Nancy Schlichting to be Towson University commencement speaker

Health executive inspired by students who have waited more than a year for commencement ceremonies

April 29, 2021


Leading health care executive Nancy M. Schlichting will serve as Towson University's 2021 University Commencement speaker and will deliver remarks during the College of Health Professions (CHP) Commencement ceremony May 17.

TU, which is the largest provider of health professionals in Maryland, will present Schlichting with an honorary degree.

She will speak at Johnny Unitas® Stadium as TU kicks off a week of Commencement ceremonies that includes the celebration of graduates from the spring and winter classes of 2020 and the spring of 2021 over the course of 10 ceremonies.

“I’ve been very fortunate to call Nancy a friend for over 15 years. She is one of the most inspirational and transformational leaders in U.S. healthcare over the past several decades,” President Kim Schatzel says. “As a nationally-recognized leader in health care management, she is uniquely suited to address our College of Health Professions graduates this May as they prepare to make their own mark as leaders for the public good.”

Schlichting will address CHP graduates amid a pandemic where many nursing graduates entered the workforce early or helped administer doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Schlichting gets emotional thinking of frontline health care workers, particularly those who took care of her father as he died from COVID-19 a year ago this week.

“I will share what I’ve known my whole career: It’s truly a calling,” she says. “Every day you make a difference in people’s lives. It’s emotional. It’s physical. You use your whole person.”

Schlichting, knowing some graduates have waited an extra year for this moment, says her address will focus on their achievements.

“They’re not like anyone else,” she says. “It’s been an inspiring year for so many. It’s important for me to help honor those who are graduating and lift people up.”

Schlichting is the retired chief executive officer of Henry Ford Health System (HFHS), a nationally recognized, $5.7 billion health care organization with 30,000 employees and the recipient of the 2011 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, 2011 John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety Quality Award and 2004 Foster G. McGaw Award. She is credited with leading the health system through a dramatic financial turnaround and for award-winning patient safety, customer service and diversity initiatives.

Schlichting joined HFHS in 1998 as its senior vice president and chief administrative officer before serving as its executive vice president and chief operating officer, the president and CEO of Henry Ford Hospital and the system president and CEO. Retiring in 2017, her career in health care administration spanned more than 35 years in senior-level executive positions.

Schlichting serves on several corporate and nonprofit boards including Duke University; The Kresge Foundation; Walgreens Boots Alliance; Hill-Rom Holdings, Inc.; Encompass Health; Duke University Health System; and Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She is also a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and a member of the International Women’s Forum.

In June 2015, Schlichting was appointed by President Barack Obama to chair the Commission on Care. The commission was tasked with examining veterans’ access to Department of Veterans Affairs health care and to determine how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration, locate health resources and deliver health care to veterans during the next 20 years. The commission reported to the president through the secretary of veterans affairs and completed the Commission Report in July 2016. Schlichting testified to the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees in September 2016. 

In 2015, she was honored as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare magazine, the eighth time she received this recognition. In 2017, she was named to the Top 25 Women in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare for the fifth time. Her other awards include the National Center for Healthcare Leadership Gail L. Warden Leadership Excellence Award, American College of Healthcare Executives Senior-Level Healthcare Executive Regent’s Award, American Hospital Association/Health Research and Education Trust 2014 TRUST Award, Becker's Hospital Review “40 of the Smartest People in Healthcare-2014,” Crain’s Detroit Business “2012 Newsmaker of the Year,” HealthLeaders Media “20 People Who Make Healthcare Better-2012” and, most recently, “Crain’s 100 Most Influential Women in Michigan” and Modern Healthcare’s “Visionary IMPACT Award.”

Author of the acclaimed book, Unconventional Leadership, Schlichting earned her A.B. in Public Policy Studies, magna cum laude, from Duke University and her M.B.A. from Cornell University. She has also received honorary doctoral degrees from Walsh College, Eastern Michigan University and Central Michigan University.

The title of university Commencement speaker is bestowed upon one individual each year in a rotation among the colleges. Schlichting will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony on May 17 — the first of 10 Commencement ceremonies to be held during the week-long celebration of spring 2020, winter 2020 and spring 2021 classes.