David Zambrana

SONHS celebrates alumnus David Zambrana, Jackson COO and a true leader in nursing and health care

Wearing his white coat and personal protective equipment, David Zambrana, D.N.P. ’09, Ph.D. ’17, rounded the COVID-19 units of Jackson Memorial Hospital during the height of the pandemic, connecting with patients and providers one by one. Peering above their masked faces, he’d make sure to look them in the eye before asking “Are you OK?”

The executive vice president of hospital operations for Jackson Health System says it’s important to lead with his heart, and not just in times of crisis. “We as leaders need to be present so frontline staff know we’re here for them,” he says.

Zambrana is devoted to team-based health care and transformative leadership. Starting out over 30 years ago as a bedside nurse for pediatric and trauma patients in the same system he now helps run, Zambrana went on to earn an M.B.A. He also received two nursing doctorates from the School of Nursing and Health Studies, where he co-teaches nurse leaders in the D.N.P. program’s Health Management course.

“I’m a nurse by training and very proud of that. When anyone asks ‘what do you do?’ I always say ‘I’m a nurse’ first,” says Zambrana, who was celebrated as the 2022 Alumnus of Distinction for the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

From the very start of COVID-19, Zambrana worked with each team at Jackson’s six hospitals to keep pace with the pandemic, from acquiring PPE and staying current with therapeutics to creating negative pressure environments and in-house testing operations. A whole new system of care and resources had to be developed seemingly overnight for Jackson’s 2,000-plus-bed enterprise.

“We saw unprecedented change, and what we accomplished was nothing short of miraculous,” acknowledges Zambrana.

Zambrana, the son a preacher and Cuban immigrants, does not use the word “miraculous” lightly. He points out that Jackson’s triumphs through three virus surges did not come without a toll. “So often our nurses were the ones at the patient’s bedside, holding their hands, not allowing them to die alone,” he says. “The resilience of our teams has renewed my belief in why we care for our community and why we are in health care.”

Further renewing Zambrana’s hope was Jackson’s successful COVID-19 vaccination program, with up to 4,000 vaccines delivered daily at three sites at the height of the pandemic and significant outreach addressing vaccine hesitancy in Miami’s Black and Latinx communities.

“Vaccines are the tool to curb the pandemic,” Zambrana says. “It’s really one patient at a time, one family at a time. I can’t tell you how many grandparents say to me, ‘I get to hug my grandbaby for the first time!’”

It was his sister’s passion for nursing that first encouraged Zambrana to join the profession. Now, decades later, he is working side by side with sister Isis, a VP and chief quality officer for

Jackson Health System. Together these siblings are playing a significant role bringing their hometown community’s public health system into the future.

“As a leader and influencer, I don’t see my role as molding people into what I think they should be, but instead supporting them to mold themselves to the strongest, smartest, and most honest versions of themselves,” says Zambrana, who describes UM as “a challenging crucible that forces students and professors alike to think differently about learning.

“The School of Nursing and Health Studies in particular approaches the discipline of caregiving through the lens of developing leaders who will transform the lives of others and in so doing transform the world,” he continues. “I am not the same person I was before stepping foot on this campus, and that’s very much the point of this kind of education.”