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In Focus: Chris Tollefson, Radiology Operations Manager, Mayo Clinic

By John Wallace, Editor

Chris Tollefson, radiology operations manager at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, began his career in nuclear medicine and prides himself on maintaining those skills while also serving in an important leadership role.

Patient safety and patient satisfaction continue to be buzz words in the health care industry, but for Tollefson it is more a way of doing one’s job. It is an important responsibility for everyone who works in health care.

“I started as a nuc med technologist. I actually still take calls at another facility to keep my skills up and I enjoy the patient interaction,” Tollefson shares. “It does help you keep a fresh perspective on the forward-thinking radiologists and what their challenges are. It helps show what you can do as an operations manager to help them and their workflow.”

Tollefson’s journey to a leadership position began as a search for more ways to have a beneficial impact on patients and their health care journey.

“I looked at expanding the positive impact I could have at other areas in radiology. I started to look at a master’s degree and other leadership roles in radiology. I ended up applying for and being given the radiology informatics role,” he recalls.

It turned into an ideal role for the self-professed “techie.”

“I am a big techie. I love all the analytics. I did that for three and half years while continuing to look at career growth. I talked with a few mentors here at Mayo. We all agreed the best way to get future growth was looking at operations management,” he says. “I enjoyed all the workflow efficiency projects and that is what kind of lead me.”

“To be honest, I have not been at a position here at Mayo that I didn’t like,” Tollefson adds.

Tollefson, the 2019 winner of the Most Effective Radiology Administrator/Manager Minnie Award, has a knack for having fun while at work and it shows in his performance.

“If you strive to be excellent in what you do, everything is challenging but it is enjoyable,” he shares.

The Aunt Minnie article about his award shines a spotlight on Tollefson.

“Among Tollefson’s most recent accomplishments at Mayo was a recent Kaizen event, a short-term event of a few days or week designed to improve business productivity, that helped improve the radiology department’s productivity. The goal was to standardize technologist workflow, and it helped shorten the time from an exam order to when a study begins from 21% to 41%, depending on the department ordering the test,” the Aunt Minnie article states. “Tollefson enjoys the challenge of managing a large, diversified radiology service, especially one that’s growing as fast as Mayo. He tries to keep in close contact with referring groups, such as sports medicine clinics or the operating room, but he notes that even the addition of a single portable X-ray machine or C-arm can cause workflow issues that can reduce technologist productivity.”

One would expect his recent Minnie Award to be perhaps his greatest accomplishment. However, Tollefson is not defined by his career or work accomplishments.

“I would say my greatest accomplishment is, personally, I have three kids and raising upstanding good people is my greatest accomplishment,” he says. “In a professional sense, I’ve strived to make a difference in the enterprise and each area I was in to really improve the area.”

Chris Tollefson enjoys work and time with family

“I’ve tried to make a difference and improve things above and beyond just filling the job description of where I have been,” Tollefson adds.

Tollefson loves his job and perhaps that is why he is so good at it. He sees the impact his decisions and work have on patients and enjoys knowing that he has the ability to improve the patient experience for scores of individuals.

“When you are taking care of a patient, you are helping patients and their families,” Tollefson says. “In this operations role, when you make a change based on a efficiency project you effect a huge amount of patients.”

“We are still in a very clinical role,” he adds. “If I make a positive impact, I am helping a lot of people.”

He says he is fortunate to work at a facility with patient care goals that mirror his own desires and beliefs.

“Why do I enjoy working at Mayo? I guess the big thing, the first thing I always think of, is the needs of the patient always come first. At Mayo that is not just a saying or a mantra that maybe isn’t followed if there is a hard decision to make. At Mayo, we all really live by that,” Tollefson says. “If the needs of the patient might not benefit from something, we talk about it and another decision will be made. And, that’s isn’t the same everywhere.”

His empathy for others comes naturally and was something he saw in his parents growing up. His mother worked for the Catholic Church her entire career and his father was an elementary school teacher.

Today, he and his wife, Jennifer, look to instill those same characteristics into their children – Emery, Jamis and Wyatt.

Tollefson says he learned a great deal going from technologist to manager.

“The biggest thing that I have acquired, as far as the biggest thing I’ve learned and the most surprising, is all of the various costs and kind of managing that end of things,” he says. “I have learned a lot about the financial impact side of things.”

One example he shared is the impact a purchase agreement for something like IV kits can have on a facility’s spending and budget.

“I definitely have an eye for it, where before I didn’t,” Tollefson admits.

For those considering following in his footsteps and pursuing a leadership position, Tollefson suggests doing hands-on research before jumping in feet first.

“Definitely, start with job shadowing and make sure it is something you want to get into. A lot of the technologists I know love patient care and have a deep knowledge in a specific area,” he says. “I would definitely say find a mentor and shadow a couple of roles you are interested in.”

He also strongly suggests additional education.

“Some don’t take a master’s degree, but it is always good to have that education. You are never wrong to go for more formal education,” Tollefson says. “And, from my experience, if you can get a clinical or informatics certification. You never know when you can use that or go back to it if needed.”

“I wish I would have mentored, and job shadowed a little bit more. Not because I would have made a different decision, but because I would have been better prepared,” he adds.

The future of diagnostic imaging is bright and exciting. Tollefson says he sees technology as a tool to help radiologists and not as something that will replace them.

“The big thing is AI and machine learning. That is going to transform radiology in the next 10 years,” he says. “Using predictive analytics to make care better and to better utilize staff. I don’t think, anytime soon, that anyone’s job is going to be eliminated.”

As far as the future, Tollefson wants everyone to understand the importance of data and the positive impact it can have on various aspects of heath care.

“You are going to have access to all this information, but you are going to have to know how to use it and how to make sense of it,” he says. “You are going to have to know what information is noise that doesn’t make sense to your operation and what information is key.”

In Focus Nomination

  • The In Focus feature shines a spotlight on radiology and imaging directors from throughout the nation. We share information about their education and career with the readers of ICE. The article serves as a look at leaders who are making a positive impact and who serve as role models and mentors in the field.
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