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Allison Wierda Suttle, MD, MBA, Chief Medical Office, Sanford Health

Mar 29, 2018 06:00AM ● By MED Magazine

Allison Wierda Suttle was a natural fit for a career in medicine. The daughter of a Sioux Falls radiologist, she grew up watching her father “read films in the basement of Sioux Valley Hospital.” At 18, she left South Dakota for Brown University then gradually worked her way back westward, earning her MD at Northwestern in Chicago and staying in the city for her residency.

“I decided on Ob/Gyn because I love the OR and I loved anatomy, but I also was fascinated by the idea that hormones had such a big influence on the whole body,” says Dr. Suttle. But it was a cardiac event that eventually brought her back to South Dakota. During her residency at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Suttle learned that her uncle had died suddenly of a heart attack while hunting with her father.

“His death was very sudden and unexpected and it made me ask myself ‘Where do I want to be when things like this happen?’ I decided I wanted to be home,” recalls Suttle.

In 2001, not long after her uncle’s funeral, Suttle was hired by Sioux Valley Hospital. It was there, under the tutelage of veteran Ob/Gyn Bob George, MD, that she learned to see what she calls “the bigger picture”.

“Bob George helped me to see how physicians could have a voice and a real influence on the bigger picture in healthcare,” she says.

Suttle returned to school to earn her MBA and, in xxxx, became Sanford’s Chief Medical Information Officer. “When EMR came, I was one of five physicians who actually embraced it,” says Dr. Suttle. “I couldn’t wait to have all of that information at my fingertips. So I helped the system embrace all of the ways in which EMR could help us with our work, in terms of better quality healthcare, fewer errors, etc.”

After several years of trying to balance her clinical practice and administrative duties, Suttle made the move into full-time administration as Sanford’s Chief Medical Officer in 2015. Today, Suttle is part of the “quality cabinet” helping to steer the organization in bold new directions.

“It is am amazing time to be in healthcare. I get to think big and ponder and figure out how do we move this big multifaceted organization from the fee-for-service world into the value-based world,” says Suttle. “It’s fascinating to think about our work as physicians and how that changes. There is a lot of work to be done around looking at delivering care differently. It is no longer just about what the doctor knows. We are now move into more collaboration with patients. It has been an evolution.”

It has also been a personal evolution away from direct patient care and into administration. Although she misses her patients, Suttle says she is “always looking for the next adventure” and welcomed the change. Three years after delivering her last baby as an Ob/Gyn, and on the advice of a colleague, she has found a way to keep her hands in the physical world of healing by teaching yoga.

“When you move into administration, you’re going from healing, helping, and touching someone every 15 minutes, to going to meetings every hour,” she says “The benefits are big but you don’t feel it for years.”

Suttle and her husband, Gary, an English professor at the University of Sioux Falls, have one son in middle school.

Web Exclusive: Read Dr. Suttle’s perspectives on using technology to improve rural health