Alumna Amplifies the Voice of Nurses

Melissa Cheeks entered the nursing workforce 22 years ago with the goal of working in the medical device and diagnostic industry. The northern Kentucky native earned her nursing diploma from The Christ Hospital School of Nursing in 1997, and spent two years working as a bedside nurse in the hospital’s surgical intensive care unit. Although she enjoyed caring for patients, Cheeks knew she wanted to transition to industry to “do things for nursing on a national and even global scale.”

Realizing that in order to advance her career, she needed to further her nursing education, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from UC in 2002. By then, she had already moved on from direct patient care and entered the corporate world. “If I wanted to really integrate myself more fully into all areas of industry, I needed to have the degree that I could leverage,” Cheeks says.

“[At UC], I was able to further develop my critical thinking skills, engage my innovative spirit and refine my practice of leveraging my clinical experience and marketing understanding to more effectively provide and protect the voice of nursing and impact the lives of patients on a larger scale.”

Cheeks spent a decade in leadership roles at Johnson & Johnson (J & J). She started in 1999 in an entry-level call center role in which she leveraged her clinical experience to answer questions about the company’s product line. Cheeks says this role served as a springboard that later allowed her to work on special projects for J & J and, eventually, in management roles for the company’s professional education, marketing and clinical sales teams. Her proudest achievements at J & J include serving on teams that helped develop and deliver the company’s first direct distribution e-commerce platform; create the company’s first professional education course for C-suite executives; and advise and shape the company’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future, a multimillion-dollar, consumer-facing advocacy campaign launched in 2002 that partnered with like-minded organizations to improve public perceptions of the nursing profession and inspire more people to enter and remain in nursing.

“There’s a lot of innovation that resides within nurses. They’re at the bedside; they problem solve; they’re good critical thinkers; and they come up with new product ideas and models of care.”

—Melissa Cheeks, BSN ’02

The campaign, which made a significant impact on the nursing profession, was especially memorable for Cheeks, who served as one of two nurses on the team. It was so successful it transitioned in 2018 into an ongoing strategy called Johnson & Johnson Nursing to enable and elevate the visibility and impact of nurse-led innovation in health care. Further proving the campaign’s success is the fact that 46,000 BSN degrees were awarded in 2016—four times the number of BSN degrees awarded when the campaign launched in 2002. Cheeks, who holds three Johnson & Johnson Standards of Leadership awards and later worked with Roche Diagnostics, says her education at UC helped prepare her for success in the medical device and diagnostic industry.

Today, Cheeks continues to serve as a voice for nurses in industry as an independent consultant for the medical device and diagnostic sector. She works with a range of clients, from small start-ups to large multinational companies (including J & J), and especially enjoys nurse-led innovation projects.

“There’s a lot of innovation that resides within nurses. They’re at the bedside; they problem solve; they’re good critical thinkers; and they come up with new product ideas and models of care,” she says. “A lot of times, nurses don’t see themselves as innovators or they don’t see their idea as having wide-scale impact, so they don’t really know what to do with it.”

While she enjoys consulting for now, Cheeks says she does “very well with change” and “likes managing a full plate.” In September 2015, she earned her MSN in health care leadership from Duke University and, next August, she will earn a DNP in executive leadership, as well as a post-graduate certificate in nursing education from Duke.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been at the bedside. I want to be positioned as best I can to bring value to the nurses that are still there, particularly those who have moved into executive roles,” Cheeks says. “I really want to understand the challenges they face in today’s rapidly changing health care environment.”

As part of her DNP, which focuses on nurse fatigue risk mitigation strategies, Cheeks is interning with Johnson & Johnson Nursing to provide a nurse’s perspective as they continue to roll out their strategy to enable and elevate nurse-led innovation.

Eventually, Cheeks would like to transition to teaching, but she says that’s a ways away.

“I still see that I can bring continued value to nurses if I stay on the industry side—whether that’s staying in a consulting role or going back full time to a company, I’m open to both.” Regardless of the setting, Cheeks is determined to continue improving the lives of nurses everywhere.

By: Katie Coburn

Topics: magazine, alumni spotlight

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