Health Care Hotshots

USD Nursing alums Sharp HealthCare’s Dan Gross ’97 (DNsc), Pablo Velez ’06 (PhD) and Susan Stone ’93 (MSN), ’08 (PhD). 


The Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science consistently ranks among the top programs in the nation, in large part due to its stellar graduate nursing training and innovative research. Nowhere is the school’s imprint more impressive than in San Diego, where alumni hold some of the most influential leadership positions in the region. Three now hold some of the highest offices at Sharp HealthCare; each benefited from a full scholarship endowed by Marion Hubbard specifically for doctoral nursing education at USD.

Dan Gross ‘97 (DNsc) is Sharp’s executive vice president for hospital operations. “I’d had a very strong and successful career here at Sharp,” he says, reflecting on a career that started in the surgical ICU in 1979 and took him up the leadership ladder over the ensuing years.

“I was thinking about academics, research, advanced leadership roles at Sharp. I wanted to make sure that no door was closed.” Encouraged by colleagues who’d already earned their doctorates and enticed by the Hubbard scholarship, which made the program economically feasible, he enrolled in 1995.

“The other thing that attracted me was the curriculum design. Beyond the core requirements there was a lot of flexibility,” he says. “I took quite a bit of coursework in USD’s schools of education and business. Being focused on leadership at the time, this was the perfect doctoral program for me.”

Gross completed his doctorate in three years. Today, he is effectively the Chief Operating Officer of the entire Sharp HealthCare system.

“One of the truly most valuable things about a doctoral education is you learn to think more critically. You learn to really look at the literature and see what others have done before making a big decision,” he says. “Hospitals today are all about the team, clinical outcomes and clinical care delivery. Who more than a nurse has that global, comprehensive view?”

Pablo Velez ‘06 (PhD) already had a master’s degree and years of work experience when he decided it was time to fulfill his ultimate dream.

“I wanted more knowledge, but I also did it for personal reasons,” says Velez, who was born in Puerto Rico and attended high school and college there. “I was just the second person in my family to go to college. It’s a lot of work, going back to school. But once you’re done, you have this amazing feeling of accomplishment.”

By the  time he enrolled in the doctoral program, Velez was working as chief nursing officer at Sharp Chula Vista. “I wanted to do something that was valuable to me as an employee of an organization,” he says. “It’s why I took all my electives in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, and why my research looked at organizational trust.”

For the past decade, Velez has served as CEO of the only Sharp hospital he’s ever worked at, overseeing a staff of 1,600 and managing construction of a gleaming new $244 million tower. He’s still a firm believer in higher education and is quick to encourage colleagues who may be considering it.

“I think the entire community benefits from the graduate nursing program,” he says. “When nurses come back here with knowledge of clinical research and evidence-based practice, it’s not just the hospital that benefits. We elevate the level of care for our patients.”

Over the course of her 30-plus years at Sharp HealthCare, Susan Stone ‘93 (MSN), ‘08 (PhD) has made an indelible mark. Beginning as an undergraduate nursing student, she advanced through the leadership ranks and crisscrossed among its hospitals. Along the way, she collected countless awards and implemented a groundbreaking patient care model that became the subject of her PhD dissertation.

“I initially thought I’d be a nursing professor,”” she says. “After implementing many community-wide health care improvement initiatives, I recognized the opportunity to make a difference on a larger scale. I’m grateful to Sharp HealthCare and Marion Hubbard. I never imagined I’d be in the position I am today.”

As CEO of Sharp Coronado, Stone runs a full-service community hospital and often draws upon her graduate nursing skills to analyze research and statistics in decision-making. “I know of probably 40 nurses at Sharp who have gone through the program and are now publishing and making a difference while showing how nursing practice can really influence patient care and community wellness,” she says.

“When people ask me whether they should pursue a PhD, my unfailing answer is ‘Yes! It will give you knowledge in nursing leadership but it will also give you choices as your career goes on.’ I’ve never regretted my decision for one moment.” — Karen Gross

Pictured above: Sharp HealthCare’s Dan Gross ’97 (DNsc), Pablo Velez ’06 (PhD) and Susan Stone ’93 (MSN), ’08 (PhD). 

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