Kerri Anne Scanlon, RN, is deputy chief nurse executive of Northwell Health & chief nursing officer of North Shore University Hospital. She represents her profession with grace and expertise, constantly elevating her team with her work ethic and skill.
Ms. Scanlon has received several prestigious awards, including the 2009 Nursing Spectrum/Johnson & Johnson regional and national Nursing Excellence award for advancing and leading the profession. Long Island Business News also named her to its 40 Under 40 list in 2009, and she was a participant in the Robert Wood Johnson Transforming Care at the Bedside Project and the original American Nurses Association Time Motion Study. Ms. Scanlon has served as nurse executive for more than a decade, across two of Northwell Health’s largest tertiary and quaternary care facilities.
As chief nursing officer and associate executive director for patient care services, Ms. Scanlon is responsible for creating and facilitating North Shore University Hospital’s strategic plan for nursing and clinical services. She has led the transformation of patient care through the promotion of staff engagement and empowerment and has been instrumental in creating a patient-centered care environment by leveraging technology and environmental redesign to bring nurses closer to the bedside. Her inspirational leadership has led to North Shore University Hospital’s recent achievement of Magnet® designation.
Ms. Scanlon serves as a leader on the Northwell Health Nurse Executive Council, where best practices are established and implemented across Northwell. She recently shared with us her top ten tips for becoming a leader in nursing.
1. Education is the foundation of nursing
I am passionate about education and that’s why I’ve made nursing professional development a priority in my work – I believe that without a strong professional development department within an organization, you can’t have a strong nursing department. Hence, my esteem for our corporate university, the Center for Learning and Innovation and the Northwell Health Institute of Nursing, which offers professional development, leadership development, nursing learning labs, nursing research and academic partnerships to constantly advance our nursing staff. If you want to be successful as a leader in nursing, you must have, and advocate for, cutting-edge nursing education.
2. It starts with passion
You must love this profession if you want to lead it. This is hard work, and in order to remain inspired and to inspire others, you need to love what you do and stay true to your heart.
What is your passion? What’s in your heart? Where do you want to be? Where do you see yourself five years from now? It’s important to ask yourself these tough questions so you continue to pursue your passion.
3. …But sometimes you have to be willing to take a risk
The greatest career opportunities may be the ones you weren’t planning on or expecting. Some career moves are a zig-zag, mine has had a few, and that’s okay! Pursue a degree that’s going to support what you want to do. Shadow leaders in your area of interest and utilize their mentorship. These experiences will help you when you are ready to change your career path or may connect you with individuals who recognize a potential path for you that you didn’t anticipate.
4. How do you create the right culture as a leader? It’s all about the team.
Having worked in high-functioning teams and then in those who didn’t perform as well, you realize you’re only as a good as the team you’re working with. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been a part of a lot of great teams, but as a leader, it is your responsibility to create that team – not by yourself and not by hiring people that are exactly like you. Build the team with the people who have strengths you don’t have – diversify – and you will all be better for it.
Some of the best early leadership experience I had was in sports acting as a team captain. In order to make a real impact, you have to have a strong team that’s inspired to follow you in your mission – and you’re only as strong as the people that are on the bench. Becoming a leader in nursing is no different. It’s not about a few golden stars who score the basket – it’s about building a team that’s strong and committed to your vision from the starting line-up to the bench.
5. From day one, build a succession plan
If you don’t have a succession plan for your role from the beginning, you’re not doing your job as a leader. It is your responsibility to develop the next generation, by identifying and cultivating leadership skills in others. One of my greatest strengths as a leader has been my ability to recognize that potential in someone, and place them in a role where they can maximize the impact of their unique skills and abilities with the proper support and guidance. You can’t mentor everyone yourself, but it is your job to match them with the right person who can develop them as a leader.
6. Embrace the challenge
Never take a job where everything is stellar, it’s better to join an area that needs work. Find a job that inspires you to create change and improve the environment. Your passion for change will guide your leadership. Once you’re there, listen to the team and develop a strategy to achieve your goals together. Trust me, 9 out of 10 times, you are going to be successful and far surpass our expectations.
7. Courage and adaptability – you must be willing to make mistakes.
The biggest failure in leadership is not making a decision for fear of making the wrong one. Listen, listen, listen – if you truly listen, taking into consideration the perspective and insight of others, then you can make a decision, stick with it, and not look back. Mistakes will happen, and when they do, take ownership, accountability, and be transparent. Open your mind and yourself to others and what they are saying and you’ll be a better leader for it.
To thrive as a leader, you must be agile. Never accept the status quo, even if it makes you uncomfortable – you must be committed to continuous improvement and innovation, in order to showcase the valuable contributions of nursing. By keeping true to your vision and your goals, working on establishing your team, learning from failures and building on your success, you can become a leader that can create real change.
8. Integrity, integrity, integrity!
Your integrity as a leader is everything. Despite what decision may come your way as leader, you must always keep this in mind. Others will look to you to remain consistent and fair, and you will never go wrong keeping these values at the heart of your decisions.
9. You can’t just ask for respect, you have to demonstrate you deserve it
Throughout my career, I’ve made it a point to assert myself and become an integral voice for nursing at Northwell by advocating to drive our profession forward. As a nurse leader, the perspective and insight that you bring to strategic planning activities is invaluable – don’t be afraid to share your expertise. The key to earning respect is to show respect to others in all your interactions: actively listen to your team, involve them in your decisions, and integrate their feedback.
10. Our nurses innovate at the bedside every day across our health system. As a leader, you have to cultivate those examples and capitalize on them
Nurses at the bedside with patients have the opportunity to see needs that we do not. We’re doing innovative work at the bedside every day and that learning is valuable and needs to be shared. We need to be the innovators of the organization – constantly looking to see where we can add value for the future. We don’t want to get stuck doing the same thing over and over expecting success. Innovation developed at the bedside has become ingrained within the culture of Northwell’s Institute of Nursing. There’s no better place to be if you want to implement large-scale change and innovation. Our nursing leadership makes us a cutting-edge organization that outpaces our competitors.
I believe that nursing is the foundation of healthcare. As a nurse leader, it is most important to never lose sight of why you went into this profession – to care for others and benefit the greater good. We can look to other industries for best practices in improving efficiency and processes, but ultimately we must retain our focus on our profession’s values and traditions – and the best leaders remember to always balance the art and science of nursing.