Leading for Better Care



As a director of nursing for two Sanford surgical units, Kellee Johnk knows that all she does everyday comes down to one simple goal.

“Every patient should always receive excellent care,” says this nursing administrator, who oversees the orthopedics and surgical units at two Fargo locations. “As a leader I have an opportunity to influence, inspire and mentor others, keeping in mind that the patient is the core of everything we do.”

A career of care

Kellee began her career in 1980 and has worked throughout the Sanford system in areas as different as Neurosurgery Intermediate Intensive Care, maternal child neurosurgery resource team, Operating Room-Same Day Surgery and Education. As a young woman interested in science, she loved learning more about the human body while caring for people in times of need.

The profession of nursing took her in directions she never anticipated.

“It’s been a career where the opportunities have grown with me as I’ve grown professionally,” Kellee said. “My job is a challenging role, but very exciting. Nothing is ever the same.”

Over the years she was fortunate to serve under nursing leaders who inspired her to try different things and move into leadership herself, she says. While on the job she earned both her bachelor of science in nursing and her masters’ degree, eventually moving into moving into nursing administration in the Office of Nursing.

“You take the things you admire about them and incorporate those things yourself,” she said. “I try to take the opportunity to inspire and mentor others to do the best job they can do.”

A new responsibility

Since March of 2011, Kellee has had an opportunity to combine administrative work with direct patient care. She supervises two nursing staffs while still having a chance to interact with patients, making rounds to talk with patients about their care on a daily basis.

Much of her job involves communication, making sure both nurses and patients feel their ideas and concerns are being heard and addressed. She tries to balance the everyday responsibilities with a global view, making sure patient care stays first.

Nursing is often about building relationships – with other nurses, with patients and other professional colleagues, Kellee says. They have a chance to lead by example, being real catalysts for change, directly improving and influencing how patients are cared for.

“We’re always listening, searching and expecting that there may be another way to do things,” she said. “Good nursing leaders have the vision and ability to be grounded in what is, while creating what can be.”

Serving needs of patients

Kellee says she encourages young nurses to keep open to the opportunities in front of them. Learning more gives them a chance to have a positive influence on the quality of care they can provide to all patients.

“Nursing is the heart and soul of everything we do at Sanford,” Kellee said. “It’s our job to be the patient’s advocate, to take on the human aspect of care for the patient. It’s really all about them.”

What makes the job most fulfilling is having the chance and the privilege to serve people in their times of need, the nursing leader says. Throughout a time where many things about health care are in constant change, the call to nurses will always stay the same, she said.

“We’re able to be a part of a patient’s life at some great points of joy and some great points of sadness and it’s a privilege,” Kellee says. “It’s a great career and an opportunity and profession that I wouldn’t change.”

Posted Date: February 2012

Leading for Better Care

Nursing leader Kellee Johnk oversees patient care at two Sanford surgical units. Find out why she is called to mentor nurses and improve everyday life for the patients they serve.