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Pamela Sutton-Wallace identifies 3 key traits for CEOs

By | October 18 th,  2018 | Pamela Sutton-Wallace, leadership traits, women in leadership, Key traits for CEOs, Lean leadership, Six Sigma in Healthcare | 1 Comments
Sutton-Wallace-2018

Real-world advice: ‘Operational knowledge is essential to casting vision,’ says Pamela Sutton-Wallace

 

 

In her four years as the CEO of the University of Virginia Medical Center, Pamela Sutton-Wallace has led the push to transform care delivery with an unwavering focus on quality, patient safety and service.  

 

Together with Executive Vice President Richard P. Shannon, she introduced Lean principles and implemented new processes and structures to equip the entire team with the skills needed for this transformation.

 

The medical center conducts a daily 10 a.m. huddle with leaders and managers from across the organization to immediately tackle any issues related to mortalities, infections, patient falls or staff-member injuries that may have occurred in the previous 24 hours.

 

In addition, she hired additional team members to afford frontline staff more time to focus on and participate in continuous improvement activities, ensuring that the organization was meeting its aggressive performance goals. But she kept it as simple as possible.

 

“Our organization collects and reports almost 500 quality measures, and we’re a relatively small organization,” she says. “There’s no way an organization can effectively improve all of those measures simultaneously, so I told my team, ‘Let’s focus on those measures with the greatest opportunity for improvement and where we can be most effective.’ ”

 

Sutton-Wallace sees three qualities as essential for the CEO role. 

 

#1 Dedicated Focus

In addition to her experience in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, Sutton-Wallace credits her background as an operations leader (for Duke University Hospital) as solid preparation for her role as CEO.

 

In succession planning, of course, a chief operating officer is is often viewed as the heir apparent when the CEO leaves. In fact, an ErnstYoung study revealed that 54 percent of COOs in rapid-growth markets desired to ascend to the CEO role. EY noted that its research showed many other C-suite leaders “are typically happier to remain where they are.”

 

“I do think having operational knowledge is essential to casting vision,” Sutton-Wallace says,
“because it’s essential to understand what is required to translate your vision into operational reality. Ideally, you would have seen in an operations role what it takes to accomplish it. Achieving one’s vision requires a deep understanding of organizational culture and how to motivate and inspire those who do the work every day. My operations background has been absolutely crucial in my ability to lead.”

 

She’s been around healthcare long enough to have seen  ...

 

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2016 Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare--Pamela Sutton-Wallace: Leaders need to challenge themselves to grow

By | December 1 st,  2016 | academic medical center, Blog, CEO, Duke University, Lean, Modern Healthcare, Pamela Sutton-Wallace, quality, safety, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, University of Virginia | Add A Comment

 

Classic content: One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare for 2016.

 

Pamela Sutton-Wallace earned many accolades while serving 17 years in the Duke University Health System and easily could have spent many more years there. But she wanted to prove she could excel in leading a healthcare institution, and that led her to University of Virginia Medical Center, where she was named CEO in 2014.

 

“I grew up in the Duke system and was afforded many opportunities to develop skills, knowledge and relationships to be successful in healthcare leadership,” she says. “In accepting the role of CEO at UVA, I wanted to challenge myself by applying these skills in a new environment where I believed I could bring value.”

 

Given her Duke pedigree, where she rose to senior vice president of hospital operations, it’s no surprise that her goals for UVA are high: to make it one of the top 10 health systems in the country. She inherited a strong structure, one with little to no debt on the books. But as she assessed UVA, she came away feeling it was a well-respected organization that nonetheless wasn’t getting enough attention for all of its accomplishments.

 

“UVA had this great reputation, but you didn’t see it referenced anywhere,” Sutton-Wallace says. “It wasn’t on Leapfrog and U.S. News & World Report. You didn’t see it on NIH listings. But I felt very aspirational, because all the underpinnings are here. We have some of the best faculty, some of the most innovative physicians, nurses and professionals I’ve ever met.”

 

From the moment she began talks with her supervisor at the University of Virginia, Executive Vice President Rick Shannon, who is known for his work in quality and safety, she was determined that quality, safety and service would be “the hallmark of care.”

 

Thus, UVA uses the Lean method and real-time, root-cause problem solving to address six areas of concern in its Be Safe Initiative. If an issue is reported in any of those areas, from a pressure ulcer to an infection to a staff injury, Sutton-Wallace and her leadership team visit the unit/department in question to ask what happened, whether the team faced barriers that led to the issue, and whether it was preventable.

 

“In two very short years, we have been able to achieve demonstrated improvements,” she says. “That’s exciting to me. That’s why we do what we do.”

 

Sutton-Wallace took a circuitous path to end up doing what she does. Although she was a candy striper as a youth – her mom worked as a medical transcriptionist for close to 40 years in a small Baltimore community hospital – her initial interest was in politics.

 

“I was three years into working on a Ph.D. in political science,” she says, “and I realized I didn’t want to teach and do research in the political space for the rest of my life.”

 

 

She took a job working in underwriting at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. It was during that time that Hillary Clinton was attempting to create a model for universal healthcare during her husband’s administration. Sutton-Wallace became inspired by that and went back to school, earning a master’s in public health at Yale, a curriculum that still pays dividends to this day, she says.

 

“At Yale, I had to take just as many epidemiology and biostatistics research method courses as health policy and management courses,” Sutton-Wallace notes. “I was in a classroom setting that taught clinical aptitude. The majority of students weren’t clinicians, but you came to understand disease pathology and the whole notion of population health.”

 

Her background has afforded her good conversations with clinicians, she says, because she doesn’t approach situations from a strictly financial angle.

 

“I’m very invested in what the quality is, and what are the outcomes associated with care,” she says. “Public health has always been about population health.”

 

Of course, finances are always one facet of the picture, and that is quite clear at academic medical centers, including UVA, which will face unprecedented financial challenges given the changing climate for healthcare providers.

 

“How are academic medical centers, which have often relied on very slim margins, going to continue to invest in research and education?” she says. “That’s really challenging, because we still have an insatiable appetite for new technology and new discoveries, and we still want to train the best and the brightest new clinicians. But we don’t necessarily have the income streams in those missions to cover those costs.”

 

It’s a dilemma that CEOs nationwide are trying to solve, even those like Sutton-Wallace who didn’t initially aspire to a healthcare career. Because of that, Sutton-Wallace says she enjoys speaking to students and young professionals about her journey, including that interrupted path to a political-science doctorate.

 

“My best lessons came from making mistakes,” she says. “You learn a lot about yourself. You learn resilience, you learn the power of mentors to encourage you, and you learn how to integrate those learnings into improved performance.

 

“You also learn not to be discouraged if things don’t work out exactly as you’ve planned. Half the battle is figuring out what it is that you don’t want to do.”

 

 

Pamela Sutton-Wallace looks to enhance UVA's stellar reputation

By | June 17 th,  2016 | academic medical center, Blog, CEO, Duke University, Lean, Modern Healthcare, Pamela Sutton-Wallace, quality, safety, Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, University of Virginia | Add A Comment

 

One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare for 2016.

 

Pamela Sutton-Wallace earned many accolades while serving 17 years in the Duke University Health System and easily could have spent many more years there. But she wanted to prove she could excel in leading a healthcare institution, and that led her to University of Virginia Medical Center, where she was named CEO in 2014.

 

“I grew up in the Duke system and was afforded many opportunities to develop skills, knowledge and relationships to be successful in healthcare leadership,” she says. “In accepting the role of CEO at UVA, I wanted to challenge myself by applying these skills in a new environment where I believed I could bring value.”

 

Given her Duke pedigree, where she rose to senior vice president of hospital operations, it’s no surprise that her goals for UVA are high: to make it one of the top 10 health systems in the country. She inherited a strong structure, one with little to no debt on the books. But as she assessed UVA, she came away feeling it was a well-respected organization that nonetheless wasn’t getting enough attention for all of its accomplishments.

 

“UVA had this great reputation, but you didn’t see it referenced anywhere,” Sutton-Wallace says. “It wasn’t on Leapfrog and U.S. News & World Report. You didn’t see it on NIH listings. But I felt very aspirational, because all the underpinnings are here. We have some of the best faculty, some of the most innovative physicians, nurses and professionals I’ve ever met.”

 

From the moment she began talks with her supervisor at the University of Virginia, Executive Vice President Rick Shannon, who is known for his work in quality and safety, she was determined that quality, safety and service would be “the hallmark of care.”

 

Thus, UVA uses the Lean method and real-time, root-cause problem solving to address six areas of concern in its Be Safe Initiative. If an issue is reported in any of those areas, from a pressure ulcer to an infection to a staff injury, Sutton-Wallace and her leadership team visit the unit/department in question to ask what happened, whether the team faced barriers that led to the issue, and whether it was preventable.

 

“In two very short years, we have been able to achieve demonstrated improvements,” she says. “That’s exciting to me. That’s why we do what we do.”

 

Sutton-Wallace took a circuitous path to end up doing what she does. Although she was a candy striper as a youth – her mom worked as a medical transcriptionist for close to 40 years in a small Baltimore community hospital – her initial interest was in politics.

 

“I was three years into working on a Ph.D. in political science,” she says, “and I realized I didn’t want to teach and do research in the political space for the rest of my life.”

 

 

She took a job working in underwriting at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. It was during that time that Hillary Clinton was attempting to create a model for universal healthcare during her husband’s administration. Sutton-Wallace became inspired by that and went back to school, earning a master’s in public health at Yale, a curriculum that still pays dividends to this day, she says.

 

“At Yale, I had to take just as many epidemiology and biostatistics research method courses as health policy and management courses,” Sutton-Wallace notes. “I was in a classroom setting that taught clinical aptitude. The majority of students weren’t clinicians, but you came to understand disease pathology and the whole notion of population health.”

 

Her background has afforded her good conversations with clinicians, she says, because she doesn’t approach situations from a strictly financial angle.

 

“I’m very invested in what the quality is, and what are the outcomes associated with care,” she says. “Public health has always been about population health.”

 

Of course, finances are always one facet of the picture, and that is quite clear at academic medical centers, including UVA, which will face unprecedented financial challenges given the changing climate for healthcare providers.

 

“How are academic medical centers, which have often relied on very slim margins, going to continue to invest in research and education?” she says. “That’s really challenging, because we still have an insatiable appetite for new technology and new discoveries, and we still want to train the best and the brightest new clinicians. But we don’t necessarily have the income streams in those missions to cover those costs.”

 

It’s a dilemma that CEOs nationwide are trying to solve, even those like Sutton-Wallace who didn’t initially aspire to a healthcare career. Because of that, Sutton-Wallace says she enjoys speaking to students and young professionals about her journey, including that interrupted path to a political-science doctorate.

 

“My best lessons came from making mistakes,” she says. “You learn a lot about yourself. You learn resilience, you learn the power of mentors to encourage you, and you learn how to integrate those learnings into improved performance.

 

“You also learn not to be discouraged if things don’t work out exactly as you’ve planned. Half the battle is figuring out what it is that you don’t want to do.”

 

 

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