Kristen Dulling, MCSO, BSN, RN | Master of Science in Clinical Service Operations

Headshot of Kristen Dulling.

Kristen Dulling, MCSO, BSN, RN, is the vice president of nursing and clinical operations for primary care at Atrius Health, a Massachusetts-based health care organization. During her 28-year career with the company, Dulling has advanced from clinical nurse manager to director of nursing. In 2020, after accepting the role of executive director of primary care, she decided to pursue a master’s degree to expand her leadership skills.   

Finding a Master of Science Degree with a Leadership Pathway 

Working full-time in a new role and with young children at home, Dulling was hesitant to add schoolwork to her plate but knew that a master’s degree would expand her career options. She began researching broader healthcare programs, but they lacked a leadership focus. Then, a physician at work told her about the Master of Science in Clinical Service Operations program at Harvard Medical School, a brand-new program at the time.   

Initially, Dulling thought the program was only for physicians and did not think she would qualify with her nursing background. “After attending an information session with the program directors, I learned that my experience was applicable, so I applied and enrolled in the first cohort in 2019.” When she first started, all classes were held in person. But in spring 2020, everything moved online, and it is still a virtual program today. 

Capstone Project Results in More Effective Portal System for Physicians, Staff, and Patients 

A major component of the program is completing a nine-month mentored capstone project at the student’s hospital or organization. Dulling chose online portal messaging (MyChart, MyHealth, etc.). “During the COVID-19 shutdown, the number of messages through our electronic portal at work doubled,” she said. “Physicians and staff were inundated with communications, which was compounded by staff reductions.”  

Dulling developed a program to include nursing staff and managed messages like phone calls. She set up regionalized pools and separated them out by the service need, such as scheduling appointments or speaking with a doctor. “Using existing staff and scheduling accordingly reduced the messages to physicians’ inboxes by 50 to 60 percent,” she said.  

Initially piloted in one region, with some optimization and input, the portal structure was expanded to all Atrius Health pediatrics in 2021 and to internal medicine in 2022. Today, the system is used in 23 physical practices across eastern Massachusetts.  

The Success of Lifelong Learning 

Dulling attributes her learnings from the Master of Science in Clinical Service Operations program to her great professional success after graduation. She has since been promoted to vice president of nursing and clinical operations for Atrius Health and is back studying to get her doctorate. She also serves as a teaching assistant for the program and loves to share her experience with other students. 

“The program was less about theories on how to get things done and more about tangible learnings that could be applied right away,” she said. “I would leave class and immediately apply those learnings in my new role at work.”