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Ninfa M. Saunders

President and Chief Executive Officer, Navicent Health, Macon, Georgia

By Laura Raines

nancy agee   marilyn margolis   roy simpson   ninfa saunders

Nancy H. Agee


Marilyn Margolis


Roy Simpson


Ninfa M. Saunders


ninfa saunders

For Ninfa Saunders (right), leadership involves balancing core competencies with strong values and work ethics. "It's a confluence of feeling with your heart and thinking with your head," she says. Photography by Jason Vorhees/The Telegraph

Ninfa M. Saunders DHA 84MBA MSN FACHE holds degrees and certifications from five states and three countries. "I come from an over-achieving family," says Saunders, who was one of the first nurses accepted into Emory's MBA program and has Six Sigma Black Belt certification and a doctorate in health administration. "But knowledge isn't degrees. It's what you do with them and how you integrate what you learn. Application is everything." 

Growing up in the Philippines, Saunders was inspired by the sight of nurses in starched uniforms walking to the hospital. She knew they would serve others all day and then walk back. "It was a compelling image," she recalls.

She earned her BSN from Concordia College in Manila and began her career in critical care in Meridian, Mississippi. Within a year, she became night supervisor and later worked her way into executive leadership roles at Emory University Hospital and DeKalb Medical Center in Atlanta before becoming president and COO of Virtua Health in New Jersey. In 2012, Saunders returned to Georgia to take the helm at Navicent Health, an 830-bed system with multiple facilities and 5,800-plus employees in Macon.

"When you're a woman, you have to go where the opportunities are and diversify your strengths and prove yourself," she says. "Since caring for patients is the core business of health care, nurses are uniquely qualified to lead." 

Leadership, she believes, involves balancing core competencies with strong values and work ethics. "It's a confluence of feeling with your heart and thinking with your head."

Both were intregral to co-founding Stratus Healthcare, a nonequity partnership of urban and rural hospitals in central and south Georgia in 2013. The hospitals remain independent while pooling resources and services to improve health care in the region.  

At Navicent Health, she focuses on strategy, operations, and talent development. Managing, coaching, and mentoring a diverse group of employees is a top priority. 

 "I believe in inclusivity and lifelong learning," she says. "Our Center for Innovation, which includes Six Sigma and MBA talent, encourages people to apply their knowledge to research and projects that will raise the bar of our organization."

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