Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Nursing alumnus Edgar J. Curtis has been named among six recipients of the Order of Lincoln award from the Office of the Governor.

curtis edgarThe Order of Lincoln is the state’s highest honor for professional achievement and public service.

The Lincoln Academy of Illinois will honor the outstanding Illinoisans at its 55th annual Convocation and Investiture Ceremony being held Saturday, May 18, in the Chamber of the House of Representatives at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. The 2019 inductees will join 348 distinguished Illinois citizens honored during the past 55 years.

“This honor is humbling, because it comes with a challenge,” Curtis said, “the challenge of living up to Lincoln’s example. I could not be more grateful and honored to have been selected as a Lincoln Laureate.”

Curtis is president and chief executive officer of Memorial Health System in Springfield.

“Our health system began as a standalone hospital over 120 years ago,” said Curtis, who began his career at MHS in 1975 and has served in a variety of administrative positions. “Today, we encompass four hospitals, home health and mental health services, as well as a thriving network of physician clinics. I am proud of the work that the people of Memorial do to carry out our mission and help fulfill our vision. We are entrusted by our community with their health and life, and that is a humbling and remarkable responsibility, and one we strive to live up to every patient, every family, every time.”

Curtis is immediate past chairman of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association’s board of directors, and currently serves as founding board member for the BJC Collaborative and the Lincoln Land Health Information Exchange.

He is a member of the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees, and a 2009 SIUE School of Nursing Hall of Fame inductee.

“I am honored to be able to lead Memorial Health System, and know my roots at SIUE have contributed to my professional accomplishments and contributions,” Curtis noted. “I serve as a coach for a number of leaders, both inside Memorial and within the community to contribute to the development of the future of healthcare leadership. I mentor many high school and college students, and provide support through their medical school application preparation process.”

“In addition, I felt honored to serve as chair of the Illinois Health and Hospital Association Board, which provided an opportunity to work alongside my colleagues to improve healthcare quality and access to care for all residents of our state,” he added. “I am also excited to begin a new opportunity this year as an SIU trustee. SIU develops the current and future workforce, which in turn strengthens our communities and helps our state retain talented individuals to help local business and industry thrive. I’m passionate about ensuring the stability of the SIU System and helping continue its legacy of quality education.”

Curtis’s passion for health care was ignited in junior high when a family member was diagnosed with cancer.

“At that time, the concept of palliative care had not yet come to the forefront of health care,” he recalled. “I spent a great deal of time at the hospital with her. Her experience, and the experiences of her caregivers, made a significant impression on me.”

He went on to earn a bachelor’s in nursing from SIUE in 1975, as well as an MBA and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He worked for 10 years on a medical/surgical unit, before being “tapped on the shoulder for a leadership role.”

“I was blessed to have professors and instructors that had a passion for teaching, and were committed to developing each person in their classroom,” Curtis said of his SIUE academic experience. “They took much care in figuring out how to unlock the potential of each of us. They were committed to the process of learning, encouraged creativity and original ideas, and helped us see our strengths and realize our talents.

“As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself—my commitment to developing as a leader, my desire to take care of others, my passion for reading, love of learning, and intellectual curiosity—all were able to be utilized and magnified through the education I obtained.”

His advice for others in the medical field is to always keep the patient at the center of everything they do, remember that leadership isn’t a title, but is developed as trust is built among colleagues, and sharing your time and talents through service is important.

“If you treat everyone with courtesy and respect, focus on achieving mission and display empathy, others will learn from your example,” Curtis said. “Leadership can be lonely, so find mentors who you can trust and learn from. Seek to become part of something larger than yourself.”

“In recent years, we’ve begun to talk about the importance of caring for the care provider,” he continued. “It’s not about work life balance, it is about work life integration. When I make sure I take care of my own health needs first, I know I can better help others do the same”