On her first day of work 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.”

A nurse practitioner with an MBA, Fernandez-Bravo worked as an emergency department nurse, eventually becoming an ED director and a chief nursing officer before assuming her CEO role this past September. 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.”

Fernandez-Bravo is not the only nurse with an executive title in the Memorial Healthcare System, a six-hospital public system based in Hollywood, Fla. Three of the six hospitals are led by nurse CEOs. In addition to Fernandez-Bravo, 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, Memorial Healthcare System’s president and CEO, Aurelio Fernandez III, recently redesigned the system’s executive team to include a chief nursing executive, Maggie Hansen, R.N. “I've always advocated for a senior vice president of nursing to create consistency throughout the enterprise and to work closely with our chief medical officer from a quality and safety perspective.”

By coincidence, all four of the executive nurses are also women. While this speaks to the health system’s commitment to diversity, Fernandez-Bravo stresses that all four leaders were chosen for their competency and talent. 

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 health care CEOs as the industry shifts from volume to value, according to Lamont Yoder, R.N., treasurer, 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, Gilbert, Ariz.

While she has only been a hospital CEO for a few months, Fernandez-Bravo has already set a tone for her tenure. “I’m always going to put the patient first because that’s who I am,” she says. “I’m a nurse.”