Owning Greatness, Part 4 – Susan Sullivan
Women Leaders of the Merrimack Valley Seek to Innovate and Transform
There are many leaders throughout the Merrimack Valley, including five exceptional women we’ll highlight during the coming weeks. They are leaders in their industries, respected by colleagues and the public, and at the forefront of changing the landscape for women in their fields.
Director of Cardiovascular and Laboratory Services, Holy Family Hospital
Like many people, Susan Sullivan credits a teacher with igniting her passion and pointing her in the direction of what has become a highly rewarding and successful career.
During her sophomore year at Haverhill High School, Sullivan had a health scare and doctors believed she had appendicitis. It was later determined that she actually was dealing with a chronic condition. Her biology teacher at the time was a former medical technologist, and she explained the role the laboratory had in diagnosing Sullivan’s ailment.
The seeds for a career in laboratory medicine had been planted, and there was no turning back.
“I owe it all to her,” Sullivan says.
After high school, Sullivan enrolled in UMass Lowell’s clinical lab science program. As a college student, she got a job as a phlebotomist at Lowell General Hospital. The work was fascinating, she says.
After graduation, Sullivan began working as a technologist in the blood bank at Lahey Clinic. “That fed the passion I have for transfusion medicine that I still have today,” she says.
In 1996, Sullivan was pregnant with her second child and wanted to work closer to home. She took a position at Holy Family Hospital, and as manager of the blood bank oversaw the start of the tissue service program and blood donor services.
In 2015, the director of clinical services left, and the hospital created the position of laboratory administrative director. Sullivan pursued the opportunity, seeing it as a chance to grow her career beyond transfusion services. She also enrolled in an MBA program at Southern New Hampshire University, earning her degree in 2018.
In November 2019, Sullivan became director of cardiovascular and laboratory services. She also serves as the administrative director of laboratory and cardiac catheterization services.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” she says. “I’ve absolutely loved it. Every day I learn something new.”
Sullivan is also active in the global patient/donor safety organization AABB, and has traveled around the world overseeing blood banks.
“I have a really strong interest in regulatory affairs,” she says.
Though many women work in labs, fewer typically serve in director roles, Sullivan says. But the scales are starting to tip.
COVID-19 has also spurred a new appreciation for health care workers and laboratory work, she says.
“It took a pandemic to make people appreciate what the lab does,” Sullivan says.
As the coronavirus hit in full force in early March, Holy Family Hospital was the first facility in the Merrimack Valley to open a drive-up testing service for patients sent by a doctor. The testing site — a blue tent in the parking lot — was set up in just a few days.
“It was a whirlwind,” Sullivan says, adding that the hospital staff and administration pulled together to get the equipment and supplies to make it happen. Members of the staff who were interested in volunteering were outfitted with personal protective equipment, trained and sent to work.
“I was running on adrenaline and coffee,” Sullivan says. “The 12-hour day became the norm for most of March and April. I cannot be more proud of the team at Holy Family and the lab who really jumped into action and got it done.”
Sullivan counts herself lucky to have worked for leaders who believe in the upward growth of their staff and to have learned from mentors who saw her potential at every stage of her career, Sullivan says.
“I’ve been blessed through my whole career to have mentors helping, teaching me,” she says. “I try to give that back to all I work with.”
She urges other women who want to pursue a career in the laboratory to say yes to every opportunity that comes their way.
“Not everyone will end up with a perfect opportunity, but if you don’t say yes, you could miss the best opportunity,” she says. “Saying yes to opportunity is key.”
It’s also OK to fail, she says. “Have faith in yourself and your abilities. It’s OK to fail, but you have to say yes [to trying].”
Sullivan is one of five exceptional women featured in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine. Click here for more info. >>>
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