Call to lead: Jennie Chin Hansen talks to nurses

By Jennie Chin Hansen | 05/05/2015

What to expect on YOUR leadership journey.


In honor of nurses and the leadership roles they play in providing safe, high-quality patient care and outcomes, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has launched “Lessons in Leadership: The Betty Irene Moore Speaker Series.” Composed of 13 short videos, the series features 12 nationally recognized leaders in nursing and health care—chief executive officers, executive leaders and board members of leading health care and nursing organizations, “Living Legends,” faculty members from top universities, and others. All began their careers as nurses.
One of the nurse leaders featured in the series is
Jennie Chin Hansen, MS, RN, FAAN, former CEO of the American Geriatrics Society and immediate past president of AARP. In the following article, published exclusively in Reflections on Nursing Leadership, she addresses aspiring nurse leaders, sharing insights on what it means to lead—at any stage in one’s career. To view the entire series, click here.
I’ve been invited of late to speak about my “leadership journey” and, as a result, have paused to reflect on how I’ve arrived at this place after graduating from Boston College and the University of California San Francisco. From the time I was a nursing student to today, my core drive has always been—and continues to be—to address the dignity, respect, safety, capacity building, and care of the person, family, and community. These values drive the choices I make every day.
ChinHansen_article_embed_2Q15_SFWIn honor of Nurses Week, I proudly share with you some valuable lessons I learned throughout my career. Whether you are a nursing student or have “miles” behind you, you have already begun your own leadership journey.
For those of you launching your careers as nursing students, a plethora of concepts, content, and skills are at the core of your learning. At this stage, you are spending a lot of time getting things “right,” from medication doses, infection control procedures, and accuracy of readings and documentation to legalities related to scope of practice. By this time, you have also been introduced to the concept of professionalism. These vital skills and knowledge are required for safe practice and care.
An interesting point exists where you will move beyond technique and technicality to doing the “right thing.” For example, you may notice that some colleagues do not wash their hands. You may observe that a co-worker doesn’t listen to what another colleague or patient says, even though his or her comments relate directly to proper patient care. Or you may notice something in your environment that doesn’t make sense, is very inefficient, or can be made better.
Thus begins a career-long process of dealing with dilemmas. Managing these dilemmas calls for leadership—your leadership—and you will need to summon courage to take a step toward change. Leadership is about making accurate observations and suggesting improvements that help the patient, provider, and system. For guidance and support in taking that step, you may need to speak to a person in a more senior position. After all, it’s not about the position you hold; it’s about you. Your professionalism will tell you that, to assure the best and safest care, change needs to happen.
At some point, some of you will travel on the path toward larger change. For example, you may move away from a hospital environment, where things are well-established, to providing care within a home or community, where you will need to make more decisions and exercise discretion. Following that path will call for skills and attitudes that seem at odds with your earlier education, which focused on precision.
Later, if you choose to engage in transforming culture or policy, still larger change will come in your journey, change that involves many moving parts. Instead of focusing on things that are precisely linear, you will find yourself swimming in the uncertain waters of ambiguity and context, bringing about change that involves macro-versus-micro considerations. There will be politics. At this point, your decisions will not be solely about following evidence-based practice but about seeking the best possible outcome in a matrix of options. It is here where I chose to spend the majority of my career.
Bottom line? You can be a leader of change and caring wherever you are. There are always opportunities to grow and improve, both personally and in systems. Improvement opportunities abound for acquiring more knowledge, improving practice, and advancing design and delivery systems.
In summary:
1) Let’s remember to raise our heads above the everyday waters in which we swim and take stock of and know where and what we are swimming toward.
2) Listen to that “true north” and “fire in your belly” that anchor you, regardless of where you are in your career, because they will guide you in making good choices and exercising right judgment.
3) We are always students and must continue to learn. Be willing to let go and reframe as the world changes.
We are privileged to care and serve. May we all go forth and do good! 
Jennie Chin Hansen, MS, RN, FAAN, former CEO of the American Geriatrics Society and immediate past president of AARP, is board director of the Council of Medical Specialty Societies and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. She is also a member of the National Advisory Council on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, the National Geriatrics and Gerontology Advisory Committee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Equity of Care Committee for the American Hospital Association, and the SCAN Foundation board.
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