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University of Colorado College of Nursing

College of Nursing

Meet Sharon Pappas, PhD '07, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN

Chief Nurse Executive, Emory Healthcare

Sharon Pappas
Developing nurse leaders to improve patient outcomes

Like other nurses, Sharon Pappas, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, wanted to have an impact on patient care through nursing practice, and her meteoric career trajectory has demonstrated just thatat a very high level.

As the chief nurse executive for Centura Health, Pappas, who earned her doctorate from the CU College of Nursing in 2007, is responsible for the nursing practice, education, nursing informatics, research strategy and operations for multiple service sites and more than 5,000 RNs. Among her long list of accomplishments is having envisioned and led the development of a strategic nursing plan across 15 hospitals and continuum-of-care services.

When Pappas began nursing practice (in Augusta, Georgia, where she earned a BSN cum laude from the School of Nursing at Medical College of Georgia), she “saw what an impact nurses could have on patient outcomes. So as I advanced, I became more and more interested in the relationship between patient care and the nursing work environment.” Her doctoral dissertation at the College of Nursing was titled "The Effect of Nurse Staffing on Organizational Outcomes."

In 1998, Pappas became chief nursing officer at the more than 300-bed Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver. At Porter, which has received its second Magnet status, Pappas oversaw the operations of the nursing and pharmacy departments, including management of quality and service performance of clinical services, which also comprises leadership coaching and physician relationships and satisfaction. One of her favorite things at Porter was watching new leaders emerge into their own leadership style and success. “Just like the art of nursing, transformational leadership reflects the distinct art of nursing leadership so needed in many health care settings today,” she says.

Before joining Porter, Pappas directed the Cardiovascular Services Department at St. Anthony Hospitals, where she developed a strategic plan for the department and created a collaborative program of care within two facilities that led to a regional heart center.

In October 2013, Pappas’ contributions to nursing at Porter and the Centura Health System were recognized with her induction as a fellow into the prestigious American Academy of Nursing. The academy comprises more than 2,000 nurse leaders in education, management, practice, policy and research, and the fellows represent institutions in all 50 states and 19 countries. “I’m deeply honored to continue to contribute to the profession through the academy,” she says.

A recipient of the 2012 Distinguished Alumni award from the college, Pappas also serves on the board of directors for the American Organization of Nurse Executives, as a faculty member and preceptor at Regis University, and as an assistant professor, adjunct, at the College of Nursing. She served as president of the Colorado Board of Nursing from 2003-2008, and is currently on the board of the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence. In 2009, Pappas earned the Colorado Nightingale Award for Excellence in Human Caring.

Despite the breadth of her executive responsibilities, Pappas made time for visiting the units at Porter, which she did when she started to feel isolated. On one particular visit, Pappas spoke with a nurse on a unit where many patients’ illnesses have radically changed their appearance. “The nurse told me a story of how depressed her patient was and how she spent a large part of her afternoon helping this frightened, newly diagnosed patient with metastatic cancer open up with her fears and be able to gain confidence in the team caring for her,” Pappas recalls. “This took listening, empathy, understanding and an incredible ability to build trust.”

“This is such an exciting time for nursing,” Pappas says. “I revel in the work that lies ahead demonstrating the value of nursing in our reformed health care system.” Much of her future work will include developing nursing leaders through individual relationships and through the cohorts of the Centura Nurse Executive Residency, she says.

Pappas has always believed: “Nurses in the right culture and work environment will do great work. It’s vital that nurses continue to be involved in shaping health care’s future. Leaders who support nurses to provide great care to patients and support consumer health will fill an important role for our country and world.”

Pappas currently serves as the chief nurse executive for Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, Georgia, effective November 14, 2016.