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Attention millennials: Advice for fast-tracking your leadership career

By: By Patty White

The retirement of the Baby Boomer generation is creating a leadership void and a huge opportunity for millennial healthcare professionals to move up in their careers. As a nurse who became CEO of Dignity Health’s flagship St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, my own journey has inspired me to take on a new role: as an educator and mentor to emerging leaders. We need you and welcome you into the ranks of management!

Especially with the current COVID-19 pandemic, many of you are perhaps wondering how to advance your careers in this day and time. You might be asking yourselves, What skills do I really need? What’s the most efficient way to acquire them? How do I let my supervisors know I’m interested in moving up?

What do millennials have to offer as leaders?

First, let’s look at what you have to offer. Millennials in general are tech-savvy, collaborative, well-educated, and like challenges. Your ability and interest in working as part of a team is a real asset. It’s teamwork and leadership that will be most needed in our future leaders, as well as the ability to communicate the big picture to your team and co-workers and to engage them in working towards common goals.

You’re also more diverse than any previous generation in the workforce. This is also a plus, especially as we have become even more aware of the need to encourage and build diversity.

What skills do you need and what’s the best way to acquire them?

To become a healthcare professional, you had to complete your education in a clinical discipline. A BSN degree is often the prerequisite for the career ladder in nursing. Depending on geography, finances, and personal responsibilities, it may be challenging to earn that BSN. Fortunately, there are new options to help you.

One benefit from the pandemic has been moving us all into the comfort zone of remote communication and learning. Another is the development of new approaches to learning that teach skills through small groups, mentoring, learning modules that are short and to-the-point, and projects that are executed in the workplace. These new options make it possible to master the skills involved, demonstrate to your superiors your new knowledge and capabilities, and to make an immediate impact on the job. You work with peers and mentors and are learning practical skills to use every day on the job, as you are earning your degree.

This type of learning environment is designed for adults, many of whom have family and financial responsibilities that make it difficult to pursue traditional educational pathways. It’s a way to grow into leadership quickly, while being able to manage your work and personal lives and avoid the debt that so often accompanies higher education.

After obtaining the BSN, what’s next? Clinical excellence in emerging leaders is a given. What you need is a new skill set. Traditionally, this management knowledge was acquired through advanced degrees, perhaps an MBA or MHA. Advanced degrees are sometimes the educational route to choose. However, this option is time-consuming and expensive, and the training isn’t always practical and immediately applicable to the job.

Here are some ways to attain managerial skills without committing to an advanced degree:

  • Management skills are now taught via Mini-MBAs, collaborations between renowned universities with specific specialties and healthcare veterans who ensure the curriculum is tailored to the needs of employers.
  • Leadership skills for nurses and other health professions are also packaged in focused, practical certificate programs through prestigious educational institutions like Duke CE, again with a curriculum tailored for the healthcare sector.
  • Analytics, another skill set that proved its critical importance during the pandemic, is also available in certificate programs designed specifically for emerging healthcare leaders.

What’s the major value you as an emerging leader, can provide?

In answering that question, let’s look at what we are learning during the pandemic. Around the nation, healthcare teams are rising to an unprecedented challenge and crisis. They understand that there is a common enemy that is harming patients, and in uncertainty and danger, they are giving their all.

For healthcare organizations to succeed, it’s imperative that they achieve that same engagement and commitment we have seen during the pandemic, even when there is no crisis to drive that cohesiveness. Here’s where managers come in. From line supervisors on up, managers are the link to communicate the goals, the systems thinking, and the big picture of where the organization is going: its values and its destination. These goals cannot be reached without the engagement of the workforce. Millennial leaders are well-equipped to this task, with interpersonal skills, a belief in teamwork and collaboration, and a respect for the individual.

How do you let management know you want to move up?

The first step is to tell them and ask their advice. Criteria that managers look for in future leaders include:

  • people who want to do more than just their jobs
  • employees with good interpersonal and communication skills
  • individuals who influence others in a positive way and get them to follow them.

Demonstrating these skills will get you noticed and will also support your case for moving up. Management is always on the lookout for new leaders and they will welcome you.

What are the pitfalls to watch out for on your journey?

Here are a few mistakes or oversights that I’ve seen derail promising candidates:

  • Expecting things to happen quickly, without the necessary effort.
  • A dismissive attitude toward those who are older. Each generation has their own gifts. Leadership means the ability to find and nurture those gifts in a practical way, for the good of the organization, and to find roles for everyone on the team.
  • Disappointment in the employer when things don’t happen the way you would like them to. Sometimes a “no” is really a “not yet.” Leaders find ways around obstacles; they continue their efforts even if the path is rocky.
  • Interpreting impersonal as uncaring. Relationships are important to millennials and sometimes they expect more “high touch” emotional interactions than are possible in a busy work environment, or that other managers may be able to provide.

Seize opportunity

If you would like to advance in your career in healthcare, there’s no better time than the present. Your abilities and enthusiasm are sorely needed. In addition, there are new pathways to acquiring managerial skills that are practical, fast, and financially feasible to speed you on your way.

Patty White is the retired president and CEO of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, in Phoenix, Arizona, where she led a staff of more than 5,000 employees and volunteers. She is currently an instructor for Dignity Health Global Education.



The views and opinions expressed by Perspectives contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

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