nw logo

Profile Pic

John Kirk Phillips, RN, NP

South San Francisco Medical Center
Kaiser Permanente Northern California

A nurse of 25 years, “Kirk” moved into bariatrics as a nurse practitioner seven years ago, and this year obtained Certified Bariatric Nurse status. Bariatrics by its very nature requires nurses who can address the patients’ emotional, cultural and spiritual needs — not only their physical needs. Kirk has a natural gift for connection. He develops long-standing relationships with his patients and supports them as they work to achieve their goals along their transformative journey.

As part of a multidisciplinary team of surgeons, dieticians, nurses, educators, psychologists and the patient, Kirk’s role is critical. He is a highly valued member of his group, and has been instrumental in helping ensure that his team consistently delivers safe, high-quality and compassionate care.

Kirk was one of the recent winners of the Kaiser Permanente Extraordinary Nurse Award, and he shared his nursing journey with us in the following Q&A session.


When did you know you wanted to be a nurse?
I come from a family of medical people — my father was a neurosurgeon, and all my uncles are doctors — so I grew up around hospitals. When I was in my 20s, I was hospitalized with a paralyzing illness for a long stretch and I was so impressed with the quality of the nursing care. Watching the nurses was an incredible experience for me; that’s when I decided to become a nurse.

What do you love about being a nurse?
It is a terrific and rewarding role — I get to support patients as they transform their lives. Being a nurse is interesting, challenging, and offers flexibility, autonomy and educational opportunities. It offers great pay, and a supportive environment; plus, I have a wonderful manager and colleagues.

How long have you been with KP?
I’ve been working as a nurse practitioner at Kaiser Permanente for about 20 years.

Nursing is a demanding job. What helps you stay balanced?
I am oriented towards self-discipline and hard work — I like to get things done.
I have an active spiritual life and am interested in meditation. Each patient encounter asks you to be firmly rooted in the present. It is the clinician’s job to be as stable as possible for the patient to lean against, if they need it.

What has being a nurse taught you, personally and professionally?
To me, nursing is about service in the world. And service is really its own reward.
The more you are able to turn toward the suffering of others, the greater your own capacity and empathic response to the world. My heart is wide open, and the practice has helped me in that way. Helping others is very satisfying at a deep level.

Tell us about a project you led and that you're proud of.
I led the development and implementation of a sleep apnea initiative in my unit’s pre-surgical area. Undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea can be a dangerous risk factor with anesthesia, so I created an initiative and worked with colleagues to have it included in the perioperative assessment. Now this assessment is a standard throughout our region.

Please tell us about a special or memorable nursing moment.
I participate in the post-operative Bariatric follow up groups several times a month, and these are amazing and gratifying experiences. These patients have struggled with obesity their entire lives and, after surgery and recovery, are finally free from a lifetime of stigma and suffering. On top of the mental and spiritual health gains, they also greatly reduce their chances of developing obesity-related conditions such as joint pain, migraine headaches, hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea and more. So these are joyful occasions, and I love being able to help celebrate these patients’ successes and new outlook on life.

What’s one thing you’d tell a nurse joining KP for the first time?
That a Kaiser Permanente nurse is about the luckiest nurse in the world, because KP sets you up for success. This organization is such an interconnected web of great people and tools. It has the combination of terrific technology, fantastic surgeons, good scheduling, educational opportunities, team support and professional management that lets a person shine. Because KP supports my practice, I am able to support the mission of delivering high-quality, affordable care for our patients and members.

What skills or knowledge do you think will be important for nurses of the future?
Critical thinking, attention to detail, and empathy — which is more than just a feeling, but is a skill set than can be learned through practice. Service is a privilege and empathy is what keeps it fresh.

What do you do to thrive?
I have a supportive family and I am involved with my spiritual group. I’m on the swim team, am learning to be a public speaker and am going to school at night. What else could a person want? I feel like the most fortunate person on the planet.