View from the C-Suite: High School Dropout to Chief Nursing Officer

May 6, 2024
a headshot of John Voight with the text View from the C-Suite

The opportunities and impact of incremental learning in nursing according to CNO John Voight.

John Voight dropped out of high school at 16. Today he’s chief nursing officer at Woodlands Medical Center, a 500-bed, Level II Trauma Center in north Houston.

He got there one step at a time on a winding path: earning a GED, serving in the Army, working as a police officer.

Then, on Christmas eve, his sister died in a car accident.

That led to soul searching and a desire to do more. He looked for a new career he could enter quickly and with more opportunities. Though his academic past was less than perfect, he applied to nursing school and did well enough on the entrance exam to gain admission. With $10,000 from his sister’s life insurance, he earned an associate degree, became a registered nurse, and loved it.

Still he thought, “I’m never going back to school.”

He worked in infectious diseases, then emergency medicine, and soon he was managing two emergency departments.

“I remember my first day as a manager. I was told that capital budgets were due, so I’m thinking to myself, 'what’s a capital budget?'” he recalls. “I went to the hospital library that afternoon, checked out a nursing administration handbook and came back the next day with placeholders for that budget.”

More questions followed: How do you staff a department, manage people, manage projects, manage change? “It’s a very difficult job to learn on the fly,” he says.

That experience led him to Walden University and a Master of Science in Nursing.  

Walden is the No. 1 conferrer of nursing master’s degrees in the U.S.

a headshot of John Voight
Walden’s program was very illuminating to me. I remember thinking to myself, I wish I would have known this before I became a manager or director, because I learned so much about real-life situations that I was dealing with every day.

His next goal is to complete a Doctor of Nursing Practice at Walden.

“You can achieve great things once you take the first step. I didn’t have any expectation that I would get into nursing school let alone graduate and be successful. I’m a guy who dropped out of high school and followed an incremental lifelong learning pathway.”

Here, he shares his perspective on the opportunities to learn and grow in nursing.  

Learning and Career Growth Go Together  

Nursing is a profession that allows for incremental growth and learning. The profession gives nurses opportunities to start practicing with an associate or bachelor’s degree. You can grow a little bit more and decide if you want to go into education, leadership, or become an advanced practice clinician.

You can benefit from whichever nursing pathway you choose. It’s a challenging program and profession, but don’t be nervous or fearful of going back to school once you’re out. I just had this discussion with my leaders about encouraging continuing education and realizing their success is your success, and the higher level of education, the better leaders they become.

Educating Men About Nursing Careers

Only 12.6% of US registered nurses were male in 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What I tell young men in high schools is that everybody who works in a hospital has to care. This job is too hard to not have something that fills your bucket. But nursing is not just a caring profession. Nursing is a very technical job now, especially in the ICU and surgical settings.

Also, in nursing, it’s up to you to decide how far you want to go in your career. You can chart your own course. If you want to become a nurse practitioner, you can be an autonomous, independent clinician providing care for any population that you choose in certain states.

Research as a Step Toward Continuing Nursing Education

All my nursing units are required to do a research project this year. We have an obligation to our profession. It’s not just coming in and doing your three 12-hour shifts and going home. Research is a way to be seen as equals to physicians and other healthcare professionals. It is also a way to take a first step toward academic success.

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