Nurses bring patient-centered approach to CEO role

Nurses have made strides in the CEO position, though they remain an uncommon choice for the role.

Nurses play a key role across health organizations and as their influence in the C-suite grows, a number are taking on the top job as CEO.

Grisel Fernandez-Bravo, R.N., became CEO of Memorial Hospital Miramar, a 178-bed hospital in South Florida’s Memorial Health System, and she credits her nursing experience as being instrumental to her rise, according to an article from Hospitals & Health Networks. A number of nurses also hold key executive roles in that system, according to the article, and half of its six hospitals are helmed by nurses.

“At the end of the day, a hospital is a business, but it’s the business of caring for patients. That’s a very sensitive balance,” Fernandez-Bravo told the publication. “As a nurse, I know what it takes to care for patients and how to balance the operations that support patient care.”

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Nurses remain an uncommon fixture in the CEO position, though nursing leaders are frequently included in the C-suite. As the nursing field is overwhelmingly female, many nurses face the same gender barriers to advancement as other professions. Nurse training does not typically include finance and management experience that are integral to the CEO role. Nurses seeking advancement to leadership roles should seek out a knowledgeable mentor and, if possible, pursue advanced education.

Nurses looking to make the jump to a leadership role should also familiarize themselves with health policy—even making the leap to lobbying—to better position themselves for a promotion.

Kim Miller, R.N., CEO of rural health system Beaver Dam Community Hospitals in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, wrote in a column for the Advance Healthcare Network that she followed that path to leadership. Miller began her career as a registered nurse and while working in that role earned a master’s degree in business, which offered a needed springboard to leadership.

Her experience in the nursing profession, she wrote, set her up for compassionate leadership, much like Fernandez-Bravo's did. Fred Hunter, R.N., CEO of Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville, California, echoed that sentiment in an interview with Becker’s Hospital Review. He said that being a nurse encouraged a “process-oriented and outcome driven” leadership style that is effective for establishing a vision for an entire hospital or system.

Hospitals that invest in leadership training for nurses are also seeing benefits to their bottom line. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses found that critical care nurses who participated in a leadership training program returned to their hospitals with new initiatives that could save an estimated $28 million each year and improve patient outcomes.