Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Winnie Fritz was a farmhand at 6, a Army nurse unit commanding officer in Vietnam in 1970 at 22, a nurse to presidents and kings at Walter Reed at 23, a pilot, and the clinical operating officer of an international health system at 31.

At age 4, she was in the fields, steering a John Deere tractor from her father’s lap. At 5, she learned how to brake. By 6, she knew how to shift. “Now that you can drive your own tractor,” her father said, “I can plow, and you can come behind me and help.”

She knew her parents would be hard put to provide money for both tuition and a new combine, so the she enrolled in the U.S. Army Student Nurse Program at the University of Missouri trading a 3 year hitch in the army in return for financial assistance for the final two years of school.

In university Fritz played the clarinet in the marching band and rode motorcycles across the Missouri countryside.

Fritz completed her coursework a semester early. After basic at Fort Sam Houston in Texas and medical training Fort Rucker in Alabama, Fritz received her orders to deploy to Vietnam in August 1969.

Fritz’s father was nervous. “He was worried I’d come home swearing like a sailor,” Fritz recalls. “I laughed and said, ‘Daddy, I’m not going into the Navy. I’m going into the Army. I’m going to come home swearing like a soldier.’ ”

On the flight to Vietnam she was the oldest person on the plane, the highest-ranking officer (capt) and the only woman.

Fritz spent the next year surviving, saving lives and witnessing the loss of lives. Everything you saw the nurses cope with on the TV show MASH

Toward the end of her tour, Fritz was injured and left Vietnam on a stretcher. While her physical injuries were healing at Water Reed and she was able to work again, Fritz requested a night shift in the intensive care unit at Water Reed.

Fritz received a Bronze Star for her work in Vietnam and was promoted to manager of the presidential suite at Walter Reed, where congress, Presidents, and visiting dignitaries are medically cared for.

By the time the king of Jordan came into her care, she had learned from enough presidents, generals and senators to deal with any level of rank or social prominence, and during Hussein’s weeklong hospital stay, the two bonded over aviation (Hussein, like Fritz, was a trained pilot) and motorcycles (Hussein collected them).

Hussein observed that Fritz was not only a competent nurse leader but also a critical thinker. “The health care system in Jordan does not provide care like the care you gave me,” he told her. “I want you to come and make it work like that.”

Fritz arrived in Jordan in 1978 confident she could make it on her own. Hussein wanted her to immediately begin her work in the Jordan health care system by starting work within the hospitals.

But Fritz 1st chose understand the health needs of the Jordanian population, which included about 65,000 Bedouins moving about the desert with their tents and livestock, then overhaul the schools that trained the nurses and doctors.

She launched her research, traveling throughout Jordan’s desert to complete a health assessment of the Bedouin families, then focused on curriculum development in the nursing schools. She worked to transform the students from nurses with technical skills to health care providers with critical-thinking skills

Fritz then focused on a comprehensive assessment of each hospital with a bird’s-eye view of the situation. She requested a helicopter, a structural engineer, and a hospital administrator to evaluate the perimeter fencing, the emergency entrance and parking, the water tanks and the roof. She flushed every toilet, cooked in every kitchen and washed a load of linens in every laundry room.

Fritz served three years as the dean of a Jordanian nursing school before she accepted Hussein’s offer to become one of two clinical operations officers of the 28-hospital system. She spent nearly 17 years working in Jordan, leading strategic planning and operations in the hospital system, designing and managing facilities construction and renovations, spearheading clinical quality-improvement work, and writing national legislation.

In 1989, Fritz moved back to the U.S. to be closer to her aging parents, and has devoted herself to improving not only U.S. health care systems, serving as CEO, chief clinical officer or chief nurse in five U.S. hospitals, but also consulting to international hospitals and care providers in India, the Philippines, and throughout the Middle East.

In Tucson, where she was CEO of two hospitals, she noticed numerous readmissions of homeless  Vietnam vets, and decided to take the health care to the veterans. She purchased an RV, outfitted it with everything needed to provide quality health care, and staffed it with a nurse practitioner and a patient care tech who started making routine rounds to the homeless.

More important than the health care Fritz provided was the emotional support she extended to the veterans. After returning from Vietnam, Fritz could have easily turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with her PTSD. She could have been a homeless veteran living under a bridge.


During her tenure as a U.S. Army Nurse, Ms. Fritz held leadership positions in Thailand, and Vietnam where her commendations include the Bronze Star, and earned her pilot's wings. She has taught at Georgetown University, University of Maryland, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and University of Missouri – which honored her with an Alumna of the Year Award and its Lifetime Citation of Merit Award.

and a year ago she was the featured presenter at NCU Nursing Symposium 2017


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