Q&A with Debra Allen, clinical director of trauma services

Deb Allen stands in front of an ambulance
Debra Allen, BSN, RN, CCRN, has joined the University of Chicago Medicine as the clinical director of trauma services. Allen most recently served as regional trauma program manager at the Northern Ohio Trauma System in Cleveland, where she developed the first regional trauma system in northeast Ohio.

Here, she will be responsible for strategic planning and the administrative, educational, and financial management for trauma services to provide a multidisciplinary approach to adult trauma care.

She discussed UChicago Medicine’s path to becoming an adult Level I Trauma Center.

Q: After 28 years in trauma care, what inspires you in your work?

A: I’ve always felt it’s where I can make a difference. In my career, I’ve held so many mothers’ hands and said, “I’m sorry, we’ve done everything we can.” If we can go into each day and save a person’s life and change outcomes that would have been horrible without our clinical expertise, then we have done our job.

In your roles as a leader in trauma care, what have been some of the greatest challenges in standing up a trauma system?

One challenge was getting everybody to accept the new norm. We want everybody in the hospital system engaged. We need to do that through communication, talking, being in the ED, connecting with security, surgeons, nurses, staff — everywhere in the hospital — to get their input and to understand how they feel and what they see is important.

Q: What are some of your first steps here at UChicago Medicine?

I would like to do a formal listening tour at staff meetings and just to walk around and get input. Sometimes people are intimidated to talk in meetings. People have such good input. If you sit in your office or in meetings, you will never hear some of what people have to offer. Going forward, Vikas Ghayal (Executive Director of Patient Care Operations), and I are going to look at our action plans and talk about what we need as far as FTEs (full time employees). Not only to work with us, but also for the institution. We will talk about what we need as far as nurses, social workers, chaplains — all of that.

Q: How do you recommend people become involved?

: I think the beginning of it is everybody will be involved. That’s what I think people don’t understand. Because this whole process is — it’s not a trauma department — it’s a trauma hospital. All of the different departments are going to be involved and they don’t even know that yet. From surgery, to specialty services to EVS — there isn’t one that won’t be involved in a good way.

Q: What might surprise people about the process of becoming a trauma hospital?

I think what people need to know is that trauma coming to this hospital is a benefit. It will not only benefit the community, but it will go onto affect and strengthen everyone in the hospital — from cancer to psychology. It’s going to affect our patients, their families and the whole city of Chicago.

Q: What will be your role in the community?

My hope is to work with the police force and the politicians. I’d like to look at what the local and state policies are and why there is such a huge discrepancy in mortality rates from six seven miles away in the Loop to the South Side. Hospitals nowadays really need to work with public officials to work together. It’s all encompassing. If we’re going to make a change in something that is devastatingly needed in this area, we all have to work together. The hospitals can’t do it alone.