Sarah Slipetz – Rush University System for Health
How it helps to know the nuances of a profession before transitioning to a supportive role.
So says Sarah Slipetz who spent the early years of her career as a registered nurse, getting a clogs-on-the-floor look at how inefficiencies were built into almost any healthcare system. Her colleagues and patients deserved better, she says.
“I’ll always remember one night when I had an extra heavy patient assignment and spent so much time documenting my activities on paper,” she tells Toggle. “I was thinking, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ I was spending as much time charting as I was bedside with the patient.”
There indeed was a better way and the hospital began implementing a digital means for documentation. Slipetz well-versed in infotech, she engaged with the project team and proved a fast learner. Soon she became an applications analyst and then took to building and implementing computer systems. Afterward came project management and Slipetz joining an office for that purpose.
Then, in the summer of 2014, another institution, the Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora, Illinois, came calling for Slipetz to assist with its IT management. She logged nearly eight years there, ascending to director of infotech.
In March of last year, she moved into a new role with the umbrella network, Rush University System for Health, as senior director for enterprise information technology strategy and planning. While it’s taken her further away from the floor, her overall impact on patient care and hospital administration may be more consequential.
“But I’m still a nurse,” she’s quick to add.
A nurse, that is, who reports directly to Chief Information Officer Jeff Gautney rather than to a nursing supervisor. But how that nursing supervisor and those under her wing benefit from Slipetz’s initiatives that have helped transition a siloed IT department into an integrated entity that supports RUSH’s entire nonprofit enterprise of hospitals, medical groups, university and research.
She’s among the leaders of a 400-strong IT team whose responsibilities are to prioritize technological progress and focus on employee engagement. They create ways for clinicians and hospital administrators to function more effectively and efficiently and build the processes that support them and the roadmaps for the teams to follow. “People, process and technology,” is her mantra.
On the strategic end, training is a constant with much emphasis on cybersecurity, digital solutions and apps for professional certification. Here she ensures processes are in place for employees to train and access support from department heads and other leaders.
IT department recruitment is another focus, Slipetz noting what a job seeker’s market it is for young techno-talent and how Rush must be seen as an employer of choice. There’s much need for general as well as specialized IT skills, she says, and with her input Rush now has a tracking system for recruiting, interviewing and training prospects.
“We must move as quickly as possible, be nimble and not make them wait,” she says. “One of our goals is to hire more SalesForce developers, and it’s a very competitive market.”
She’s confident Rush will acquit itself here, and as Slipetz celebrates her first anniversary in her latest position, she’s confident what a right move her IT transition has been.
“This last year has been full of changes and growth, both personal and professional,” she says. “We’re all about optimizing better service and day to day, we’re putting in place benchmarks that advance the entire Rush system.”
Healer from the start
Healthcare always was among her primary interests, though the younger Slipetz never envisioned going about it through technology. Still, she couldn’t help but recognize how fast the tech world was spinning when she earned her RN credentials in 2006 at the University of Illinois at Chicago and followed it with a master’s degree from Saint Xavier University, also in the Windy City.
And she paid her dues for around five years on the floor of a big Midwest hospital, always with a mindset for what could be done better. Technology being the way so much other business was conducted, she looked for ways to use it in nursing and continues to do so.
Among her contributions has been a website for nurses immersed in master’s programs. She’s like for all to see how a nursing background can be applied into other areas.
“I’ve built my career seeing where I needed to grow my skills and focusing on self-improvement,” she says. “I’ve taken project management classes and training that’s offered by our vendors. I’ll take advantage of any opportunity that’s provided or find one on my own.”
It’s also a message she confers on her 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son who keep Slipetz and her husband busy with hobbies running the gamut from acting to sports. Fulfilling as home life is, she doesn’t dread the alarm clock ringing at the start of a new work week.
“I’ve loved working for Rush during these past nine years,” she says. “This is the most exciting role. It offers the opportunity to bring strategy into what Rush delivers. Rather than being reactive, we can be proactive. It’s so exciting to be part of the solution.”
And there’s so much more to do, she says, when strategizing what IT can deliver for patient care as well as healthcare administration in general. How it opened her eyes to see the needs up close during those years as an RN. How easy it is for her to empathize with those who bring care and comfort to the hospitalized. Though she’s taken a step back from the floor, in an indirect way she remains connected to the clinicians there.
“That’s how I started and I’ll always be one of them,” Slipetz says. “Even when I’m away from the front lines.”
View this feature in the Summer I 2023 Edition here.
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