Celebrating MSK’s Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Elizabeth McCormick:  Nursing’s Lasting Legacy

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After 21 years of dedicated service, Elizabeth McCormick, MSN, RN, CENP, Senior Vice President, Chief Nursing Officer, and Enid A. Haupt Chair, Department of Nursing, will retire from Memorial Sloan Kettering at the end of 2021. During her two-decade tenure, Ms. McCormick transformed and ultimately redefined the role of nursing at MSK.

Ms. McCormick joined MSK in 2000 as Chief Nursing Officer after 11 years at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) where she held a series of executive nursing leadership roles, culminating with her promotion to Vice President and Executive Director of the NYP-Allen Hospital. Prior to this, she held roles of increasing responsibility at several hospitals on Long Island, where she was raised and where she earned her BSN and MSN at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

The Path to Magnet® Recognition

Under Ms. McCormick’s leadership, MSK achieved its inaugural Magnet® recognition for excellence in nursing practice in 2016, an honor held by only 8% of hospitals nationwide. She fondly recalls gathering around the phone with her nursing staff by her side waiting for the call. “It was so moving, and I was so overwhelmed with pride at being part of the MSK community and helping to support our mission. That was like nothing I’d ever experienced. After the Magnet Forum (and the call), I walked up and down York Avenue to collect myself. I still had tears in my eyes. I even thought about retiring then because I felt I had reached the pinnacle of my career. How could I ever top that moment?” said Ms. McCormick.

In September 2020, several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. McCormick oversaw MSK’s successful re-designation as a Magnet hospital when MSK earned an impressive 12 “exemplars” — examples of what makes MSK nurses so exceptional — which is five more than the record-breaking seven MSK received as part of the initial designation. “That really showed the great resilience our nurses have, to continue coming to work — despite personal risk — and giving care to our patients and supporting them emotionally in new ways, like when they couldn’t have visitors,” said Ms. McCormick.

The achievement of Magnet recognition is due in no small part to the nursing culture Ms. McCormick created and sustained in which MSK nurses are empowered and engaged and where they thrive professionally and practice optimally. While such recognition could legitimately be considered the capstone of any nursing professional’s career, it is only one in a long list of achievements that have marked Ms. McCormick’s time at MSK.

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A Lasting Legacy

Ms. McCormick’s legacy also includes the adaptation of Relationship-Based Care, the establishment of a shared governance structure, and a commitment to evidence-based practice and nursing research. All of this has contributed greatly to the excellent patient outcomes and strong levels of patient satisfaction that MSK nurses, advanced practice nurses, and non-licensed staff have consistently achieved under her leadership.

“Nursing has an exceptional tradition at MSK and is vital in everything we do for our patients and their families,” said Craig B. Thompson, MD, MSK’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

“At the core, MSK’s nursing care is second to none,” added Ned Groves, Executive Vice President and Hospital Administrator, during a virtual celebration of Ms. McCormick’s contributions and retirement. “Whether it is research, education, or clinical care, MSK Nursing and the teams who engage with Nursing, provide the very best patient care. And this just does not happen. It takes years of dedication and drive to achieve what we have today. In fact, it takes 21 years of dedication.”

Through the recruitment and retention of top talent, the MSK nursing workforce also grew exponentially under Ms. McCormick’s leadership from approximately 1,375 nurses when she started to 4,500 nurses today, as well as 900 non-licensed staff. Ms. McCormick has always promoted a culture of continuous learning that supports nurses as they achieve record-breaking levels of education and encourages the ongoing pursuit of new knowledge and innovation.

Today, approximately 95% of MSK nurses have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and 59% are nationally certified. In addition, 91 MSK nurses are currently pursuing their doctoral degrees in addition to the 64 who are already doctorally-prepared. Ms. McCormick has also strengthened career development pathways and established effective mentoring programs that have enabled MSK nurses to chart their own path – sometimes changing course, but always following their talents and passions, to the ultimate benefit of our patients.

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Sailing into the Future

All of MSK has benefitted tremendously from Ms. McCormick’s philosophy on patient care and expertise throughout her two-decade tenure.

“I have long known how effective a leader Liz is, working with our nurses in the clinical environment,” said Lisa DeAngelis, MD, MSK’s Physician-in-Chief and Chief Medical Officer. “The mark of her leadership is always evident in our nurses’ deep commitment to our patients and their work…Liz has made a lasting impression and she leaves a very durable legacy.”

“At her core, Liz is a patient’s nurse and a staunch, behind-the-scenes advocate who demonstrates resilience each and every day,” shared Kevin Browne, MSK’s Deputy Chief Nursing Officer. “Liz believes in the core mission of MSK and is quite frankly one of the most loyal and dedicated employees I’ve ever met. She lives to tell the nurse’s story, ensuring everyone who will listen and understand the value and return on investment of a registered nurse. Liz shared a belief that a bed is just that – a bed. However, when a nurse is engaged in caring for the person admitted to that bed, the bed, the chair, the operating room table, or the telephone is something more. It is a place where cancer is fought…where a nurse inserts themselves into a patient’s care story and where healing begins.”

At the end of this year, Ms. McCormick plans on relocating to Maine where she already owns and enjoys several acres of woodlands. She has applied for her Maine nursing license but will take some time to enjoy her favorite pastime: sailing. “I used to have dreams of sailing across the ocean in Arion, my 44-foot cutter rig,” she once shared. ”I’m sort of realizing that coastal sailing is the only kind of sailing I’ll ever do.”

The entire MSK community extends their best wishes to Ms. McCormick and her family.

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