By Stephanie Shapiro
Photo by Chris Hartlove
Deborah Baker makes good on her Hopkins education and a pledge to improve care and safety
The new senior vice president for nursing for the Johns Hopkins Health System doesn’t have to make herself at home.
Deborah Baker, DNP, CRNP, is home.
After Baker earned her bachelor’s degree in 1992 at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, she saw no need to go elsewhere
for her master’s and doctoral degrees. “I knew I wanted to continue my education and loved the environment of learning here,” Baker says. “Nursing has a voice at Johns Hopkins. As a student, I was encouraged to ask ‘Why?’ And as the gatekeeper at every juncture of patient care, nurses have to ask ‘Why?’ ”
In the newly created position, Baker is forging a centralized nursing structure that will integrate services throughout Johns Hopkins Medicine while tapping the strengths of the system’s community hospitals and the academic campus.
“We will be able to share best practices, such as a fall assessment tool, across the system and at the same time acknowledge necessary differences in practice,” Baker explains. “As we come together, we will be able to define what it means to be a ‘Hopkins Nurse.’ ”
Well before the tenets of “patient-centered care” began to transform health care, Baker embraced the concept. Initially, she planned to become a psychiatric nurse, but a clinical rotation in the post-operative unit at the Johns Hopkins Hospital changed everything. “I fell in love with the whole idea of surgery and patients getting better rapidly,” says Baker, also serving as interim vice president for nursing and patient care services for the hospital.
Over nearly 24 years at the hospital, Baker has held positions including acute care nurse practitioner, director of nursing for the department of surgery, and co-director of the postgraduate surgical physician assistant residency program. As she rose through the ranks,
“As we come together, we will be able to define what it means to be a ‘Hopkins Nurse.'”
— Deborah Baker, DNP, CRNP
Baker never lost her frontline state of mind. “You cannot help patients and their families if they don’t trust you,” she says. “From a leadership point of view, that’s no different.”
Baker has made it a point to “hone her relationships with all the other professionals—the physicians, the physician assistants, the pharmacists, the therapists—who form the team,” says Karen Haller, PhD, RN, her predecessor as vice president of nursing and patient care services. As a result, “She is recognized beyond nursing as a team player and role model,” says Haller, now vice president for nursing and clinical affairs at Johns Hopkins Medicine International.
As she unifies best nursing practices across the health system, foremost in Baker’s mind is a recent BMJ report that found medical errors to be the third leading cause of death in the United States. Nurses must play a role in reducing errors, she says. “What are we doing about it? There needs to be some kind of response for our patients and families. That’s what I want to articulate. Nursing has a leadership role in ensuring safe care and improving the patient experience.”
Baker plans to work closely with School of Nursing Dean Patricia Davidson, PhD, MEd, RN, FAAN, to accelerate the development of nurse leaders who will help to eliminate all of those “never” events. “Pressure ulcers, falls, central line infections, catheter associated urinary tract infections; those are the things nurses can really lead the team in preventing,” Baker says.
Outside of work, Baker keeps just as busy. She and husband Ron de Guzman have three children and live in Baltimore County. Daughter Roxanne, 21, studies social work and pre-law at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Peter, 19, will be a junior at Tufts University, where he majors in Mandarin Chinese. Elizabeth, 14, is an eighth-grader and a member of her mother’s Girl Scout troop.