Chuck Stokes, right, the School of Nursing's 2021 Alumnus of the Year, calls nursing a
Chuck Stokes, right, the School of Nursing's 2021 Alumnus of the Year, calls nursing a "fabulous career" with "endless" opportunities. (Photo courtesy of Memorial Hermann Health System, Houston, Texas.)
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SON Alum of the Year: Nurses called to meet challenges of tomorrow

Published on Monday, June 7, 2021

By: Annie Oeth, aoeth@umc.edu

Future challenges such as an aging population, chronic diseases and workforce shortages in health care can be met by the nurses of today and tomorrow, said Chuck Stokes, who was honored as Alumnus of the Year by the School of Nursing at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Chuck Stokes

“Nursing is a fabulous career, and the opportunities are endless,” said Stokes, a 1977 graduate of the UMC School of Nursing. “We have our challenges ahead of us, but none of these challenges are insurmountable. You will never lack for a job or an opportunity to work if you’re in nursing.”

Stokes retired as president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, Texas, in December 2019. Joining Memorial Hermann in 2008 as chief operating officer, he was promoted to president and CEO in 2017.

Memorial Hermann is a $5.6 billion system consisting of 16 hospitals and more than 230 ambulatory sites located in the Houston area with a workforce of more than 6,700 physicians, more than 7,600 nurses and 27,000 employees overall.

After graduating from the School of Nursing, Stokes earned a master’s degree in hospital and health care administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1983.

“My career started as an orderly at King’s Daughters Hospital in Yazoo City,” Stokes said of his hometown start into health care. “The doctor who delivered me, Dr. R.J. Moorhead, taught me how to scrub, so I would work in surgery through the morning and as an orderly in the afternoon.”

That surgical experience piqued Stokes’ interest in becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist, “and that was the impetus for going to nursing school at UMMC,” he said. “it’s been a fabulous career that obviously took a detour from being a bedside nurse to running health care organizations, and it all started at UMMC.”

After working as a critical care nurse at UMMC, Stokes became interested in how entire hospital operated, which inspired him to continue his studies and move toward hospital and healthcare administration.

Stokes has remained involved in the School of Nursing. He and his wife Judy donated $25,000 to UMMC to establish the Chuck and Judy Stokes Endowment for High Reliability.

Designed to encourage high reliability in research by graduate students in the School of Nursing, it will be used to establish an award for the benefit of one or more nursing graduate students engaged in high reliability projects.

Dr. Kayla Carr, assistant professor, is the School of Nursing's 2021 Early Career Achievement Award recipient.
Dr. Kayla Carr, assistant professor of nursing, is the School of Nursing's 2021 Early Career Achievement Award recipient.

“Nursing has always served as the patient advocate, and nurses must continue serving as the patient advocates,” Stokes said. “However, becoming a high reliability organization is everybody’s job.”

During virtual award ceremonies in May, Dr. Kayla Carr, assistant professor in the School of Nursing’s Accelerated BSN program and a family nurse practitioner in the school-based clinics, received the Nursing Alumni Early Career Achievement Award. A 2010 graduate of the School of Nursing at UMMC, Carr earned a Ph.D. in 2019.

Portrait of Julie Sanford

School of Nursing Dean Dr. Julie Sanford congratulated Stokes and Carr. “It’s a wonderful honor to recognize you both for your achievements in nursing and influence in health care. Honoring a career dedicated to care and leadership such as Mr. Stokes’ and the early career achievements of Dr. Carr show the variety of ways nursing can have a positive impact on health care and nursing education.”

In the beginning years of her career, Carr was honored with the Early Career Achievement Award, which recognizes young alumni.

A panel discussion among participants followed, taking up issues such as the shortage of nurses and nursing educators and the role of nurses in health care organizations and the surrounding community.

Kayla Carr

“We have to get creative about what the needs are for academic institutions and clinical institutions and work together so we can meet those needs,” Carr said. “I also love the idea of being creative with the idea of what nursing is."

Carr advised fellow nurses and nursing students to keep moving forward in the search for solutions to health care challenges.

“When I look back, I see opportunities that came my way that were challenging and imperfect, and I didn’t know what the end would look like. It was a very big risk, but I just kept going forward,” she said. “On the other side of those things, you either accomplish something wonderful for your patients or the profession, or you’ve learned a lot. You really can’t lose if you just keep going forward and try.”

Stokes agreed, noting the need for resilience and self-care among nurses so they can provide the care patients need.

“Do the right thing, for the patient and keep them at the center your universe,” Stokes said. “Keeping the patient at the center of what we do has earned nursing one of the most revered professions in our country for decades.”