Top 25 Emerging Leaders
Chief Operating Officer and Associate Vice President for Ambulatory-Care Operations,
Duke University Health System
Pamela Sutton-Wallace has scaled the management ladder quickly since joining Duke University Health System in July 1997 as a management fellow.
Sutton-Wallace in June was promoted to chief operating officer and associate vice president for ambulatory-care operations at the three-hospital Duke system in Durham, N.C. In this role, she’s creating a structure to tie together pieces of Duke’s ambulatory operation, including primary-care clinics owned by physicians in the faculty practice as well as other clinics owned by the health system. Ambulatory services also include operations in home care, hospice care, wellness and ambulatory surgery.
The central question, Sutton-Wallace says, is “how do we take an overarching look and then drive standards, performance and quality across all of those” operations. Management is in the early stages of analyzing this issue, she adds.
Before the promotion, Sutton-Wallace spent a year—May 2006 to June 2007—as associate operating officer for perioperative programs. Before that she spent two years as chief of staff for Victor Dzau, president and chief executive officer of the Duke system and chancellor for health affairs at the university.
Dzau, a physician who joined the health system as its CEO in 2004, says Sutton-Wallace “is committed and passionate about what she does” and “smart—really smart.” Dzau says Sutton-Wallace helped him with intellectual endeavors, such as formulating the institution’s vision, as well as administrative issues such as managing the flow of executives granted an audience with Dzau.
Sutton-Wallace brought the same skill set to the role of associate operating officer for perioperative programs, where she led efforts to improve operating-room efficiency. Within the next 18 months, for example, operating rooms will be equipped with new carts that hold surgical supplies and instruments, customized by physician and procedure. The custom carts will replace the generic carts used today. The generic carts are problematic because each nurse inevitably spends at least an hour every day searching for supplies or instruments preferred by a specific physician but not included on the cart, Sutton-Wallace says. The last-minute dash for supplies routinely delays the start of procedures.
Another change approved during Sutton-Wallace’s tenure in perioperative services: the planned purchase of equipment to clean surgical instruments. The washers—expected to cost between $350,000 and $500,000—will clean 35 trays of instruments per hour, compared with 17 trays per hour with the existing equipment. The faster turnaround will increase the number of clean instruments perioperative services can provide daily to surgeons.
“I am creating systems where I am having an impact on the communities that I serve,” Sutton-Wallace says.