Master of Health Administration alumna led effort to get 100,000 people vaccinated in just 53 days.
When faced with fighting an unfamiliar and contagious virus, Mason alumna Michelle Vassallo rose to the occasion. Vassallo led a team of infectious disease prevention specialists, physicians, pharmacists, and researchers at Inova Health System to develop and execute a plan to distribute 100,000 vaccines in just 53 days. To do this, Vassallo and her team of nearly 30 public health professionals reimagined how their hospital system could fight the pandemic while keeping everyone's safety top of mind. The team reevaluated many components of the hospital system, such as establishing trusted communication channels for patients seeking information on vaccines and redesigning their treatment centers to accommodate a large number of socially-distanced patients. The team also faced ethical considerations when determining which groups would receive the vaccination first based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
In recognition of her achievements and contributions, Vassallo has been named the 2022 College of Health and Human Services Alumna of the Year.
Vassallo began her career as a registered nurse at Inova. Having graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, she advanced in her career by accepting nursing leadership positions at Inova. As a graduate of Mason’s Master of Health Administration (MHA) program, Vassallo not only learned about health systems, she also learned about leadership and problem-solving. This knowledge served her well in her current role as vice president, clinical platform service line at Inova.
"It's very humbling," Vassallo said on being named the CHHS Alumna of the Year. "The work I am being acknowledged for is something that has saved my life, my family, and all the people I interact with. I can't imagine there will be something else that impactful to my community and the people I care about as that endeavor was."
The process of reworking how the hospital system would operate in the wake of the pandemic required Vassallo to hone her leadership abilities and work with a group of interdisciplinary professionals on critical projects in just a short amount of time.
"Everybody took on a different role and chipped in,” Vassallo said. “We had to fall back on the fundamentals of what are the right ways to engage, influence, and empower team members to make the decisions that are right in the moment. You, as a leader, had to pivot kind of moment by moment based on what the needs were of the situation."
Despite the challenges faced, Vassallo and her team embraced the adversity through strong leadership, organization, and trust in one another.
"We took the opportunity to function well as a system in a way that we never had before," Vassallo said. "We were able to quickly make decisions that were very important to patient care and for team member safety. It was hard work, long hours, and difficult times, but it was also incredibly inspiring and motivating. It's affected our work in a positive way as we have moved through the pandemic."
Vassallo said that the training she received in the MHA program had particularly helped her lead others through the pandemic. Having a clinical background as a nurse and experience in hospital system operations, she saw an MHA degree as a way to develop further her understanding of business management and leadership. These skills resulted in saving many lives through the successful vaccination outreach.
"Almost every class was applicable to this crisis," Vassallo said. "I really think the best benefit was that [the MHA program] gave a broad foundation of knowledge for theory, for business, for leadership skills themselves. The leadership principles and those foundation elements were important to lean back on. When you have a moment to breathe, you can think about them and do them a little more purposefully, and then in the times of crisis, you're just glad you have that muscle memory."
When asked what advice Vassallo would give to graduating CHHS seniors, she encouraged new graduates to pursue assignments that can advance their exposure in their organization, even if the tasks are not a part of their job description.
"The best advice is if someone asks you to do something, it's because they think you're going to be successful and you can do it," Vassallo said. "So, take that opportunity and have confidence in yourself and take that stretch assignment or project because you never know where it will lead you. I think that has been the number one key to my success."
Vassallo was honored as the CHHS Alumna at the Year in April during the Honoring Mason Nurses event. The School of Nursing invites all faculty, staff, students, and alumni to join the celebration. She will also be given the CHHS Distinguished Alumni Award at Mason's Celebration of Distinction on October 21. Learn more here.