By Robin Shear
David Zambrana, Ph.D., D.N.P., M.B.A., R.N., , started his career as a staff nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Today, he is executive vice president and chief operating officer for Jackson Health System, one of the nation’s largest public health systems. Recently, over 100 of Zambrana’s peers gathered to celebrate his recognition as the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies 2022 Alumnus of Distinction.
In her opening remarks, the School’s Dean, Cindy L. Munro, called Zambrana “a true leader in nursing and health care,” adding, “I am so proud that you are one of our own, with two doctoral degrees from us.”
Zambrana, who earned doctor of nursing practice and Ph.D. degrees from the School of Nursing and Health Studies, and teaches a health management course there each Fall, exemplifies the potential for nurses to be transformational leaders in their communities.
“As a leader and influencer, I don’t see my role as molding people into what I think they should be, but instead supporting them to mold themselves to the strongest, smartest, and most honest versions of themselves,” said Zambrana.
He described UM as “a challenging crucible that forces students and professors alike to think differently about learning. The School of Nursing and Health Studies in particular approaches the discipline of caregiving through the lens of developing leaders who will transform the lives of others and in so doing transform the world. I am not the same person I was before stepping foot on this campus, and that’s very much the point of this kind of education.”
Nurse anesthesia student Kaylene Baugh introduced Zambrana, who also holds a master’s degree in business administration from another institution, as “a man of service, a man of valor, a leader who has an understanding and appreciation for paying it forward.”
“It is surreal for me to stand as an honoree of this distinction before so many people I so deeply admire, Zambrana responded, going on to thank each of the many colleagues, mentors, educators, and family members who have supported him along his personal and professional journey, including current bosses at Jackson, CEO Carlos Migoya and president Don Steigman, both of whom were in attendance.
“I started at Jackson Memorial Hospital as a staff nurse 32 years ago, and it’s there that I learned the power nurses have to impact the lives of their patients and their families by solely the manner in which they care for them,” said Zambrana. “Returning to Jackson has been full circle for me because it has given me the opportunity to advocate support for our teams in unique and different ways.”
The pandemic only strengthened Zambrana’s commitment to those teams and the communities they serve. He identified being authentic, courageous, and loving as “three ways I choose and strive to be the version of David who’s a mentor and partner to colleagues, a servant leader to institutions, an hombre de bien, as my mother urged me to become.”
The first characteristic, authenticity, builds trust and connection, he explained, “both of which are the basis for successful personal and professional relationships,” while love is “the birthplace of compassion, patience, and tolerance, especially in health care. Our success depends often upon the ability to commit ourselves to someone else’s outcome. That could be a patient’s physical recovery, in some cases their mortality, a subordinate’s expanding capacity, or a peer’s interpersonal growth.”
Of course, concluded Zambrana, “These concepts of leadership are a bell unrung without the disciplined setting and tracking of goals and the accountability to meet them. But these three ideas are for me the forces that make it possible for teams to unite and individuals to be empowered. It’s about expecting the best in people, not by focusing only on the individual’s results and outcomes, but instead seeing each other and recognizing our shared commitment to our mutual success.”
The School of Nursing and Health Studies is proud of Dr. Zambrana’s accomplishments.