On her first day of work in September at Florida’s Memorial Hospital Miramar, Grisel Fernandez-Bravo, R.N., was given a hospital ID badge displaying her new title: chief executive officer. But Fernandez-Bravo felt that something was missing. So she attached a badge buddy that says “Nurse.”

“Someone came up to me and said, ‘You’re CEO now. You have to take that badge buddy off,’ she says. “But I won’t take it off. I’ll always be a nurse first.”

Fernandez-Bravo previously worked as an emergency department nurse, eventually becoming an ED director and a chief nursing officer. She believes her nursing and operational experience make her uniquely suited for the position. “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. As a nurse, I know what it takes to care for patients and how to balance the operations that support patient care.”

Three of Memorial Healthcare System’s six hospitals are led by nurse CEOs. Leah Carpenter, R.N., is CEO of Memorial Hospital West, and Chantal Leconte, R.N., is CEO of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. In addition, system President and CEO Aurelio Fernandez III recently redesigned the executive team to include a chief nursing executive, Maggie Hansen, R.N.

Having four nurses at the executive table will be key to achieving Memorial Healthcare’s goal to become the country’s safest health care system. “What better way to enhance patient safety and clinical effectiveness than to have nurse clinicians bridging communication between the medical staff and the patient?” Fernandez-Bravo says. 

Different competencies are needed for CEOs as health care shifts from volume to value, says Lamont Yoder, R.N., treasurer of the American Organization of Nurse Executives. “Having nursing acumen and leadership experience at coordinating multidisciplinary teams and care models positions RN CEOs well to lead the value-based and population health models required for the future success of integrated delivery systems,” says Yoder, who is also CEO of Banner Gateway Medical Center and Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert, Ariz.