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Why a nurse as the CEO?
by Margaret M. Hardt, RN, MSN
Nursing is a career that has more potential in health care than any other. The bedside nurse is at the core of what nursing is all about, and there is nothing more valuable to the profession than a seasoned expert nurse. This nurse is able to connect with patients and their families, detect small problems before they become big ones, address concerns with compassion, honesty and fairness, collaborate with every other discipline in health care, and act as an advocate when one is truly needed. Now consider what makes a good leader -- a connection with employees and customers, the ability to detect small problems before they become big ones, addressing concerns with compassion, honesty and fairness, collaboration with multiple participants, and acting as an advocate for those who provide and receive health care. An experienced nurse is a natural fit for leadership roles within and outside of nursing, if the nurse chooses to pursue that career path. That is not to say that all expert nurses should seek other opportunities, because there is nothing more important than an expert bedside nurse.
I have worked in the nursing profession for 20 years as a nursing assistant, staff nurse (in different specialties and organizations), nurse manager, director, and as a chief nurse. Over the last few months, the opportunity arose for me to broaden my leadership scope as the president and chief executive officer of Suburban General Hospital, where I had been the director of operations and chief nurse. Although there are several nurses in the region who hold this position, the majority of CEOs come from the finance and business administration ranks. All of the degrees I possess, and one I hope to possess soon (a Ph.D.), are in the field of nursing. Throughout the interview process for my current position, a commonly asked question was, "Do you consider the absence of finance in your background to be an issue?" My answer was, "I believe that a deep understanding of the care of the patient is beneficial when the 'business' is caring for patients." There is no doubt that some of the best hospital CEOs have a finance background and a basic understanding of clinical issues, but my guess is that there is a really sharp nurse that assists in running the hospital. I will just be the opposite, a nurse with a basic understanding of finance with a really sharp director of finance to assist in running the hospital! The differences in backgrounds are less important when every senior leader, employee, or individual associated with the hospital is encouraged to participate and take ownership.
My greatest concern in leaving the role of the chief nurse was that I would no longer be respected as a clinician and nursing advocate and instead be seen as a defector from the profession. To my amazement it was the opposite. The staff nurses, nursing professors (most importantly my Ph.D. chair, whom I deeply respect), medical staff members, and long term nursing colleagues that I value the most were behind the career decision 100%. Time and time again I was told my appointment was a positive for nursing because it demonstrated that the most influential decision makers in the healthcare system value the profession of nursing.
Needless to say, I consider myself fortunate and am proud to be a nurse. Tomorrow if I am not a CEO, I will look forward to whatever path the profession of nursing may take me next knowing it will be as rewarding and fulfilling as the last 20 years.
Ms. Hardt was recently appointed president and chief executive officer of Suburban General Hospital. You can reach Ms. Hardt at firstname.lastname@example.org