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In Focus: Verlon Salley, MHA, CRA

By John Wallace, Editor

UAB Medicine Executive Director of Radiology Verlon Salley, MHA, CRA, takes the lead role in the development, orchestration and implementation of all enterprise-wide imaging services initiatives for multiple hospital campuses and the satellite sites associated with them.

Salley is at one of the top academic medical centers in the nation. UAB Medicine is a recognized leader in quality patient care, research and training. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, UAB Medicine is consistently named among the best hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, which also ranks many of its medical specialties among the best programs of their kind in the United States.

“We pride ourselves on being a destination facility for caring for the sickest patients, yet we treat all patients with the respect and compassion they deserve. From parking attendants and guest services representatives to nurses and physicians, UAB Medicine staff are courteous, well-trained professionals who put patients and their families first in everything we do,” the UAB Medicine website states.

UAB Medicine provides a complete range of primary and specialty care services, as well as the most up-to-date treatments and innovations in health care. It is anchored by UAB Hospital, which was established in 1945 as the teaching hospital for what is now the UAB School of Medicine. One of the largest and most advanced in the nation, UAB Hospital is the centerpiece of a sprawling medical campus that includes numerous research labs and clinics. Among those clinics is The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital, which is home to dozens of medical specialties under one roof and is one of the largest outpatient centers in the nation.

Salley, humble almost to a fault, received the 2017 AHRA Award for Excellence & Leadership. He is a deserving winner according to at least one former employee.

Wade Wright, MBA, CRA, the executive director of clinical services at Marshall Medical Centers, noticed Salley’s leadership talents almost immediately.

“He has always been about trying to improve morale in the workplace so that everyone enjoys coming to work,” Wright recalls. “He encouraged me through his leadership to form relationships with the other departments like IT and nursing. Since working with him, I’ve formed relationships with all departments. Now, I go above and beyond to help other departments work on projects and help them with things.”

Salley’s focus on staff engagement is illustrated in detail in the 2017 article “Changing Culture Through Staff Engagement,” co-authored with Lydia Kleinschnitz and Marlon Johnson.

Impacting change in workplace culture comes natural to Salley. In other words, his personality brings out the best in people.

“His biggest impact on me was just to keep moving forward and encouraging me to go above and beyond,” Wright says about Salley’s innate ability to mentor and motivate those around him.

“I don’t think I would be where I am without him. I would still be the diagnostic imaging director in North Carolina if I had not been motivated by him,” Wright adds.

As it turns out, Salley could say the same thing. It was Wright who told him about the opening at UAB Medicine about three years ago.

A conversation with Salley instantly puts one at ease. When asked about his accomplishments and prestigious career he says he cannot really explain how he ended up as the executive director of radiology at UAB Medicine.

Verlon Salley is seen with his parents Willie and Cherry Salley. His parents are role models whose health care careers introduced their son to the world of radiology at an early age. They recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Salley was surrounded by health care professionals from the day he was born – at a hospital where his mom worked.

“My dad was a nuclear medicine tech, and my mom was a patient care advocate at the hospital where I was born,” Salley says. “Hospital care stories were a part of my life.”

Willie and Cherry Salley must have been proud of their son and his eagerness to be around health care professionals.

An introduction to diagnostic imaging came early in life. Salley recalls frequent trips to work with his father, especially on the weekends. He says he mostly worked with mobile X-ray equipment, and Salley came to be a very popular assistant.

“Everybody wanted to use Willie’s son to help them,” Salley says. “I did that in the summers during middle school and high school.”

His education continued with a determined focus to achieve a goal that was not common in his extended family – a college degree. Salley didn’t stop there. He went on to earn a Master of Health Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University.

After graduate school came a fellowship (or residency) where he was paid to be an intern. The idea is that you continue to learn via on-the-job training.

“I was rounding around the different departments of the hospital, but radiology just came natural to me because of my father. Although having never been a tech, I understood them because of my dad,” Salley says. “I didn’t set out to do that. It just happened naturally.”

“I’m definitely happy it did,” he adds.

Yet, he does not pigeonhole himself.

“I don’t think of myself as a radiology executive. I think of myself as a hospital administrator who knows radiology really well. I try to talk to my peers in their areas and how it relates to radiology,” Salley says. “And then, how can radiology assist with that patient experience? A stay is more than just an MRI or a CT scan.”

Salley’s many accomplishments do little to change his outlook. He says his greatest accomplishment happens at work, but it is not necessarily a part of his job description.

“My greatest accomplishment is training and mentoring others to become radiology executives,” Salley says. “I allow them to be their own person. I never say, ‘Do it my way.’ I tell them to make a decision and learn from their mistakes.”

“I’ve helped three or four technologists become directors,” he adds.

He also shares his personal “recipe” for being a leader.

“As a leader, for me, you have to have three things – competence, wisdom and you absolutely have to have empathy. Without those three things, in my personal opinion, you can’t be a leader,” Salley says.

He explains it this way. Empathy fuels connections; feeling with people. Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment. Intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad. Competence is the ability to do something successfully and efficiently.

He enjoys mentoring for the same reason he enjoys his job.

“I’m a giver. I like to help people,” Salley says. “Being a radiology director allows me to help people.”

Away from work, Salley enjoys spending time fishing and grilling. He and his wife, LaVonia, have a nine-year-old son named Cameron. Salley also has a 18-year-old son named Malcolm Jones from a previous relationship.

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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