Distinguished Alumni Award Winner: Kathy Miles Donovan

Sep. 19, 2023 By: khadijahhenderson

<span>Distinguished Alumni Award Winner: Kathy Miles Donovan</span>

Kathy Miles Donovan, MSN, BSN, RN, NE-BC

Barnes-Jewish College Goldfarb School of Nursing, Class of 2013

Kathy Miles Donovan, MSN, BSN, RN, NE-BC, never imagined doing anything but nursing. But fate stepped in one day an opened the door for a leadership track. Today, this former flight nurse at St. Louis Children's Hospital is the senior vice president and system chief operations officer at Hospital Sisters Health System in Springfield, Illinois.

During nursing school, Kathy did a pediatric clinical rotation through St. Louis Children's. "That was it for me," she says. "I knew I wanted to help kids who didn't have a voice."

Kathy spent the next 25 years of her career there. "It's where I grew up in leadership," she says. "BJC does an incredible job of developing and growing leaders. I would not be where I am today without the foundation BJC gave me."

Kathy's journey toward leadership began when she was on the flight team at St. Louis Children's. "It was an incredible job and I never saw myself doing anything outside clinical nursing. But then I was asked to fill in for a leader who went out on medical leave and she never came back."

She became manager of the Transport Team and began a steady ascent in her career responsibilities.

She chose to pursue a master's degree in nursing through Barnes-Jewish College Goldfarb School of Nursing. Twice a week for nearly four years, she walked to her classes after work. "I chose the College because it was affiliated with St. Louis Children's and BJC and was conveniently located right on campus. They set up wonderful cohorts with my peers and nursing leaders, and I went to class with my best friend. The College made it easy for a working mother to go back to school. And I received an incredible, multifaceted education. It was hard, but never a burden."

Kathy deliberately chose an advanced nursing degree over a business-focused MBA. "I believe it makes me a better leader," she explains. "I understand what nurses do, I speak their language and I can relate to the whole medical team. As nurses, we're more compassionate leaders because it's in us, it's what we do. Having a nursing background centers me on the why—I don't think I can make a wrong decision when we put patients and families first."

As she grew as a leader, Kathy went from director of trauma services at St. Louis Children's to director of patient care services at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital and the newly opened Progress West Hospital.

Her next role was a sobering experience that taught her the value of hospitals to a community. She was chief operating officer at Sunrise Children's Hospital in Las Vegas when the city experienced the largest mass casualty event in U.S history due to a concert shooting.

"Nothing in your career can prepare you for that experience," Kathy says. "As people flooded the hospital, I saw what a hospital means to its community. We are their safe haven and it changed my perspective."

From there, her career continued to skyrocket. She became chief operating officer/chief nursing officer at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, followed by her role as president and chief executive officer for DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. Concurrently, she was named group chief operating officer of the Detroit Market for Tenet Healthcare.

In January 2023, Kathy assumed her current leadership position in Springfield. All 15 system CEOs report to her, along with physicians, IT, supply chain, facilities, food services, security and system service leaders. Ironically, one of the few areas that doesn't report to her is nursing.

Of her many accomplishments, she is most proud of starting a flight program at every children's hospital she has been involved with.

"At St. Louis Children's, we started with nothing and grew the transport program to include a ground ambulance, five flight teams, two helicopters and a plane. Then I took that model everywhere else I went. I had the privilege of building teams of incredible nurses who literally would swoop in and save kids' lives."

The vast opportunities in nursing continue to inspire Kathy. She tells her daughter who is a nurse as well as other young nurses that they can do anything with a nursing degree now. "The opportunities are endless. My nursing degree afforded me this incredible career. I wouldn't change anything— or my school or my degrees. The chance to be a clinical bedside nurse was a big part of my career while I waited to get on the leadership track. In nursing, you can write your own path."


The Distinguished Alumni Award will be given during this year's Homecoming Celebration on Sept. 29.

Nominate a Distinguished Alumni here.