A career as a respiratory therapist appealed to Shelbourn Stevens, RRT, RCP. Helping patients who had trouble breathing due to conditions such as asthma and emphysema allowed him to work with patients of all ages. It also satisfied his need to serve in healthcare. Stevens realized that need when he helped his grandmother care for his grandfather, who was bedridden.
According to Stevens, he didn’t aspire to a leadership role when he started as a respiratory care assistant in 1990 at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., which became part of Novant Health in 1997. He moved into a role as a respiratory therapist in 1992.
Stevens’ colleagues rallied behind him when he wanted the hospital to allow respiratory therapists to fully use their training. At the time, respiratory therapists were allowed by the state to do intubations and insert interior lines, but these procedures were done by physicians at Forsyth Medical Center who initially didn’t want respiratory therapists do this work. Undaunted, he pressed on and, ultimately, physicians supported the change.
This kicked off a theme in Stevens’ career at Novant Health, where he was subsequently asked to head up the cardiopulmonary services department. In that role, he was responsible for budget, personnel, continuous improvement, and the development and implementation of new services within the pulmonary service line. Stevens also led a group across Novant Health that drove significant cost reductions for the health system.
Then, very unexpectedly, he says, an opportunity to serve as director of professional ancillary services, where he oversaw financial planning and strategic growth initiatives, brought him to Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center in 2006. Since 2012, he’s served as president and COO at the 74-bed medical center in Bolivia, N.C.
“Jumping in” to solve problems
Stevens, who earned an MBA in 2001, says he’s good at solving intractable problems and is a good “people person.” But he insists it’s his clinical background that makes him a good healthcare leader.
“I tend to always want to jump in there to understand what’s happening at the bedside. I want to spend time out with the teams, like nurses and lab techs, making observations and asking questions. I want to know how we can improve what we do,” he says.
Jumping in was part of his leadership strategy when the hospital faced Hurricane Florence in September 2018. Some North Carolina cities such as Bolivia endured 23 inches of rain, while a nearby town witnessed 27 inches. Ultimately, Bolivia and the surrounding area experienced seven days of flooding, impassable roads, and power outages.