ANA on the Frontline

Leadership roadmap: Allyship, flexibility, and intention

By: By Andrea Smith, DNP, MBA, FNP-BC, ENP-C, and Carli Zegers, PhD, 

Our nursing careers can take many paths, but programs such as the American Nurses Foundation and United Health Foundation Jeannine Rivet Leadership Award create a clear roadmap for nursing leadership. As the first two recipients of this annual $10,000 fellowship in 2019 and 2020, we were able to integrate our health expertise into civic and professional opportunities, while advancing our leadership potential. We both benefited from the year-long experiences provided by the Rivet Leadership Award and are eager to share highlights of those experiences. Three major themes emerged that will help advance our careers in industry and academia: community over competition, career path flexibility, and formal training and mentorship.

Community over competition

First, and most impactful, the Rivet Leadership Award offered us more diverse educational and collaborative opportunities than we might otherwise have had. This made us appreciate how breaking barriers through intentional and purposeful collaboration will create more dynamic and creative solutions. The diversity of transformational nurse leadership perspectives we experienced across practice, business, service, academia, and policy domains expanded our networks and inspired us. Nursing’s current system of intra-professional silos is a serious limitation. Choosing community over competition creates synergistic opportunities through allyship. Our fellowship experiences reinforced what we can gain by appreciating the strengths of each professional subset of nursing and raising each other up. Integrating our diverse perspectives and acting as allies are the best avenues to a better future. 

Career path flexibility

Next, we discovered that nursing leadership includes both strategic and flexible career paths. Choosing a specific path, such as corporate leadership or academia, is not and should not be limiting. Through various fellowship trainings and mentorships, we learned that incorporating a variety of experiences, whether from external industry collaborations or service work on boards, adds to our dynamic careers and helps us grow strong and supportive networks. The Rivet Leadership Award program allowed for various cross-disciplinary training opportunities, including business school certifications in leadership and management, board development programming, and personality testing with a 360-degree review. We also participated in leadership presentations and workshops through programs such as Linkage Women’s Institute and the Center for Creative Learning. 

Formal training and mentorship 

Finally, we found that formal programming and mentoring are essential to developing and advancing nursing leadership. We were fortunate to work with an exceptional mentor. Mary Jo Jerde, MBA, BSN, RN, FAAN, senior vice president of UnitedHealth Group and an Arizona Nurses Association member, skillfully and purposefully guided us in how to integrate key learnings and opportunities into our daily work.

Virtual training over the last year provided us with greater access to certification programs and workshops. For example, the Leadership and Management Certificate Program of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania helped us advance our knowledge of leadership in the 21st century, talent management and motivation, strategic management, and leadership in a global context. 

Although we’re still realizing the benefits of this fellowship, it already has had an incredible influence on our career advancement and potential. We’ve experienced tremendous professional and personal growth. As nurse leaders in a healthcare system and in academia, we fully endorse leadership development programs such as the Rivet Leadership Award. They will profoundly affect nurses and the profession. 

— Andrea Smith is the director of clinical performance
improvement for MedStar Health System. Carli Zegers is
an assistant professor at the University of Kansas School
of Nursing and a Missouri Nurses Association member.

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