Sue Conley-CEO of DeKalb Community and Stones River Hospital was recently honored as a 2013 Hardin-Simmons Alumni Award recipient along with receiving a key to the city of Abilene, Texas.
Friends who observed the arc of her career aren’t surprised she has been selected to receive a 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award from her alma mater. “During her undergraduate years at Hardin-Simmons University, Sue demonstrated the multi-tasking skills, energy and determination that propelled her to healthcare leadership,” one friend commented, “Back then, she completed requirements for two bachelor’s degrees while working full-time and managing a family.”
“Sue is an amazing leader with a hands-on attitude,” said Shan Burklow-Marketing Director for DeKalb Community and Stones River Hospitals, “I was not surprised in the least when Hardin-Simmons came to her with this distinguished honor. She radiates a positive ‘can-do’ perspective on life and work. We are so blessed to have her here at our hospitals and communities. We work hard every single day, striving to be the best hospital in the nation…and (Sue) is leading us there.”
Conley is the Chief Executive Officer of two hospitals and is no stranger to hard work and multi-tasking. Sue earned a Bachelor of Science degree, cum laude, in biology in 1989 and added another BS degree in medical technology in 1990. Not surprisingly, she also earned membership in Beta Beta Beta, the national biological honor society. While Sue excelled in the classroom and the laboratory, the time demands of her life did not afford the opportunity to build a long Hardin-Simmons resume.
“I really did not have many HSU activities,” she explains. “I worked full time most of my enrollment—and had two kids and a husband.” Still, Hardin-Simmons shaped and empowered her, Sue recalls. “Even though I was a non-traditional college student, I have many great memories of my time at HSU—particularly the great people I encountered, both students and faculty,” she says. “I learned so much there and will be forever grateful for my experiences and for my family’s support during my college years. Education is something that no one can take away from you, and I feel it was the key to any success I have achieved.”
Sue’s choice of the phrase “any success” is quite an understatement. In 1989, she went to work for Hendrick Medical Center, just south of the HSU campus in Abilene. She worked her way up from medical technologist to continuous quality improvement coordinator for the 400-bed, 2,500-employee facility.
Out in the “real world,” Sue learned on the job. “When I started working in the lab, I started to think that maybe administration could use some help in making decisions, because, of course, when you’re younger, you think you have all the answers,” she notes. But when she took the quality-improvement position, she adds, “I learned decisions that are made on the administrative level—there was a lot moreinformation I didn’t have. That made me understand administrators need to communicate to their staff. … If you can just explain why you’re doing something or what the issues are, your staff is so much more supportive and understanding and can even give you help.”
In 1996, Sue earned a Master of Science degree in health care administration from Trinity University in San Antonio and also joined the staff of Brownwood Regional Medical Center. In Brownwood, she started as assistant administrator and, in less than a year and a half, rose to chief operating officer.
Then in 2000, she took another COO position, this time with Medical Center of South Arkansas, in El Dorado. The next step up the healthcare ladder took her to Mesquite, Nevada, where she became chief executive officer of the brand-new Mesa View Regional Hospital in 2004.
Six years later, Sparks Health System in Fort Smith, Arkansas, a 492-bed facility, recruited Sue to become COO. From there, in 2011, Sue became CEO of Summit Medical Center in Van Buren, Arkansas. And last year, Capella-St. Thomas Health Services chose Sue to lead two of its Tennessee facilities—DeKalb Community Hospital in Smithville and Stones River Hospital in Woodbury, both southeast of Nashville.
Her engagement and recognition extends beyond the hospitals she has led. In Tennessee, she is a board member of the Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the local Lions Club. Among her affiliations in Arkansas were board member of the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce and vice chair of the Arkansas Valley Trauma Regional Advisory Council.
In Mesquite, Nevada, she was named Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 2009 and Business Person of the Year in 2006. She also led the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce as president. Conley currently resides in Cannon County with her husband, Alan, and adorable dog, Buddy.