“If I could give you information of my life it would be to show how a woman of very ordinary ability has been led by God in strange and unaccustomed paths to do in His service what He has done in her. And if I could tell you all, you would see how God has done all, and I nothing. I have worked hard, very hard, that is all; and I have never refused God anything.” – Florence Nightingale
Story by KATIE
There are careers, and there are callings. For most nurses, they are one and the same. Florence Nightingale felt that God led her into nursing to do His service, and Pooler resident Fran Baker Witt has also heard the call.
When she was younger, Witt looked forward to watching the TV sitcom Julia, in which Diahann Carroll stars as a nurse. It was one of the first sitcoms in the sixties and seventies to depict an African American woman in a prominent profession. “I looked forward to watching that show and I greatly admired the role of a nurse,” she recalls.
Now Witt herself is worthy of such admiration, for she has not only achieved her goal of becoming a nurse, but she has recently attained the highest position possible at a local hospital. She is the CEO of Effingham Hospital, and she couldn’t be more enthusiastic about her new role.
Nursing is certainly not for the weak. Witt has directed hospital operations and has a proven track record of success as a leader. She is certainly a leader that inspires, empowers and possesses the skills to lead a TEAM.
“My professional journey starts with me being an RN first,” Witt explains. “I always liked helping people.” She received her BSN from Loyola University Chicago and then began nursing at Mercy Hospital, where she specialized in women’s services and neonatal care.
For Witt, it wasn’t enough to take care of her patients at the bedside. She wanted to impact the entire healthcare process. So, after nursing for two years, she decided to go back to school to earn her Master of Business Administration degree.
“While I was pursuing my MBA, I accepted my first nursing leadership healthcare management position as a director of nursing for a long-term care facility,” she recalls. “So from 1988 to now I’ve been in healthcare management and leadership roles.”
“When I ventured here in January, I was the Chief Transformation Officer for the hospital, so I was the change agent,” says Witt. “I never imagined I would assume the CEO role.”
“I almost fell out of the chair,” she laughs when asked about her initial reaction. But her shock quickly turned into enthusiasm. She is finally where she belongs in healthcare–at the helm.
To say she is a busy lady would be an
understatement. She constantly has a finger on the pulse of hospital operations. “I am sending emails at 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning,” she says. “I don’t want to lose touch, one of the things I pride myself on is follow up, and it’s my desire to follow up on all emails within 24 hours. I want people to know that I am accessible and committed to responding to them timely.”
Her availability to her staff and colleagues is extremely important to her. “About 70 percent of the job is relationship building,” she says. “Innovation is driven by the ability to pull a team together and build the team. “Having an engaged workforce encourages innovation and transformation.” Witt understands that exceptional patient care starts with the right team of healthcare providers.
“I believe a really good leader knows how to assess the needs of her team and provide her team with the resources required to provide quality care,” she says when asked about her management style. “I tell my team all the time that skill set is one thing, but attitude is 80 percent of the job.” She considers herself to have a servant and transformational leadership style. Since her arrival at Effingham, Witt’s motto is Be The Change…Lead The Change…See The Change.
This did not all come easily for Witt. She had many obstacles to overcome. On a personal note, she was a single mom for a number of years and balancing soccer practice, football practices and work was truly a juggling act. Witt adds, “I manage adversity through prayer and tranquility. I trust my intuition and spirit to guide me. I find this to be very successful because it develops patience and spiritual maturity.”
Witt’s positive attitude and work ethic has definitely helped get her where she is today. Her laughter is contagious, but make no mistake, she is tough when she has to be.
“I think that women, by nature, are emotional creatures,” she says. “Being in a CEO role, you must exercise discretion and have an acute awareness of emotional intelligence. You can’t react to every situation. You must gather the facts and do your due diligence, I have realized there are many agendas and one must focus on the big picture.”
And Witt has spent the majority of her career getting the facts on health care. She continues to educate herself in order to stay up-to-date with current clinical practices and procedures. Even now, as a CEO, she is busy working on her newest degree: a Doctorate of Nursing Practice.
“The DNP program develops you as a DNP leader to identify opportunities to improve nursing practice through research design, interprofessional collaboration and best practice implementation” explains Witt. “When a patient is admitted or has an encounter in our health system, we want to make sure that person receives the best practice standard of care, in the industry as it relates to their disease management”.
Nursing is exceptional because it’s a profession that promotes healing and restoration. “This is achieved on many levels, physical which is the most obvious but as nurses our scope of care is environmental, emotional, spiritual and intentional. Advancing the nursing practice requires more collaboration, innovation, communication and implementation of evidenced based practices,” states Witt.
Putting others first is her top priority. When she’s not busy earning advanced degrees and managing a hospital, she likes to support local charities. “One of my favorite charities is March of Dimes,” she says. “Helping preterm babies and the support they provide the families is just phenomenal. It is a great charity.”
She is also a big supporter of The United Way. In addition to her supporting local charities, her faith is a big part of her life. In fact, God is the center of her life. “My faith in God has always been my strength,” she says.
The support of her family has also been invaluable to her over the years. Her husband, Daryl, and son, Robert, and daughter Angelique, continue to be her biggest cheerleaders, and the feeling is mutual. “I’m very proud of my kids and husband, having a solid support system is critical” she says.
Her parents never went to college, so her family is extremely proud of how successful she has become. “They’re proud of my dedication and desire to continue to grow in my professional success,” she says.
Witt wants to help others succeed in their professional development as well. She recently became a mentor to an aspiring nurse, Jurnee Levett. She looks forward to encouraging and advising Levett to become the best nurse she can be.
Witt would not be where she is today without mentors of her own. Denise Williams, Dr. Kelvin Holloway and Gaynell Miller were three colleagues who encouraged her to be a successful leader, from whom she learned a great deal. She worked with them at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, and is grateful to them for helping her become the nurse and leader that she is today.
In fact, she says it is crucial to seek guidance from other successful leaders in business. “I recommend every leader to identify a leader that you consider successful, respectful and more importantly one that you admire, and engage in professional affiliations to provide you with the knowledge and tools you need for success,” Witt advises.
Witt plans to enjoy herself and the city of Pooler. She just moved to Savannah Quarters, and she loves the opportunity to access shopping. “I have received a warm welcome from the community,” Witt says. “The people are so nice and there’s so much to do. I’m looking forward to venturing out more and becoming more involved.”
Her ultimate goal is to make a lasting impact in healthcare as a CEO and then she’d like to teach nursing online. Even after retirement, she just cannot part ways with nursing. It’s in her blood.
Fran Baker Witt was born to be a nurse. She has made a life of helping others and impacting patient care. And with tireless dedication like hers, she will continue to do so as long as she lives.
“I believe GOD called me because he sees my heart, motivation, integrity and my desire for excellence for ALL mankind,” she concludes.