Attorney, nurse, COO: Meet UChicago Medicine's Krista Curell

Krista Curell, RN, may be new to the role of chief operating officer, but she's no stranger to the University of Chicago Health System. She's been with the organization for more than two decades — most recently serving as its chief integration and transformation officer — and brings an abundance of experience to her new role. 

As Ms. Curell moves to the operational helm, she connected with Becker's to share more about her journey to the COO role — and her vision beyond it. 

Question: You've been with the University of Chicago since 2001. How have the past two decades primed you to lead the health system's operations?

Krista Curell: I began my career in the department of risk management/patient safety, which introduced me to many of the complexities of running a health care system. My role evolved to include compliance, business continuity and human resources and I have led operations during both internal and external "disasters," such as blizzards, work stoppages and, of course, the pandemic. I approach my leadership responsibilities with the philosophy of collaboration, respect and transparency versus creating a hierarchical environment that does not allow for an open and transparent communication. This has enabled me to forge incredible relationships with my colleagues at the medical center and the university. I have been privileged to participate at such a high level in the evolution of our mission, vision and values, and I am incredibly proud of our growth and accomplishments.

QL You also approach the role from a unique perspective as both an attorney and registered nurse. Why are diverse experiences important for C-level executives? How have your JD and RN degrees shaped your leadership style?

KC: Being an attorney and a nurse gives me the knowledge, experience and credibility to work directly with the faculty, staff and administrators. I see things from multiple angles because I am familiar with both the administrative and the operational perspective. As such, I understand and can navigate our organization within the multiple and diverse set of healthcare compliance rules and guardrails that guide hospitals and healthcare systems. Ultimately, though, I believe that regardless of educational background, the key to being a successful leader stems from the relationships you build with your team, your colleagues and staff.

Q: What are your top three focuses for your first year as COO? 

KC: We have a number of major initiatives underway, and the next year will be challenging and exciting for us. Specific areas include: 

  • Supporting the strategic growth of UChicago Medicine's enterprise so we have effective and efficient operations for our physicians, clinicians and employees.

  • Improving patient experience and employee wellness and engagement.

  • Working to strengthen our ties to the community and act on the commitment we have made to building our South Side healthcare ecosystem.

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