Lisa Austin: A Long Career Moves Abroad

(This article appeared as a sidebar to the feature article, Expanding the Borders, of the Winter 2015 SSA Magazine.)

Lisa AustinLisa Austin has had a varied career. She worked as an economist at the Chicago Board of Trade before attending SSA, and since then as an emergency room social worker at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, a grant reviewer for the federal Department of Health & Human Services, and a risk specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Austin attended SSA because “it was the best social work school around. I strive for the best and didn’t apply anywhere else.”

Austin spent considerable time overseas early in her career but had never relocated—and the idea wasn’t even on her radar. Then the chief medical officer at Lurie left for Qatar to start a new women and children’s hospital, Sidra Medical and Research Center, developed in partnership with Weill Cornell Medical Center. Before he left, he offered her the position of director of medical administration.

“It was just somebody saying, ‘Think about it,’” she says. “As you get older, you realize the world is a big place, and it’s there for you to explore as you take advantage of the opportunities that appear. Being able to bring the best practices in health care to this country was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Austin’s job included helping hire people, but she quickly realized it wouldn’t be that simple. “Right off the bat, to hire somebody, I need a job description,” she says. “Where is [each job] in the organizational chart? Well, now I need an org chart. It’s starting completely from scratch.”

Her duties to date have included working toward securing the hospital’s license, monitoring accreditation of medical staff, and serving as contact person for both the Joint Commission in Oakbrook, Ill., and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (AC GME). She also has been working with the medical director of quality, safety and risk in those areas.

“This will be my ultimate position as a leader in quality/safety/risk, as our big challenge will be with communication,” she says. “Here is where my social work skills come in handy. I am going to be part of a rapid response to harm team that is going to deal with the non-medical part of the event. The part where we have to explain what is going on to the family but, more importantly, listen to the family.”