Tab Culbertson’s Journey to President of Centra’s Lynchburg General and Virginia Baptist Hospitals

Sitting in Tab Culbertson’s office on the first floor of Lynchburg General Hospital, where she is President of both that location and Virginia Baptist Hospital, the immediate assumption would be that she is a product of a traditional track—bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, fellowship, and impressive title. But the reality is that Culbertson’s nearly three-decade long journey is one of agility, curiosity, and insurmountable grit.

Originally from Hampton Roads, Culbertson enrolled in a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program during her senior year of high school and went on to complete the program as an adult student the following year. She worked full time during the summer to pay for her second year of school and became an LPN—a nurse who performs assessments, care planning, and implementation of nursing interventions in a variety of healthcare settings—at 18 years old, graduating as valedictorian.

“I had my daughter at 19, so I was a teenage mom, already living on my own, and working in pediatrics,” she remembered. “I knew that I wanted to do more. Back then, there weren’t a lot of programs that helped cater to a single mom. You didn’t have evening programs or weekend programs, and I found myself trying everything I could to advance to an RN. No matter how hard I tried to put it together, I couldn’t find an RN program that could support my schedule.”

So she pivoted.

Culbertson worked full time, taking on 12-hour weekend shifts at the hospital as an LPN while attending Bryant & Stratton College. She worked Friday through Sunday and then attended college Monday through Thursday, taking an 18-credit-hour school load versus the traditional 12-credit-hour schedule.

“They had daycare there, so I was able to take my daughter Monday through Thursday while I was doing those 18 credit hours,” she said. “I finished a four-year program in two years and eight months and graduated with a 4.0 GPA with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and a minor in Human Resources.”

After seven years as a frontline caregiver in pediatrics and acute care at Sentara, Culbertson shifted once again—this time to an HR role within the same hospital system.
“While I was working full time, Monday through Friday, I was also obtaining my Master’s Degree through MCV’s executive program,” she said. “For me, having a daughter at 19, I wanted so much for her to have a different life. And no one was going to be able to give that to her but me, and so I was okay with making those sacrifices and doing everything I could do to be the best role model and mom I could be for her.”

After 23 years of nursing, HR, strategy, and several leadership roles, Culbertson was recruited by Centra to first take on the Administrator role for Lynchburg General Hospital and Virginia Baptist Hospital. Within two years, she was given the title of President of the two hospitals.

“Being able to work at every single level, you’re going to be exposed to many different things,” she explained. “Those positions have allowed me to have different levels of influence so I can impact change more broadly. That’s what brings me the most satisfaction.”

Culbertson focuses on engaging, inspiring, empowering, and encouraging those she works with on a daily basis.

Working collaboratively with her team, whether that be her nine direct reports or the more than 3,000 team members who fall under her purview, Culbertson acknowledges that nothing will ever be solved within a bubble.

“I encourage my team to remove barriers, to remove thinking about how things have always been done,” she said. “Because healthcare has changed and is changing so fast and we have to be agile and nimble and we have to know that at the end of the day, we’re here to serve our community and their families.”

Culbertson recognizes that change doesn’t occur in isolation and she appreciates the significance of a supportive network to facilitate growth and drive organizational change.

“For me, coming up in the way that I did, I never had the opportunity to have a formal mentor and that is so key, especially for women in leadership,” she said. “With Amy [Carrier, President and CEO of Centra], I have felt nothing but support. Amy is a strategic thinker and really knows how to bring groups together. She is also a champion for change and has been instrumental for both our growth as an organization and my growth as well.”

Culbertson is currently guiding Lynchburg General Hospital through its modernization plan—which includes a new care tower and expanded emergency department, to name a few—as well as piloting remote home monitoring and a “meds to beds” program aimed at getting vital prescriptions in the hands of patients before they are discharged from care. Always focused on moving forward as an organization, Culbertson has her sights set on innovating and improving the patient experience.
“I know that I cannot do anything without my amazing team,” Culbertson concluded. “They are the ones making everything happen and I am so grateful to support such amazing leaders, providers, and caregivers at all levels.”

Culbertson is currently living in Forest with her son, Jayden, and English Bulldog, Daisy.

Her daughter, now an adult, is living and working in Hampton Roads. Sitting in her office on the first floor of Lynchburg General Hospital, now seeing the full trajectory of her journey to President, one thought comes to mind: Never underestimate the power of a mother.