Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College wishes to acknowledge the personal, professional and community contributions of its alumni. The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented in recognition of exemplary dedication to the profession of nursing to individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to nursing education, research and service.
2022 Distinguished Alumni Award
Shirley Bradford Johnson, BSN, MS, MBA, NEA-BC, 1976 Barnes School of Nursing
MBA in Nursing Management and Business
At the tender age of 4, Shirley Johnson was fascinated by pictures in her grandmother's nursing textbook. She imitated the care she saw in the mother-baby pages with her dolls and her love for nursing was born. As a teenager, she devoured the Cherry Ames mystery book series that focused on the "adventures" of a young nurse.
Finally, in 1976, Shirley began her adventures in nursing as a fresh graduate of Barnes School of Nursing. "We were the last two-year diploma class that went to school for 24 months straight," Shirley says. "It was an incredible experience. I was fortunate to have faculty who invested in me and supported me in challenging times."
As a student, she was fascinated with the OR. "Some of the surgeons let me observe heart surgeries after my clinicals as they explained what they were doing—I loved it," she says. "After graduation, I was hired on the post-op surgical floor at the former Barnes Hospital. I could understand what heart patients were going through because I saw the operation they had."
She says her nurse mentors were welcoming but tough, with high expectations. "The senior nurses took me under their wings. It was an awesome experience."
A Mother of Siteman
Shirley was a staff nurse for a year before she was asked to be an assistant clinical nurse manager. Her skills and dedication didn't go unnoticed and she was soon promoted again to head nurse.
Her career blossomed from there. She served as director of medical nursing at Barnes from 1989-1999. She also helped open a new post-op surgical unit, as well as a new floor for plastic and reconstructive surgery. In addition, she helped launch the first hospitalist program in the country. Her role grew in 1993 to include the title of clinical service line director of oncology services.
In 1996, Barnes Hospital merged with the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis to become Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Shirley was chosen to become director of oncology services for the new hospital and merged the cancer programs of each hospital into one. During that time, she also hired the first nurse practitioner at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for the fledgling bone marrow transplant program.
With passion and determination, she implemented one of the first models for oncology care coordination in the country and laid the foundation for the future Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.
"We started to develop a strategic plan for a cancer center, obtained the necessary grants, put the infrastructure in place and recruited staff," Shirley says. "Overall, it was a 12-year process. Within three years of opening, we received comprehensive cancer center designation, which was one of my proudest moments."
Shirley served as executive director of Siteman from its inception in 1999 to 2008.
At the time of Siteman's opening, Shirley had two young daughters. She counts Siteman as her third child. "I'm one of the mothers of Siteman and was proud to shepherd it into reality. Now more than 20 years later, it's like seeing your kids grow up and be successful."
A Coast-to-Coast Cancer Care Influencer
Her expertise and experience caught the eye of other cancer colleagues and in 2008 she was recruited to City of Hope Medical Center in Los Angeles as the senior vice president, chief nurse and patient care services officer.
She spent the next 10 years leading a nursing practice there before being recruited again in 2016—this time to the opposite coast. She started as a chief nursing officer at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, and grew to become the senior vice president and chief clinical operations officer. In that role, she also led the charge as the clinical operation leader for COVID Incident Command Center during the pandemic.
The pandemic experience coincided with a milestone birthday for Shirley so she began to reassess her future. "I thought it would be good to move back to St. Louis to be closer to my parents who live in central Illinois," she says.
In February, she launched her health care consulting company based in St. Louis and works closely with clients around the country.
"I have all this experience in my head so anything I can do to help other organizations stay out of the sand traps or think through a process, I still want to give that," Shirley says.
Throughout her career, Shirley has continued learning and sharing her expertise. In 2019, she received her Advanced Nursing Administration Board Certification from the American Nurse Credentialing Center. She has also been published multiple times and has presented and given poster presentations at numerous professional conferences. In 2021, she received "Most Influential Women in Leadership" recognition from the "Buffalo Business Journal."
Always a Nurse at Heart
Despite all of Shirley's accomplishments, she says she enjoyed bedside nursing the most. "As a nurse, you enter such a sacred, special place with patients. I had a passion for one-on-one patient care. The more challenging the patient, the better. I never thought I would leave bedside nursing. I wasn't searching for leadership positions but it became a natural progression in my career. And I learned leadership is a great opportunity for influence in patient care."
Her career has allowed her to impact her colleagues, too. "It means so much to be recognized by staff members I've worked with over the years," she says. "It was important for me to be a good leader and mentor to them and to be remembered for holding high standards."
Shirley has been impressed to see Goldfarb's growth over the years. "It was so exciting to see the colleges come together to create such an incredible program. Goldfarb is a gift to the St. Louis community."
Receiving the Goldfarb Distinguished Alumni Award was a meaningful milestone for Shirley. "Nursing school was foundational to where I am today," she says. "My rigorous education at Barnes School of Nursing was second to none in how I was prepared. This award represents my collection of nursing experience and I'm honored to influence cancer programs across the country. To receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from this organization is humbling because they made me who I am in my career that's still going after 40 years."
Congratulations, Shirley, on an incredible career!