By K. Richard Douglas
Sunset Boulevard may be one of the most recognizable street names in the country. One of the addresses on that fabled Los Angeles thoroughfare belongs to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). The nonprofit hospital has provided pediatric health care for 114 years. The pediatric medical center offers more than 350 pediatric specialty programs and services.
U.S. News and World Report recently ranked CHLA the number one hospital in California for caring for children.
In this important health care environment, where treating kids is job one, the role of diagnostic imaging cannot be overstated. The imaging department’s director came to the profession via some good advice.
“I was steered to the profession by my college career counselor as an area that fit my interests and skills. I really was not positive it was the right fit for me until I got to my internship,” says Mario Pistilli, MBA, FACHE, CRA, CHFP, administrative director of imaging services at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
With an interest in the sciences, Pistilli found his calling early in his college years.
“My interest in imaging started as an undergraduate floundering to figure out a niche that would suit me. I loved the basic sciences, especially chemistry and physics, and was steered toward nuclear medicine,” he says.
“For me, it checked all the boxes of providing clinical care, but also requiring a strong knowledge of chemistry and physics. I loved the interaction part of having to think and problem solve to produce the best images and accurate results,” Pistilli says.
He completed a bachelor of science program in chemistry and nuclear medicine at the University of Saint Francis in Joliet, Illinois and then completed a one-year full-time internship at Hines VA Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.
“It was an immersive year in which I worked full time in the nuclear medicine department providing clinical care under the guidance of the staff technologists, and also took additional courses in radiation physics and biology. At the conclusion of the year, I passed my national board exams to become a Certified Nuclear Medicine Technologist (CNMT),” Pistilli says.
Once he began to work in the field after graduation, Pistilli says he quickly grew fascinated with all imaging modalities and was fortunate to progress rather quickly to a chief technologist role.
“This gave me my first taste of leadership and my goal was to really make a positive difference for my teammates and the patients. This propelled me to pursue and obtain my MBA and become active in professional organizations. This continual learning and challenging myself has led to my current role as imaging director at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
He says that he is very proud of the CHLA mission of creating hope and building healthier futures regardless of a child’s circumstances.
“Despite being a safety net hospital, we still provide the highest quality care and are ranked the number one children’s hospital on the West Coast and one of the top 100 hospitals in the world,” Pistilli says.
The challenges of being in leadership in a large hospital center on budgeting, developing the potential in your staff and keeping work interesting. Pistilli has focused on all three.
“Health care and imaging, in general, remain a very challenging field as the economics of health care become tighter and tighter. The biggest challenges are juggling limited resources while also keeping your staff engaged and feeling valued. Imaging directors have had to become masters at continually finding ways to creatively be more productive and, at the same time, not burn staff out,” he says.
Pistilli recently took on a special project that he is really proud of. The project has involved partnering with the human resources department to develop a new leader launchpad and ongoing leader education.
“The new leader launchpad is a six-week on-boarding and education consisting of a variety of tools to bring new leaders into the organization. I was on the team that developed the content and teach many of the classes,” he says.
“I also am on a small team that works on the agenda and content for our monthly leadership meetings that are a mix of informational and now educational content; I deliver many of these leaders across our organization. These activities are out of my typical role, but do allow me to contribute to building better leaders throughout our entire organization,” Pistilli says.
When not on the job, Pistilli can be found hiking or speaking at conferences.
“I have also been a football coach for many years and was very involved in developing a youth tackle football program. I served on the board for many years, as well as head-coaching a team. I am very passionate about mentoring young people through sports and I remain proud of the organization, although I am no longer involved since relocating,” Pistilli says.
He says he is also very passionate about contributing to the growth of other leaders through writing and speaking and has been fortunate to speak at numerous national meetings on the topics of leadership development and team building.
“I feel that a great leader does everything they can to make those around them better,” Pistilli adds.
He has been married to his wife, Suzanne, for 26 years.
“Suzanne is my biggest supporter, and without her by my side, I could have accomplished nothing. Sue works as a medical records auditor and we met at the hospital when I worked as a technologist and she was a secretary in the imaging office,” Pistilli says.
The couple enjoys spending time outdoors.
“My wife and I love exploring Southern California and hiking and biking the many trails,” he says
The Pistilli’s have one son, T.J., who is currently enrolled at Northern Illinois University.
“He will soon be graduating with degrees in business management, entrepreneurship and marketing. He also currently works in management and marketing for a small start-up craft distillery and is learning all facets of the business as he finishes his degree,” Pistilli says.
It should come as no surprise that Pistilli would share this personal philosophy:
“I would love for the readers to know that I have found the most important thing is to develop your personal ‘why.’ Why do you do what you do and what impact do you hope to have? Use that ‘why’ to guide your decisions and your actions and let it show in all your interactions. Be a leader that people follow because they want to, not because of the title on your name badge,” he says.
In the end, building more solid leaders at CHLA benefits children and helps with positive outcomes. That is the best “why” after all.