More than 40 years ago, as I sat at the kitchen table of my family’s home in Ohio, I told my parents that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping people by becoming a nurse.
At that time, there weren’t many men in the nursing field, and without my mother’s believing in me, I might not ever have convinced my father to allow me to live out my dream. That was just the first of many hurdles I would have to traverse in my career. And, during those early days as I began to envision where my nursing career could take me, I never imagined that one day I would become the president of The Johns Hopkins Health System and the executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine, because when I became a nurse, nurses were not allowed to serve in these roles.
As I prepare to serve as the keynote speaker for The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing’s commencement ceremony on May 23, I’m thinking about the rich past of nursing excellence and the incredible future now filled with limitless possibilities.
My own career is a testament to the fact that nursing offers a myriad of opportunities for reinvention. I started at the bedside and found my passion in caring for oncology patients and their loved ones. To advance my education, I received an MSN from Duke University School of Nursing, to become an oncology clinical nurse specialist. My foray into leadership was not something that I chose, but was asked to do by my director of nursing. She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. It’s in those moments that mentors matter as you grow and develop.
From there, my leadership responsibilities evolved. I was a unit manager, an associate operating officer, a senior operating officer, chief operating officer……
Because I began my career at a large academic medical center, I began to appreciate the intersections of the tripartite mission, which focused on patient care, research, and education. And these experiences really began to shape my understanding of the benefits and challenges of working in a large, complex health care organization.
In 2009, I became CEO and president of Duke University Hospital. And then in 2018, I was named into my current role with Johns Hopkins Medicine. What I have realized is that as you advance in your career, your ability to impact others is magnified. In my current role, the work I do will resonate for many generations to come.
Not many careers offer such tremendous opportunities. You might start out in another profession and then decide that you want to become a nurse and care for patients. You might work at the bedside and then take on an administrative position. Nursing allows us to transform our careers while offering plenty of opportunities to grow in the field that we love. So, I encourage each graduate to consider all the possibilities that your education and training open up for you.
Throughout my career, I have transformed a thousand times. But two things always remain the same: my passionate commitment to using my life in service to a greater good and the encouragement of friends and family who have supported me in fulfilling my purpose.
I look forward to serving as your commencement speaker and to joining you to celebrate this important milestone in your nursing careers.
–Kevin Sowers MSN, RN, FAAN, President of Johns Hopkins Health System.