Perspectives: Women Who Excel 2013 – Making attitude a differentiator

Dr. Shannon Phillips, Quality and Patient Safety Officer, Quality and Patient Safety Institute at the Cleveland Clinic

Dr. Shannon Phillips, Quality and Patient Safety Officer, Quality and Patient Safety Institute at the Cleveland Clinic

Dr. Shannon Phillips and her husband moved to Cleveland 10 years ago to pursue opportunities at the Cleveland Clinic. Her husband was recruited to run a research program at the hospital and she took the move as an opportunity to go back to graduate school and get a master’s degree in public health at John Hopkins University.

“I made the emphasis of my work patient safety,” Phillips says. “It struck me that we had opportunities to make care more reliable and that would make it safer and build a culture that didn’t find it acceptable to not reduce variability and bring standards to what we do.”

Phillips loved the work she was doing in her master’s program and translated it to her work at the Children’s Hospital as a way to make things better, safer and of higher quality. The Cleveland Clinic took notice of her efforts, and in 2007, she became the first patient safety officer for the Quality and Patient Safety Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

“I tried to turn my attention to culture and high reliability for the whole organization,” she says. “It’s been a great challenge and a great deal of fun, and those two combined makes for the perfect job.”

Going back to school ultimately was one of Phillips’ biggest turning points, because had it not been for that, she wouldn’t have gone into the work she is currently doing.

“Being able to make changes or improvements to health care that impacts dozens, hundreds or thousands of people was the space that spoke to me,” she says. “The opportunity to be able to stretch my leadership and capabilities in this space in the Children’s Hospital was a blessing.”

There are those opportunities that people get in front of them all the time where you have a choice to make about what you want to do next.

“In the professional realm, I think about whether an opportunity will leverage me and what I’m capable of bringing to the organization,” Phillips says. “Does it use my strengths well and do I get to grow new skills that I haven’t had the opportunity to stretch before? If I’m not going to grow as a person, that opportunity wouldn’t be very fun and my answer would be no.”

Taking a challenge and turning it into a positive experience and a fun one is what Phillips is known for being able to do. Her attitude is what has driven her career.

“I’m the sort of person that tries to make lemonade out of lemons,” she says. “I’ve taken advantage of learning as many things as I can from the places I’ve been and that’s tremendously helped me in what I’m doing now. Attitude matters a lot. Attitude is differentiating.”

People are always quick to focus on what’s not working or what can’t be done. You have to find ways to remain positive.

“When it comes to your attitude everybody is tired and pushed and busy and the next new thing may feel like the tipping point,” she says. “You have to sometimes reflect on it and prioritize what’s on the top of the plate. Spending a little effort in that space makes it feel not quite so overwhelming.”

In Phillips’ position, it’s very hard for people to look at you as a potential leader if you are the person that everybody would describe as a Debbie Downer type.

“You have to rise to the challenge with the right attitude and then you’re seen as someone who gets things done,” she says. “You may be the person who gets things done but doesn’t have a good attitude. Opportunities are always going to go to the positive person first. It causes a lot less ripples and a lot less trouble if you don’t have to contend with attitude. It’s a reflection on you.” ●

How to reach: Quality and Patient Safety Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, (800) 223-2273 or


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