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DCH's First Black Female Chief Nursing Officer Reflects on Serving as a Role Model for All Nurses

While closing out Black History Month and looking toward Women’s History Month, we express our appreciation for health care providers in these groups who sacrifice of themselves to care for us when we are at our most vulnerable. We’d also like to recognize someone who is a bridge between both of these honored groups – our Chief Nursing Officer Dawn Alexander.

Alexander is DCH’s first black female executive. When she joined DCH in 2022, she brought with her more than 30 years of progressive leadership experience in nursing.

She acknowledges she has been fortunate to grow in her career in part because of those who looked beyond color and focused on her ability to do the job.

“I have been blessed with growth and development opportunities by leaders who saw past my color and recruited me for my experience, skills and talents. My job beyond that was validating the importance, significance and value add of their decision.”

Alexander has worked across the country in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Washington and Michigan. She has a proven track record of customer satisfaction, employee engagement, project management and organizational program development. She is featured in an upcoming issue of Healthcare Business Review where she shares her thoughts about her role as a CNO in health care today.

Alexander is aware of the responsibility she has as a role model not only to nurses of her race, but nurses of any ethnicity who work under her leadership.

“When I began my career in 1987, I was often the only black nurse on an entire hospital floor with multiple units. Years later, when I transitioned to leadership, the same was true,” she said. “I have always felt an incredible responsibility to represent nursing at the highest level of professionalism, and to serve as a role model for all nurses. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t also share that I feel an incredible sense of accountability for current/future leaders, nurses and students who look like me.”

In 2023, Alexander was awarded the Janet Awtrey Award from The University of Alabama – Capstone College of Nursing. The award is given “in recognition of nurse leaders in clinical practice who exemplify stellar professionalism and leadership in the nursing profession.”

She recognizes that in her leadership role, it is important to be aware that people see each other through a lot of different lenses.

“My role as CNO is and will always be universal. I see people and love meeting them where they are for mentoring, development or just engagement. While I don’t see color, I am always cognizant of personally being viewed and received through perhaps a sharper lens than others. I have learned to respect that lens and push beyond it to demonstrate my quality and value as an exceptional leader.”

Alexander has seen a lot of progress throughout her career, and she’s optimistic about the future.

“While I wish that 35 years later, there was more black representation in nursing leadership and C-suites across the country, I am proud of those leaders who I have inspired, and remain optimistic that with time, there will be others that follow after me.”