My leadership journey

By Joanne Clavelle | 03/06/2018

A member of Sigma’s board of directors shares her story.

Joanne Clavelle
The mentoring the author received from others contributed significantly to her leadership success and continues to pay dividends through the mentoring she does for others.

It was an immense honor to be elected this past November to the board of directors of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma) as director at large, to bring my experience of clinical practice, nurse executive leadership, and community health improvement to the task of leading and influencing global health. As members of Sigma, we have the opportunity to strengthen our profession through our affiliation with the honor society and contributions to nursing scholarship, research, and world health.

It seems as if I always wanted to be a nurse. For many years, my mother suffered from ulcerative colitis with frequent complications that required bed rest, often when my father was at work. Some of my earliest memories are of carrying out instructions—whispered from her bed—on caring for my younger brother. Her illness persisted until she received one of the first ileostomy surgeries performed in the United States. Her disease and eventual recovery had a profound impact on my desire to care for others and restore health. At age 12, I volunteered my services at a small hospital. That paved the way to working as an EKG technician at age 16, which led to nursing school.

Idea opens door to series of opportunities
For the past 40 years, from charge nurse roles in intensive care to an emergency trauma center, I have been involved in nursing leadership. When I was a nurse in the emergency setting, many patients presented with conditions that could have been prevented, thus eliminating the need for emergency care. Observing this, I envisioned a new role—community outreach coordinator—and created a job description for it. When I presented my idea to the chief nursing officer and proposed that I move into that role, she agreed and approved it. For the next eight years, I led partnerships with schools, area agencies that dealt with aging, and other organizations to create, implement, and evaluate primary and secondary prevention programs designed to reduce ED visits and promote wellness.

Success in that role resulted in my leading health promotion and wellness programs for the organization, including development of an extensive community-health education series. Eventually, my work in not-for-profit, community-centered, and socially accountable “healthy communities” initiatives became nationally recognized, and that led to new roles and opportunities. Working with more than 60 hospitals in seven states, I directed community health and clinical programs that led, in turn, to my involvement in hospital operations and several chief nursing officer (CNO) roles.

Mentors contribute to success
I’m fortunate to have had many mentors along the way who listened to my ideas, provided suggestions on how to make my dreams a reality, and encouraged me to imagine ennobling possibilities. These inspirational leaders, who often served as “the wind beneath my wings,” took time to listen, coach, and guide. They also served as role models for the mentoring of nurses I do today.

When I was a CNO and doctoral student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, I was intensely interested in transformational leadership practices, and my mentor suggested I pursue a yearlong practicum with the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Recognition Program. There I created a model for a CNO network and conducted a research study titled “Transformational leadership practices of chief nursing officers in Magnet organizations.” Had my mentor not encouraged me to take that path, I would not have thought of pursuing a national practicum experience. But I did, and it resulted in nursing leadership research that was disseminated internationally.

With a commitment to lifelong learning, I earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, which unleashed a passion in me for research on structural empowerment, the professional practice environment, and professional governance. During the past five years, I have worked with four mentors and co-investigators in my quest to develop an instrument on professional governance. (I expect to continue testing and refining the instrument for at least another five years.) Because of the experience, expert advice, and support of these mentors and co-investigators, we have reached—despite lack of formal funding—major milestones in the project, including opportunities to publish and make presentations about our work. We would not have been able to realize the project’s potential or generate the new knowledge and research that contributes to the greater body of nursing knowledge without that partnership.

Committed to mentoring others
I am committed to being a mentor and, at any given time, have a number of mentoring relationships underway. In addition to coaching doctoral students on practice-focused research projects, I collaborate with nurses to present at professional conferences and co-author manuscripts, while continuing to coach and advise nursing students.

I have found that mentoring relationships can also lead to new job possibilities. Recently, for example, I was given the opportunity to become the chief nursing officer of a technology company that focuses on interactive patient care. This experience, in turn, helps equip me to better support Beth Baldwin Tigges, PhD, RN, FAAN, in her presidential call to strengthen our use of technology in meeting chapter goals, connecting members, and digitally transforming as an organization.

Sigma supports my passion for nursing and patient care excellence, and I sincerely hope you, too, as the result of your engagement with the honor society, will consider new and ennobling ways to serve our profession and contribute to our global organization of choice. Through your commitment to Sigma’s pillars of leadership, scholarship, and service, you have the opportunity to inspire your teams, encourage innovation, and contribute to nursing’s body of knowledge, while improving care for patients, families, and communities around the world. RNL

Joanne Clavelle, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE, director at large on Sigma’s board of directors, is regional vice president and chief nursing officer-west at GetWellNetwork in Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

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