Building careers to better serve Veterans: VA Medical Center Director finds passion in mentoring others

Choose a career as a VA Medical Center Director/Chief Executive Officer.


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Shella Stovall is the Director of VA Salt Lake City Health Care System in Utah. Known as the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center, the system provides comprehensive primary, tertiary and long-term healthcare, with a focus on surgery, psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation, neurology, oncology, dentistry and geriatrics.

Stovall’s career at the Veterans Health Administration began in 1984, when she took a job as a nurse. Encouraged by mentors to pursue a leadership career, she was promoted to VAMC Director in 2017. In this installment of our #ChooseVALeadership Careers blog series, Stovall explained why she thinks she made the right choice to work at VA so long ago, and which parts of the job continue to inspire her today.

What is your primary job at VA?

I lead the organization toward accomplishing the mission and VA priorities.

Describe your areas of specialty and how you apply these skills on behalf of Veterans.

I’m a nurse. Having a clinical background helps me with strategic planning and operational decisions, and gives me an understanding of performance metrics that I might not have with an administrative background.

What was appealing about a career at VA?

Initially, I did not want to work at the VA. I actually took a job here 30 years ago thinking that when something else opened up in the community, I would apply. There wasn’t a nursing shortage so I had to take what I could get. Thirty years later, I feel very fortunate to have made the decision to work at the VA. Once I got here, I loved it and didn’t want to work anywhere else. I left for a few years to develop my business skills, but soon returned to further my career with VA.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

For me, naturally, I love to see how we make a difference in the lives of our Veterans. However, developing young talent in VA is where I find my passion. To see individuals (who) I get to mentor advance their careers is exciting for me.

How has VA helped you grow in your career?

The opportunities in VA are amazing. I was able to get my bachelor’s and master’s degree through VA scholarship and tuition assistance. In addition, I was able to participate in several of the leadership development programs. Now, I enjoy serving as a coach and mentor for the Healthcare Leadership and Development Program and the Graduate Healthcare Administrative Training Program.

What are a few key benefits of working at VA?

Retirement benefits, stable hours as a nurse, accrual of vacation time and other personal benefits. There is also the benefit I receive in working with amazing and dedicated employees and serving Veterans.

What do you find most surprising about working at VA?

VA does get a lot of scrutiny and sometimes the level of attention is surprising. We try to point out that the evidence shows that VA performs equal to or better than community healthcare in quality and satisfaction. When I started at the VA in 1984, there wasn’t as much scrutiny. The challenges now are more noticeable, and it’s our job as leaders to make the solutions to problems, and attributes of VA healthcare, known to Veterans, families, the community and the entities that oversee VA.

What story do you most often tell people about your work?

I think the stories I have heard over the years from our Veterans are the ones that I often share. Sometimes, I share stories about how much improved the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System is since 1984. I share stories of some of the challenges we’ve overcome to better serve our Veterans.

What would you tell other healthcare professionals who are interested in choosing a career at VA?

There is no better mission-driven organization than VA. The rewards are many and there is nothing wrong with the VA that can’t be fixed by what is right with the VA.

What else would you like us to know about your work?

It is somewhat unusual to start in the same organization as a staff nurse on the night shift and eventually have the opportunity to serve as the VA Medical Center Director in the same organization. I am privileged to lead a group of dedicated employees and they make my job easy. If I had to do it over again, I would choose VA every time.

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