Board Profile: A Conversation with Dr. Patricia Sullivan, PhD, RN

May 24, 2022

In a month that observes both National Hospital Week and National Nurses Week, HCIF is honored to interview Dr. Patricia Sullivan, PhD, RN and celebrate her exemplary work for this month’s Board profile. Pat is the Chief Quality Officer for Penn Medicine, and she also serves as Chair of HCIF’S Board of Directors.

What are some of the responsibilities in your current role?

My current role is to oversee quality at the Penn Medicine system level. I work with each of the hospitals and organizations within Penn Medicine to help develop and drive strategy to provide services and roles that are specialized and too valuable to have to replicate at every place. I also help disseminate and spread the best practices where we see the best outcomes. We don’t want every hospital and organization to reinvent the wheel; we want people to learn from each other. We work through a blueprint for quality and our goals are around excellent patient-centered outcomes, zero harm to patients and staff, and exceptional experience.

What drove you to pursue a career in healthcare?

My basic training was as a nurse. I was a critical care nurse, and I happened to be at the right place at the right time and got promoted to nurse manager at a young age. And then I was bitten by the management bug and never looked back! I love healthcare at its core. I found that it was very gratifying to be able to help people feel better. Even if you couldn’t always cure them, you could help them have a better quality of life. And as a nurse you could do different things to help relax and manage pain. As a teenager I was a volunteer in hospitals and had a great experience and that is what made me decide to go into nursing. Where I was raised, this was in the age when women were not necessarily encouraged to go into medicine. But that’s all changed now, which is wonderful.

What is a recent memorable experience you’ve had as a healthcare professional?

It was during — the day we decided we were shutting down was Friday, March 13th , and my boss, the Chief Medical Officer, announced that we needed to set up testing sites in the community by that Monday. And we did it! It was an effort of so many people, but all weekend long we worked simulating how traffic would be in a parking lot that belonged to one of our hospitals. It was an amazing experience to see how many could come together from an innovation center, operations, the lab, nurses—you needed all these people. And it was an incredible team effort and we just kept improving it every day as we learned new things.

The second part of that was when we set up roving immunization clinics in West Philadelphia. We went to the churches first then we were using high schools, and we were seeing up to 1000 people a day. It was amazing how you could take up and entire gym and simulate everything and then execute it. I had never worked in the community before and by far that was one of my most memorable moments in all of my career, to be part of such a talented team where everyone was working with the same goal. You don’t get tons of opportunities like that. I made new friendships and new relationships with the people I found myself working next to.

What has been your proudest professional achievement?

On one level it’s having the opportunity to work in quality and patient safety in an excellent academic health care organization. The other thing I might say is earning my PhD. That was hard— working the whole time and getting that dissertation done. I called my mother when I finished successfully defending it as I was not successful on the first try. I used to tease my mother all the time— she’s Ukrainian and my father was Spanish— and I would say I got my emotion and passion from my dad but my persistence and “stick to it” was from my mother. And when I called her I said “Mom, this is for you because it was not my intelligence that got me to the end of this road, it was my persistence and resilience and that came from you and I’m so grateful.”

What inspires you?

When I can help people do the right thing; whether it be processes that generate quality outcomes or working with doctors, nurses, providers, and clinicians to help them in some way do their jobs. Being able to remove barriers and connect the dots for people, so they understand how the things we do are related and not disparate efforts and watching people work and do the right thing inspires me enormously.

What is something you’ve learned being a part of the HCIF Board?

I’ve learned about the community health organizations and how important of a role they play in health and health care. Health is social determinants, your habits, and healthcare combining to impact your ultimate outcomes, and what I’ve learned from the people who sit around the Board table at HCIF is how important these things are and how we can work together.

I’ve also learned what it’s like to bring people together, who normally see themselves as competition, to work in a collaborative fashion so that we can all get better. Being given the right opportunity and environment to do that is very powerful. HCIF is a great neutral convener.

What excites you most about being a member of the HCIF Board?

I’m excited by strategy, so having the opportunity to participate on the strategic roadmap process is exciting. I also like the ability to hear other perspectives. I don’t want to miss a meeting because the perspectives are priceless. Meeting people who don’t have the same role as you and learning what they do and who they are as people—you have new friends and new contacts!

As the current Board chair, what do you envision for the future of HCIF?

I envision that we are going to chart a path that is going to help HCIF continue to get bigger and better in terms of our ability to have an impact on health and healthcare. I want to see the organization grow and take advantage of opportunities that exist that will help us meet our mission. I love our new mission and vision that we worked on collectively. I feel very honored to be It’s an honor and a responsibility to be a good leader and helping to make sure we get the most out of the talent we have at the Board level.

When you’re not busy working to improve the lives of others, what do you like to do?

I like to garden—I love flowers. I also like to be active outside and I like to travel. In 2018, four of us went to Africa and it was the trip of the lifetime—it changed me in a different way. In September, the same group is going on a backroads hiking tour in Northern Italy. I think learning about different people’s cultures and getting out of your comfort zone helps you be more open-minded to other parts of your life.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

Most people don’t know that I’m an avid sports fan, particularly baseball and football. And the problem I always run into is that I’m originally from New York, and I have not been able to shed my loyalty to the New York teams as opposed to the Philadelphia teams, so I try to keep a low profile around that. But I was the oldest of the girl cousins in my family and I grew up going to professional baseball and football games. I like strategy—not the violence involved.

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