By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
Sister Carol Keehan, DC, RN, MS, called it critical for nurses to become involved in improving the health care system, because they know best how changes will affect patients, families and staff.
April 28, 2011 - Nurses comprise more than one-quarter of the health care leaders named to Modern Healthcare’s 2011 Top 25 Women in Healthcare, honoring executives making a positive difference as advocates, dealmakers, business leaders and powerbrokers.
Many of today’s leaders began their careers at the bedside and have drawn on that experience over the years as they moved into administrative and policymaking roles.
“Nurses are right there with patients and know how things affect people,” said Sister Carol Keehan, DC, RN, MS, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States in Washington. “It is critical for them to get involved, because we are the ones there with the patient the longest amount of time.”
Sally Jeffcoat, president and CEO of Saint Alphonsus Health System in Boise, Idaho, agreed, saying, “Nuses are critical to our health system quality and safety and, therefore, it is so important to recognize their role and importance in leading change, developing new innovations and assuring that we are patient centered in the health care systems today.”
Jeffcoat began her career as a staff nurse on medical-surgical units and has a track record of progressive successful leadership of hospitals and health systems in several geographic areas. At Saint Alphonsus Health System, she brought together four disparate entities to improve local health care, keep care local and grow a strong system to serve the greater community. She credits nursing with providing her a “foundation for understanding the many dimensions of delivering quality patient care.”
Patricia Rice feels honored to be named to the list, but advises nurses not to strive for it. Rather she suggests being committed to good outcomes day to day, and from that good things will happen.
Patricia A. Rice, president and chief operating officer of Select Medical Corporation in Mechanicsburg, Penn., helped grew her firm to its current size of 110 long-term acute care hospitals, seven medical rehabilitation hospitals and about 945 outpatient rehabilitation centers. But rather than basking in that success, Rice deflects the accolades and credits the company’s staff of nearly 27,000 employees.
“At the senior management level, all we did was set strategic direction and then coach for success; our staff handled the rest,” said Rice, who is proud of the company’s investments in its employees’ careers, citing nurses who have become CEOs of Select Medical hospitals or units. “If my particular path played a role in these things, even a very small role, I am grateful for it,” she added.
Rice encourages nurses to continue practicing, in part because “it’s what the nation’s health care system urgently needs. But for nurses who want to try the management route, seeing others on the list might remind them that nursing expertise can make a powerful contribution to the business side of health care too. How better to manage care and costs, for example, than to draw on your actual experience as a practicing nurse?”
Keehan views that knowledge base as an opportunity to shape health care delivery. She has actively participated in discussions about health reform, trying to get a “bill that will be a good first step in the right direction for getting health care for everybody,” and getting the regulations written in a way that will do the most good for people. She finds her experience as a nurse has helped her look at suggestions and options and say what will work or not work, for patients, families and staff.
Sally Jeffcoat encourages nurses to collaborate and partner with others to improve health care delivery.
The idea of requiring a $20 co-pay for mammograms, for example, might be acceptable for some people but not for the low-income woman who needs that money to buy groceries.
“Nurses understand what it means in the life of real people,” Keehan said. “The important thing is to be where you can make a real difference in the lives of your patients. That may be in a local city council setting, and sometimes that’s on the national stage, like with health reform. ”
Jeffcoat encourages nurses who strive to achieve recognition as leaders to look for ways to partner with others, such as nurses, physicians, agencies and other hospitals.
“Always seek ways to collaborate and embrace diversity of ideas to improve the delivery of care working with the many talents available to us,” Jeffcoat said.
Linda Burnes Bolton, DrPH, RN, FAAN, began her career as a staff nurse at Cedars-Sinai Health System in 1971 and now serves as vice president and chief nursing officer.
Eleven of the women making this year’s Modern Healthcare list are affiliated with hospitals and health systems. In addition to Jeffcoat and Rice, they include Linda Burnes Bolton, DrPH, RN, FAAN, vice president and chief nursing officer of Cedars-Sinai Health System, Los Angeles; and Deborah Proctor, MSN, president and CEO of St. Joseph Health System, Orange, Calif.
Employees of the federal government on the list included Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., RN, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration in Rockville, Md.
Mary Wakefield, considers her background in intensive care nursing a good foundation for her current work as administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Wakefield told Modern Healthcare in 2009 and reaffirmed when contacted by NurseZone that her nursing background was fundamental to her achievements. She worked as an intensive nurse and learned to think fast and expect the unexpected — skills that have served her well in her current role.
Other honorees, including Keehan and Maureen Bisognano, CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass., work for associations.
“You take the advantage nurses have of knowing what impacts patients, their families and the staff and put that to good use,” Keehan said. “For some of us, it’s the national stage, but equally important is to be in a focus group or discussion group or at the city council or in an advocacy group.”
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