In March 2021, Tampa General Hospital announced the appointment of Annmarie Chavarria, DNP, MSN, RN, NEA-BC to the position of Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer. Chavarria comes to Tampa General from Abington Jefferson Health, part of the Thomas Jefferson University system in the greater Philadelphia area, where she served under the same title.
In celebration of Nurses Week 2021, Tampa General Public Relations Specialist, Phil Buck, interviewed Annmarie about nursing now and in the future, as well as her own personal and professional background and the path that led her to Tampa General Hospital.
QUESTION: Start at the beginning, where were you born and raised?
ANNMARIE: I was born in north Philadelphia, which is a poor part of Philadelphia, and I was raised in that same area. I was fortunate that my family really valued education, so the money that we did have went toward sending me to Catholic schools or private schools, even though we didn't have much money for anything else. That's probably how I've been lucky enough to move ahead in life, because of the value my family placed on education, so I'm grateful for that. I was one of three children, so that probably says a lot about my personality too. And once I got married – I got married relatively young, I was 21 years old – we moved to the northeast part of Philadelphia, which is a little bit nicer. Eventually, I became a nurse and that really helped me move ahead in my life and my career. Since then, I've tried to take every step that has been put in front of me as an opportunity. I tried to take advantage of as many opportunities as I could to be successful in my life. Eventually, I arrived where I am today, one step at a time.
QUESTION: Were you drawn to a career in nursing because of the opportunities it presented at the time, or was it more of a passion for caring for people?
ANNMARIE: I did not want to be a nurse, I never wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to go to medical school but I couldn't afford it, my family couldn't afford it, so I ended up taking undergrad courses in subjects like biology and science just to see where I could get with that path. Then, I wound up getting married and having children, so I needed to pick a career. Medicine seemed like it would be too long of a road ahead, so I chose the field of nursing. Honestly, I think I was led down this path for a reason because it has turned out to be the best choice of my life. My personality fits better into the thinking and mindset of a nurse[SL1] , and everything about it has just worked out great for me.
QUESTION: How would you describe your leadership style?
ANNMARIE: Over the years I have described it a million different ways but, at this point, I define my leadership style as adaptive. The last few years have really changed the way I think about being a leader. Health care is changing by the minute, and the pandemic made us change by the second; we must adapt to what we are doing in the moment. I actually have to adapt my leadership style depending on who's standing in front of me, so I have to present and do things in a different way if I'm standing in a boardroom or with executive leaders versus team members or family members. I really must change and adapt pretty frequently. My core values and qualities always remain the same though - I am proud to be serving on the leadership team at Tampa General.
QUESTION: How would you say that your experience as a nurse has informed or helped your leadership style through that adaptability or anything else?
ANNMARIE: I learned about not just being a leader, but about being a human being when you are taking care of other people who are at their most vulnerable point in their life. Usually, when they're in the hospital, they're very vulnerable. It's one of their low points and, for the most part, when you're taking care of people at the bedside the part of you that has compassion and empathy really flourishes and it affects how you think about everything. Then you take that into all situations, even when you're not working on something that is specifically going to affect the patient in the moment. You start to think about how things affect people, and you become people-focused.
QUESTION: We often talk about the first 100 days in terms of politics, but what about you? What do you hope to accomplish in your first 100 days here at Tampa General?
ANNMARIE: My first 100 days has definitely been focused on restabilizing the hospital amid the pandemic, and I think almost every hospital is in the same exact position because I'm still getting text messages every single day from where I've left about the situation that they're in as well. This includes trying to get our staffing built up to help our nurses and our team members who have struggled this year. There is a sense of burn-out that is related to not only what they were going through at work but the stress that was caused for everybody in their personal life. It has been a whirlwind since the minute I got in, which is great, that's what it's supposed to be.
QUESTION: What’s your favorite part about being a nurse?
ANNMARIE: Good question. I guess my favorite part is watching other people grow. When you have been a nurse for a long time, you can see when people hit transition spots. Like, when a novice nurse suddenly becomes an expert and is able to share his/her knowledge with other people. Or, when they first take a leadership role and you see them flip to another level, so they are now watching people grow. Helping to be a part of that and how they learn is probably the best part of being a nurse.
QUESTION: What does it feel like to lead a team of more than 2,000 nurses?
ANNMARIE: I thought about this when I just talked to the new nurses who were starting at the hospital because I tried to introduce them to what they are going to be a part of. We all can make positive impacts on people, and the ripple effect of that is probably getting out to millions of people. Our impact affects not just our patients, but also their families and our community. I tried to do the math, we really can't count the number of people who we're affecting when we improve care or take care of people.
QUESTION: What are some of the qualities of a good nurse?
ANNMARIE: You really cannot be a nurse without empathy and compassion, and the good part is most human beings have empathy and compassion. And research shows that if you do not have it innately, you can actually develop compassion.
QUESTION: What are some of the greatest challenges you see nurses facing right now?
ANNMARIE: Aside from burnout, I think the biggest challenge is going to be the knowledge gap that we're going to have. We already knew, before the pandemic got here, that we were going to have more nurses retiring, but not a nursing shortage. We knew we were going to have plenty of nurses, because there are a number who are in school and graduating and the number of new nurses would far outpace the number of experienced nurses who are now leaving health care. I think that's going to be one of the biggest challenges and it's probably going to be bigger than we anticipated because a lot of people retired early due to the pandemic. Now, we are going to have an even greater knowledge gap, which means nurses being trained may not get the same kind of clinical experience.
QUESTION: What’s your favorite thing about living in Tampa so far?
ANNMARIE: Water everywhere, it’s therapeutic. Even if you're driving somewhere you see calming water, so I love that there's water everywhere.
QUESTION: What are some of the things you like to do when you're not working?
ANNMARIE: We like to kayak, it’s a shame because we have not done it yet since we've been here but moving is challenging, temporary housing and regular housing and shipping stuff. We have always liked kayaking and hiking - I'm getting nervous because it's already really hot here so we’re going to have to find some indoor activities that we like as well.
QUESTION: Who are some of your personal heroes?
ANNMARIE: That's a good question. I have not thought about that for a long time. The first person that came into my mind is my grandmother. She raised me. She worked full time to raise her family, so she was the breadwinner. It was odd for the woman to do that back then, but my mother did that, and now I do that, so she must have been my role model showing me how women can be strong. She told me when she was younger that she always wanted to be a nurse. She worked in health care but not as a nurse, and perhaps in the back of my mind that's how this happened to me. Also, I admire people like Oprah Winfrey; there are people who make connections to large groups of people and try to keep people motivated in a positive way, I look up to people like that.
QUESTION: What's the most exciting thing about working at TGH?
ANNMARIE: The most exciting thing about working at TGH is that the entire leadership team has a similar way of thinking about putting our team members first. You would think every health care team or leadership team would do that, but that is not the case in my experience. There is a mindset among the leadership team about taking care of our team members first, and everything we do takes us down that path. I think the team at TGH knows that their leaders are there to take care of them because people say it out loud, John Couris [TGH President & CEO] actually says it out loud, so people know and are aware of it.