By Laurie O’Neill
“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” says Christine Schuster, CEO and president of Emerson Health, citing an old adage.
Schuster — the longest-serving female healthcare CEO in Massachusetts — enjoys what she does.
“I’m very lucky to have a great board and a terrific medical staff,” said Schuster, who’s led Emerson since 2005. “You can look at challenges as a bunch of problems — or as a bunch of opportunities that you have to figure out how to solve… Attitude is everything.”
Schuster began her career as a critical care nurse, so she’s used to “fielding curveballs.”
Increasingly keen to “make bigger changes that could ultimately help the staff and the patients,” Schuster pivoted from nursing to administration, earning her MBA at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. After a stint in healthcare consulting, she pursued executive hospital positions.
At 37, she became CEO/president at Athol Memorial Hospital — the youngest woman in the state to be named a healthcare CEO. When appointed, she was on maternity leave, having just had her daughter, Kimberly.
Emerson, one of the few remaining independent hospitals in the state, was recently named a Top Hospital in the U.S. by the Leapfrog Group and was honored with the 2023 Patient Safety Excellence Award and Outstanding Patient Experience Award from Healthgrades. It’s been on the Globe/Women’s Edge List of Top 100 Women-Led Businesses for the past six years.
Schuster herself has been listed among Boston Magazine’s 150 Most Influential Bostonians.
“I’m a very focused individual,” she said. “I think I get done five times more than most people do by noon.”
She does try to spend time in her garden and take “little pauses in the evening” to catch up with her children. A Swampscott native and Sudbury resident of many years, Schuster is also an avid chess player, using the game to help her think ahead when addressing a problem. Her husband, Doug, whom she lost in December after a two-year battle with cancer, “was the wind beneath my wings,” said Schuster.
Her daughters — Kait, a Cornell student, and her sister, Kimberly, who’s working on combined doctorate of medicine and master of business administration in health management degrees at Tufts Medical School — are the co-founders of Cold Feet, Warm Hearts, a non-profit that provides patients leaving local hospitals and others in need with free socks, shoes and a list of local resources.
Calling her career “my third child,” Schuster feels “a real obligation to this community to make sure that we have not just good healthcare, but superior healthcare,” she said.
“After all, these are my people: My family, my friends, and my neighbors.”