February 22, 2018

Sue Christian was kicked in the head by a horse. She decided to go into healthcare — for humans.

Her dedication to teamwork and problem-solving make her a go-to person in Anesthesiology.

Photo by Susan Urmy

After a second injury inflicted by a second agitated horse, Suzanne “Sue” Christian decided it was time to give up her career as a broodmare manager for a Kentucky thoroughbred farm. Passionate about horses since childhood, Christian had worked at the farm for five years, having completed high school in her small hometown of Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and having completed a tour of duty as an electronics technician with the U.S. Marine Corps.

The first equine mishap in her young career broke Christian’s jaw. It occurred while she was removing sutures from a mare, when, due to a lapse of attention by an assistant who should have been holding up the mare’s head, Christian sustained a direct hit to her jaw from both rear hooves.

“It should have snapped my neck. I was lucky,” she says.

Christian joined Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2004. With responsibilities across the campus and beyond, she has a dual role as manager and clinical educator for VUMC’s 28-member adult anesthesiology technical staff.

After jaw surgery, Christian returned to the farm, but then a foal who objected to being de-wormed reared up its head and injured her jaw a second time.

Suddenly resigned to abandon broodmare management, Christian went to work in healthcare.

“It’s amazing how a lot of things that we do for our animals cross over to humans. The composition of a broodmare’s reproductive system resembles that of humans; and just like humans, mares have fertility issues.”

She began work as an orderly at a hospital in Lexington.

“One of the staff anesthesiologists, we had become friends and he saw my work ethic, said, ‘we have this position for an anesthesia tech and I think that you would be excellent.’

“And the rest is history, as they say.”

Christian joined Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2004. With responsibilities across the campus and beyond, she has a dual role as manager and clinical educator for VUMC’s 28-member adult anesthesiology technical staff. One of the nominating letters that resulted in Christian’s selection for the VUMC Credo Award credits her with, among other things, flawless supervision of the recent project to replace anesthesiology machines across all VUMC operating rooms.

“Her handling of this complex task, spanning several buildings and locations, was so seamless that many commented on how quietly it rolled out. She was found on the loading dock at 2 a.m., assisting with a delayed first shipment. As her ownership of this multimillion-dollar task points out, her contribution to VUMC is estimable.”

Her affinity for complex machinery began early. During high school Christian worked part time at a shop that repaired sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. “I can take a Hoover or Eureka or any type of vacuum right down to the base metal then build it back up. It’s a hard habit to break. When needed, I still do it with my own vacuum cleaners from time to time,” she says.

The technical nature of her work in anesthesiology is what originally attracted Christian, but what she’s come to value most has changed over time.

“I love the people that I work with, the teamwork.

“When we get that Level-1 trauma call overhead, no matter how busy we might be, we all jump in there and we make sure that we support that patient. It may be that we have a tech that’s going to have to be dedicated to a certain patient, and that means that others are going to have to step up to take on additional work load. And they do it without question, there is no question. We do it because we’re here for the patient.”

Reminded of the criteria Vanderbilt uses to help communicate what the VUMC Credo looks like in day-to-day work performance, Christian says, “If I had to answer which of these seems closest to me, I’d say I do take ownership of the problem, I try and see it through. In fact, I have to see it through in order for our providers to be able to give our patients the level of service that they need.

“And I feel like I am committed to my colleagues, because I’m available to them literally 24/7/365, and I will do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

To place a nomination for an Elevate Credo Award, Five Pillar Leader Award, or Team Award, visit the Elevate website to fill out a nomination form. Employees demonstrate credo behaviors when: they make those they serve the highest priority; respect privacy and confidentiality; communicate effectively; conduct themselves professionally; have a sense of ownership; and are committed to their colleagues. Elevate award nominations are accepted year round. If a nomination is received after the cutoff for quarterly award selection, the nomination will be considered for the next quarter. VUMC Voice will post stories on each of the award winners in the weeks following their announcement.