Profile: Boldly improving quality

Share this content:
Adrienne Mims, president of the American Health Quality Association
Adrienne Mims, president of the American Health Quality Association

As a child, Adrienne Mims, M.D., MPH, thought about being a lawyer. But when her beloved grandmother died of cervical cancer when she was in high school, she redirected her attention to a career in healthcare.

“That was life-changing for me,” says the president of the American Health Quality Association, noting that her grandmother took care of her and her siblings while her parents worked. A native of Washington, D.C., Mims headed to George Washington University and then the Stanford University School of Medicine.

First drawn to obstetrics and then primary care, she was interested in both research and hands-on medicine. She met her husband, whom she says was “Prince Charming, and he still is,” while they both were working at an Oakland hospital. During a family medicine residency in Los Angeles, she rediscovered another love, of working with seniors. 

She saw that seniors “had much more complex cases and you had many more diagnoses. It wasn't about curing disease, but improving function.”

Mims, 57, began rethinking long-term care decades before issues such as care coordination became popular, says Cheryl Woodson, M.D., a retired academic geriatrician and author who befriended Mims during their geriatric fellowships at UCLA West Los Angeles Veterans Hospital. Mims' ideas were met with resistance, if not outright hostility.

“Adrienne wanted to look into managed care, and she was denigrated for it,” Woodson says. “She's always been ahead of the curve. Leadership with QIOs: That's what she was talking about in 1987. She perseveres in the face of major obstacles.”

Mims then completed a primary care research fellowship and a master's in public health at UCLA. In 1990, she and her husband, Clarence Smart, moved to Atlanta, where they both found work with Kaiser Permanente. 

During her years in administration and as a full-time geriatrician, she also saw the needs of low-income women in Atlanta. She became medical director of the Black Women's Wellness Safety Net Clinic, a free clinic which has grown to four physicians, five nurse practitioners and three RNs. 

By 2009, Mims had moved to become the medical director of the quality improvement association for Georgia. An average week includes site visits, working with clinics and doing national calls with other state QIOs. 

However, Mims still holds clinic hours twice a week. One Saturday a month she goes out with a hiking group. She also walks her 8-year-old poodle, Malcolm, twice a day.

“He is one of the joys of our life,” she says of the pooch. She and her husband enjoy traveling, and Mims sees her mother, who lives nearby, daily. Mims describes her mother, Wilma Jenkins, as one of her best friends; they are in two book clubs together. 

“She says what she means and she means what she says,” Jenkins notes proudly of her daughter.  

Mims was named president of the American Health Quality Association in July. She will serve a one-year term.

“Calm is the way I think of Adrienne,” Woodson says. “She can make her point without making you feel less powerful, and she will take a bullet for people.”



Finishes medical degree at Stanford University Medical School


Completes family medicine residency at Martin Luther King/Charles Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles


Begins her second year of a geriatric fellowship at UCLA West Los Angeles Veterans Hospital


Completes master's in public health in epidemiology at UCLA School of Public Health, starts at the Southeast Permanente Medical Group in Atlanta


Ends tenure as co-chairwoman of Managed Care Task Force for the American Geriatric Society


Starts on the board of directors at Center for Black Women's Wellness; becomes medical director in 2008


Completes research on “Racial Disparities in Pneumococcal Vaccination in Managed Care: The Effects of Randomized Telephone Outreach.”


Becomes president of American Health Quality Association; promoted to becoming the Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Quality Improvement in Georgia