have never looked back.”

Today, there are three things that motivate Woods professionally: working with talented and committed people, influencing national policy through his role with AHA, and the privilege of serving in a role that can improve the health status of entire communities.

Woods, a 2016 Penn State Alumni Association Alumni Fellow Award recipient, said he has gained much personally from his work experiences. He compared it to Muhammad Ali’s description of life, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

“This is a career where you have an opportunity to personally ‘pay your rent,’” Woods said.

Earlier this year, Woods presented the 18th annual Stanley P. Mayers Endowed Lecture at University Park, a series named after the co-founder of the Department of Health Policy and Administration and who supported Woods during his time as a student. 

“I had professors who took a personal interest in me, starting with Dr. Stan Mayers,” Woods said. “The fact that they believed in me more than I did myself was a great motivator because I didn't want to let them down.”

For current students considering a career in health care, Woods said now is a fantastic time to join the field.

“We need bright, young, creative minds to help us reimagine the future of health care in America because, to paraphrase Einstein, the problems we need to solve can't be fixed at the same level of thinking that created them to begin with,” Woods said.

Woods earned a bachelor’s degree in health planning and administration in 1987, a master’s degree in business administration in 1991, and a master’s degree in health administration in 1993, all at Penn State.

  • Gene Woods

    Penn State alumnus Gene Woods.

    IMAGE: Courtesy of Carolinas HealthCare System

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 12, 2016