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Paying it forward

Author(s): LT MeShondra Collins, MSN, RN, CRRN, NEA-BC

As a nurse leader in the federal government, LT MeShondra Collins, MSN, RN, CRRN, NEA-BC, manages a 50+ staff nursing team in her civilian role at Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center, part of the VA Maryland Heath Care System, and is chair of the Nurse Practice Council at Baltimore VA Medical Center. She also is a congressionally appointed reserve naval officer serving as a perioperative RN and division officer for the Navy Operational Support Center. We asked Collins, who is a Maryland Nurses Association member, for her leadership insights.

How did your career path lead you to your current role?

My desire to become a nurse emerged as my military career in the U.S. Navy took me around the world and in previous jobs in police dispatching, investment banking, and real estate.

During my active duty in the U.S. Navy, I experienced a complicated pregnancy and an emergency C-section, giving birth to twin boys; each weighed 1 pound. The love and dedication the neonatal intensive care unit (ICU) nurses displayed for my children blessed me to be one of the lucky mothers able to take my children home. I knew that I must “pay it forward” someday. Their compassion inspired me to be a transformational and servant leader.

Additionally, as the medical and cardiac ICU nurse manager at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, I wake up every day thinking of what more I can do for nursing and for our nation’s veterans, especially those who are under my care, and how I can aid the novice nurses coming behind me.

I continue to serve in the U.S. Navy Reserves as an officer because I want to be the example I expect my nursing team to follow. As a veteran serving veterans, the daily reward is unlimited.

What should we know about caring for veterans?

It is important to show veterans that our passion for nursing runs as deep as the oath they once took to protect us and our country. They have made countless sacrifices and deserve our honor and full commitment to their care.

Further, veterans, our nation’s heroes, heal knowing that their lives and sacrifices were not in vain.

How has COVID-19 changed your work?

COVID-19 has changed my units tremendously. As soon as COVID-19 was deemed a pandemic, the medical ICU that I manage became the COVID-19 ICU. My team and I were tasked with the development of a surge plan. From the beginning, we developed a safety officer program to increase the oversight of infection-control donning and doffing of airborne isolation personal protective equipment (PPE) gear. The unit’s need for more nurses and safety officers increased significantly, and we continue to take additional measures to preserve PPE and strategically care for the ICU patients.

How can nurses address healthcare inequities?

Remember that care and compassion are colorblind. A patient who recovered from COVID-19 recently expressed his gratitude. “The care in the MICU was second to none. You all gave me my life back.” From a leadership stance, we must remain neutral while actively listening to those who report disparities. Nurses and patients come from diverse backgrounds, and the “My voice matters” program has established a teachable foundation to positively influence the healthcare practices here at Baltimore VAMHCS.

What advice would you give nurse managers?

Listen to the bedside nurses. It is important to empower our nurses and provide them with a platform and a positive environment for suggesting change. Nurses will respect a manager’s decisions more if they feel less like you are the boss, and more like you are a team leader for success. Encourage their goals, promote their ideas, and tirelessly support them.

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