Brittany Montecuollo: ‘Find your Skibsted’


As vice president of nursing and clinical services at Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota, Brittany Montecuollo works to improve nursing performance to ensure the provision of safe, reliable, patient-centered care.

Through her 18 years in health care, Montecuollo has earned the reputation of being collaborative, strategic and very energetic. She’s known for her drive and determination to get things done and make things better for her staff and for patients.

What’s the story about catching a jackrabbit?

Oh man, that is a story about strategy, patience, strength and wit. I am only going to tell it if someone personally asks me about it! That’s how I will be able to tell if anyone reads this…

What is your role at Sanford Health?

I’m accountable for the oversight nursing and clinical services care in the Fargo region. I’ve been in Fargo since September 2017.

I’ve had a million jobs at Sanford in less than 10 years. It’s been amazing. But I have never lost track for a single minute why I went into nursing, and that is to make sure we provide exemplary care for our patients. So I hope that comes through in everything I do, every single day.

How did you rise in leadership?

In 2009, I took a job in ED (emergency department) at Sanford Sioux Falls. I worked on a project about patient experience, and I was the performance improvement rep. for the department. That got me front and center of our nursing leaders, who recruited me into the Quality Department. They were looking for someone to help get the Sioux Falls clinics Joint Commission accreditation for the first time (in addition to the main hospital). My job was to help all of them meet the requirement to be considered outpatient departments of the hospital.

After that, I became the director of accreditation, then enterprise director of accreditation. Accreditation was one of the first Sanford Health enterprise-wide departments. That was when we began having conversations about getting philosophical consensus around our clinical standards. That was really a challenge and why I fell in love with the work. Not projects or regulations, but getting a group of people together, hearing everyone’s perspective, helping to build a common understanding, influencing consensus and moving the system together in a single direction.

Following that job, I became executive director over regulatory services, then senior executive director over clinics before taking my current position.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is that I know I’m influencing the clinical outcomes of our patients’ care, and I’m doing it by influencing and helping to build the culture we want to exist in.

How do you describe culture?

Culture is what happens when you aren’t there. For example, I know at Thanksgiving my family is going to watch “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and they’re going eat cherry cordials while they wait for dinner. That’s going to happen whether I’m there or not. That’s the definition I use.

But I think more about how to influence culture. We do that by really delivering actionably.

Explain what you mean by “Find your Skibsted.”

I often say, “If we want to be successful, we need to be Mr. (Nick) Skibsted.” That’s my best friend’s kids’ principal. When I go back home, I take her kids to school. It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 degrees outside, if its pouring rain or its blizzarding, Mr. Skibsted is going to be standing outside of the school, and he’s going to be waving at every single parent, giving every single kid a high-five and he’s going to be smiling.

It doesn’t matter if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. Nobody’s making him do it. He’s the boss. And he’s doing it every single day. He’s being Skibsted. That’s how you build the culture. I have never talked to that guy in my life, but I would trust him, and I would follow him.

What was your childhood and family like?

I grew up in Baltic, South Dakota. I am the oldest of three. My sister is the baby, and my brother is the middle child. We had so much fun growing up! We lived on an acreage and had tons of animals — goats, chickens, emus. We spent our summers doing dangerous stuff in the barn like rope swinging.

Dad is an electrical engineer, and my brother is an engineer. My mom’s a nurse, my sister is a nurse, my brother-in-law is a nurse and my sister-in-law is a nurse. We really like nurses. My best friends are nurses.

I have a husband, Aaron, and a 19-year-old son, Hunter. He lives in Sioux Falls and spends his time working on building his mother’s patience. He is the smartest.

What’s your leadership style? Do you have a motto or philosophy?

If I had to sum it up, I would say my leadership style consists of hiring people who are smarter than me, building strong teams, pushing people to do things they don’t believe they can do (but I know they have it in them!) and being unapologetically me.

My guiding philosophies are: be nice and care about what’s going on, and your technical ability will never negate the necessity to be a team player.

What are your thoughts about the state of health care?

Health care in the U.S. is continuously evolving. We are challenged with caring for a large population of aging adults, while positioning ourselves to respond to the shift from volume to value. The emphasis on wellness and health promotion continues to be a primary focus, as we see more care being provided outside of the hospital setting. Sanford has been very forward-thinking as it relates to these changes and challenges. We are constantly looking at ways to provide care differently and enhance health and wellness in our communities.

What advice would you give new Sanford Health employees?

First, congratulations on joining one of the most progressive health care systems in the country! There are always opportunities for growth and development at Sanford.

And, never, ever forget what an honor and privilege it is to serve members of our community while they are experiencing major life events.

Montecuollo currently serves on FMWF Chamber Board, Family Wellness Center Board and American Red Cross Board. Her other professional and community service includes being a Bio Girls mentor, chairing the Red Cross Regional Diversity and Inclusion Committee and serving on the North Dakota Governor’s Nursing Shortage Culture Sub-Committee. In addition to being a registered nurse, she holds a master’s degree in nursing leadership and administration.

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