Clisby helps UAB ‘grow, adapt and take on the opioid epidemic’

Written by 

clisby streamDebra Clisby has worked at UAB for nearly 30 years, and the dedication she’s shown during her tenure in the UAB Substance Abuse Center for 13 of those has earned her the respect and admiration of her co-workers — plus the title of UAB’s Employee of the Month.

As business officer, Clisby is the primary human resources support for the largest unit of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, which requires quite a bit of balancing. Clisby’s colleagues note that she remains in constant communication, whether or not she’s in the office, and her dedication to the program is unwavering.

That dedication is evident in the way Clisby works to make UAB a better place for employees. Last year, she recognized equity issues in certain job titles within her unit that were remnants of historical hiring practices. Clisby created a detailed report of program summaries, job descriptions and organizational charts so the issue could be better evaluated.

After the School of Medicine’s human resources leadership and compensation units and other parties reviewed the material Clisby collected, changes were implemented to ensure equity across the department.

“Based on Debra’s effort, we were able to make a case for these much-needed changes,” said Jill Pitts, personnel generalist in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology. “Although this process took longer than we anticipated, the changes were implemented and these salaries now reflect the employees’ commitment to the division and their years of experience.”

“What I came to realize is that we share the same humanity and basic core values: love, laughter and solidarity.”

In March, the substance abuse unit implemented a leadership program specifically for its own employees, covering topics such as leadership foundations, positivity and business writing. The program was Clisby’s idea — which isn’t surprising, because she is dedicated to ensuring her colleagues have the resources to succeed, which most often is exemplified through her own direct reports.

“My primary responsibility to my staff is to give them the tools, like ongoing educational training, that they need to be successful and to make them feel valued,” she said. “I take pride in the fact that I listen to their input and ideas to better the organization — it’s team-building. It’s also about building relationships across campus and maintaining the inclusivity of all UAB employees.”

Another colleague, Briana Bass, financial officer in the unit, says Clisby is a great example of UAB Medicine’s core values: Own it, do right, always care and work together. She is passionate and committed, which provides good human resources guidance for the unit, Bass said.

“She consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty in helping employees at any given moment while maintaining a positive attitude,” she added.

Clisby confirmed that she does keep those core values in mind while doing her daily work — she “makes very effort to subscribe to” them, she said. But while she’s inspiring colleagues such as Bass, Clisby said she also is inspired by others with whom she works.

“Our division counselors, administrators and case managers are patient, gentle and caring with our clients who have substance abuse and/or co-occurring disorders,” she said. “They inspire me to give the same dedication and quality care in my work serving as their advocate in human resources-related matters. Consequently, I approach every task with the heart and mindset of a servant.”

Paul Tierney, interim clinical director for UAB Substance Abuse Programs, said that as UAB’s substance abuse programs grow and develop to meet the demands of the national opioid epidemic, Clisby is integral to ensuring UAB is well-equipped to meet the growing need in the Birmingham community.

Each month, UAB recognizes an outstanding employee for their dedication, hard work and contributions to the university’s success. If you know of a great employee, you can learn how to nominate them for this recognition at

“We would not find ourselves in the position we’re in now — able to grow, adapt and take on the opioid epidemic and other critical challenges we face — without Debra’s leadership,” Tierney said.

By being an exemplary employee, Clisby is ensuring her unit can do its best work — something that makes her proud to work at UAB.

“UAB is on the cutting edge of so much extraordinary research, medicine and academics,” she said. “I have gained the drive to always work at my craft, and I consider myself to be a lifetime learner. UAB has inspired me to be innovative on the job and always consider ways to make daily operations more efficient and effective.”

One of the biggest assets UAB possesses is its  faculty, staff and student diversity, Clisby said, and that has inspired her since the moment she set foot on campus as an employee.

“When I first came to UAB in 1990, I worked in the Department of Microbiology,” she said. “One of my fondest memories is having potluck events to which my co-workers brought a dish. I got to sample different cuisines from all over the world, and I was able to experience a fragment of each culture.

“What I came to realize is that we share the same humanity and basic core values: love, laughter and solidarity.”