History of Synova Associates

By: Barbara Greer RN, MSN, NE-BC

The Early Years

The first meeting of what would eventually end up being called the NICU Leadership Forum took place in April 1997 in New Orleans with about 35 NICU managers in attendance.  The meeting was sponsored by Child Healthcare Corporation of America (CHCA), a business alliance of 41 free-standing children’s hospitals.  CHCA was one of the first consortiums that brought leaders from different areas of the hospital together to share experiences and best practices and enjoy the benefits of group purchasing.  The meeting was hosted by Children’s Medical Ventures (ChMV), then owned by CHCA, with Read McCarty, Cathy Bush, and Chrissy Burke leading the three days of sessions.

That first meeting was very successful, with many ideas generated for a subsequent meeting the next year.  At that time, few hospitals had leadership training for their managers and directors.  Often the “best” nurse was promoted and left to figure it out or learn from his/her peers.   The shared leadership strategies, clinical best practices, and the meaningful relationships were seen as a valuable asset by both the participants and the hospitals.  The NICU Leadership Meeting, run by Cathy and Chrissy with ChMV, soon became a yearly event for managers and directors in the CHCA NICUs as it continued to evolve and grow.  Eventually, the meeting leaders worked with NANN to start a second, separate meeting for NICU leaders in adult hospitals which was held back to back with the CHCA leadership meeting. The back-to-back meetings continued until 2007 when the meetings were combined.

By 2000, the planning of the yearly meetings was taken over completely by ChMV.  Between 2000 and 2010, ChMV was sold several times and eventually was bought by Philips Healthcare.  During this period, many of the NICU leaders were involved in the meeting planning, and eventually, Barbara Greer and Sandy Chapman, both active NICU Directors, came alongside Cathy and Chrissy to help ensure the growing meeting remained relevant and valuable.  Over time many new features were added including more social events, an exhibit hall, a poster session in conjunction with NANN, and more networking events.  Together, along with many volunteer leaders, the meeting evolved into the format of today’s meetings with expert speakers, motivational sessions, networking, and relationship building.

Synova Was Born

In 2010, the leadership team of Cathy, Chrissy, Barbara, and Sandy formed a company, Synova Associates, and bought the rights to the meeting from Philips Healthcare.  Synova was incorporated in Massachusetts in 2010 and the first Synova NICU Leadership Forum was held in 2011 in Las Vegas.  The name Synova was chosen because it represented Synergy and Innovation…which is truly what the NICU Leadership Forum was all about.  The logo was a tree, which represented new growth, as this was the beginning of something new for the meeting.

Perinatal Leadership Forum

For several years, the NICU leaders asked that a meeting be held for their perinatal counterparts.  After much exploration, the 1st Perinatal Leadership Forum was held in Grapevine, TX in November 2014.  The meeting was highly successful and offered the same leadership training and expertise as the NLF with additional content specific to the perinatal area of the hospital.

Unique Meeting Features

The decision was made to continue to host the NICU Leadership Forum in the spring every year and add the Perinatal Leadership Forum in the fall.  The meetings are always held at a beautiful resort where the attendees could enjoy all the amenities that a resort offers.  Synova felt that it was important for these nurse leaders to be able to enjoy themselves in a relaxing environment while they network and learn.

Through the years, the meetings evolved to include networking opportunities such as the networking lunches, assigned seating on the first day, and activities to encourage meeting new people.  Social activities were included to not only allow the attendees to have fun, but to allow them to further network.  The opening reception included a fun networking activity and the big dinner/dance party evolved into a themed party where attendees dressed up in costume and participated in activities like BINGO, lip sync performances, and karaoke.

Importance of Sponsors

The only sponsor at the first meeting in New Orleans was GE Healthcare.  Through the years, that number has grown to over 80 sponsors between the two events.  Synova affords the opportunity for the companies that provide the products for NICUs and maternal units across the country to meet one-on-one with the nurse leaders who have the power to bring the company’s products to their units.  The NLF and PLF have always had unopposed exhibit hall time so that the nurse leaders and company representatives have the opportunity to discuss their products.  In fact, there are several companies that have developed products based on input from the NLF and PLF nurse leaders.  Synova has always sought out companies that have innovative and state-of-the-art products for their attendees and promotes the idea that the companies and the nurse leaders are partners in providing the best quality care for their patients.


Spirit Award – The Spirit Award is given to the person who contributes the most to the Synova Experience through key contributions, networking, and a spirited presence during the conference.  Along with an award, the winner gets to keep the ‘Maltese Falcon’ for a year and is challenged to decorate it and return it for next year’s winner to enjoy.

March of Dimes Excellence in NICU Leadership Award – The NICU Leadership Forum developed a strong relationship with the March of Dimes and in 2012 the March of Dimes Excellence in NICU Leadership Award was developed with Jennifer L. House, the President of the March of Dimes, winning the first award.  This award honors leaders who demonstrate three essential attributes: understanding the complicated issues facing healthcare, meaningful and engaging care for self, team, and patients/families; and courage to be both strong and empathetic when the situation demands.

Rising Star Award – In 2017, the Rising Star Award was created in honor of Sandy Chapman who lost her battle with breast cancer.  Sandy was a wonderful role model and was passionate about developing and mentoring new leaders.  This award is given to a young leader who has been in leadership for three years or less, actively participates in the meeting, and is seen to have leadership potential.

Change in Ownership

In 2019, the Synova team asked Lori Gabriel Gunther and Melissa Gehl, both with the March of Dimes and active volunteers at the NLF, to lead them in a 2-day strategic planning session.  Lori and Melissa’s expertise and enthusiasm for the mission and vision of Synova was palpable and soon thereafter Lori and Melissa purchased Synova Associates.  The company has grown to four full-time employees, 9 event staff, an executive advisory board, and four clinical advisors.  Synova’s story continues to grow with it has amazing plans for the future of nursing leadership!

NICU Leadership Forum Conferences

1997 – New Orleans, LA

1998 – Las Vegas, NV
1999 – Palm Springs, CA
2000 – Hilton Head, SC
2001 – Scottsdale, AZ
2002 – Marco Island, FL
2003 – Palm Desert, CA
2004 – Naples, FL
2005 – Tucson, AZ
2006 – Marco Island, FL
2007 – Tucson, AZ
2008 – Marco Island, FL
2009 – Tucson, AZ
2010 – Marco Island, FL
2011 – Las Vegas, NV
2012 – Marco Island. FL
2013 – Scottsdale, AZ
2014 – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
2015 – Palm Springs, CA
2016 – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
2017 – Litchfield Park, AZ
2018 – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
2019 – Litchfield Park, AZ
2020 – Naples. FL
2021 – Tucson, AZ
2022 – Naples, FL
2023 – Tucson, AZ

Perinatal Leadership Forum Conferences

2014 – Grapevine, TX
2015 – Dallas, TX
2016 – San Antonio, TX
2017 – Litchfield Park, AZ
2018 – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
2019 – Litchfield Park, AZ
2020 – Naples, FL
2021 – Tucson, AZ
2022 – Naples, FL
2023 – Tucson, AZ

  • 1997

    New Orleans, LA

  • 1998

    Las Vegas, NV


  • 1999

    Palm Springs, CA

  • 2000

    Hilton Head, SC


  • 2001

    Scottsdale, AZ

  • 2002

    Marco Island, FL


  • 2003

    Palm Desert, CA

  • 2004

    Naples, FL


  • 2005

    Tucson, AZ

  • 2006

    Marco Island, FL


Please join us at an upcoming synova event

Attend an upcoming NICU Leadership Forum or Perinatal Leadership Forum to connect with other nurse leaders.