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Leader Profile: Smitha Warrier Takes Collaborative, Systems Approach to Surgical Operations

Jan 18, 2023

Hurricane Katrina brought me to Utah from Louisiana 15 years ago. The move was sudden and unexpected and came with many changes. Though it was a challenging time, two immediate things struck me about Utah: the people and the culture of collaboration. 

From the beginning, I was captivated by Utah’s beautiful landscape. As time passed, a deeper focus on the environment developed. A pivotal moment occurred while I attended a lecture about the environmental impact of the anesthesia gases used during surgery. I realized I had taken steps in my personal life to reduce my impact on the environment. But there was a disconnect in my professional life. This really opened my eyes.  

I began to investigate what our system was doing to address our environmental impacts. I started with my immediate peers, followed by the larger University of Utah Health system, and then the greater university system. I found a group of enthusiastic people who wanted to help and make a positive impact. Throughout this journey, I Iearned the vital power of collaboration.

My initial curiosity led to greater visibility for this work. U of U Health created a sustainability initiative and I was named the Medical Director of Environmental and Social Sustainability.

Smitha Warrier U of U Health Sustainability
Smitha Warrier, MD, (center) discussing U of U Health sustainability efforts during a visit with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May 2022.

Moving Into a New Role

In addition to my sustainability role, I am honored to serve as the Chief Surgical Operations Officer for University of Utah Health Hospitals and Clinics. This role supports the operations and goals of perioperative services for U of U Health. This is a new role that comes with exciting challenges and learning opportunities. Collaboration is essential. 

Collaboration requires a growth mindset, compromise, and a willingness prioritize the needs of the team over the individual. It helps us understand our team members better, build trust, and improve communication. This allows us to be more effective by sharing ideas and coming up with new solutions together. I think strong relationships grow into strong teams, which lead to a successful organization. 

I look forward to the new people and areas I will collaborate with in this new role.  

My Leadership Values

I enjoy thinking about systems. During my medical training, I learned the value of applying a systems approach to solve problems. I’m the person who asks, “How do we fix this? How do we prevent this from happening again? Who do we bring together to figure this out?

I grew up playing team sports, and I think of medicine as the ultimate team sport. Think of all the people who are working together for the singular purpose of helping one person resolve a medical issue. It’s incredible!  

I think of leadership in a similar way. I’m not going to answer or solve a problem alone. I need to work with a team of people who can share their skills to make our system better.

Respect is very important to me. Respect for the issues we are dealing with and respect for the colleagues who give everything to help. The more exposure I get to the system at large, the more I respect its complexity. I understand better the unique role each team brings. This deepens my appreciation for the contribution we all make to our health care system and our community.  

Smitha Warrier with U of U Health Surgical Team
Smitha Warrier, MD, (center) with U of U Health surgical team.

Facing Our Challenges Together 

Amidst the ongoing challenges we face as a society and in health care, it’s important to remember the positives. One of the most unique aspects about the University of Utah is its people. They are like no other I’ve worked with before. We have an amazing workforce that is positive, engaged, and ready to get to work to tackle whatever comes our way. Especially during times of crisis, it’s encouraging to work with people who are running to the problem instead of running away. This is a great place to be because we understand that we work better together as One U.

 
Smitha Warrier

Smitha Warrier, MD, FASA

Smitha Warrier is a board-certified anesthesiologist and an associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Utah. Warrier serves as Chief Surgical Operations Officer for University of Utah Health Hospitals and Clinics and as Medical Director of Environmental and Social Sustainability for U of U Health. She received an MD from Louisiana State University where she also completed three years of residency in otolaryngology, followed by a residency in anesthesiology and fellowship in Acute Pain and Regional Anesthesia at the University of Utah. 

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