Keeping Up: How Today’s Nurse Leaders Can Lead Through Change

A Q&A from Cleveland Clinic’s Florida Region CNO

As healthcare continues to evolve, change and advance, it’s vital that nurses keep up. In this Q&A, Kerry Major, MSN, RN, NE-BC, Regional Chief Nursing Officer for Cleveland Clinic Florida and Chief Nursing Officer of Cleveland Clinic Weston Hospital, discusses how today’s nurse leaders can lead through change to ensure nursing teams thrive and flourish in today’s healthcare environment.

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Major has been a prominent leader in Cleveland Clinic’s recent exponential growth throughout the state of Florida. In less than 2 years, Cleveland Clinic’s presence in Florida grew from one hospital, one ambulatory surgery center and 10 ambulatory practices to five hospitals with numerous ambulatory surgery center and ambulatory practice locations. Cleveland Clinic now has more than 11,000 caregivers in Florida, 4,463 of which are nurses.

Q:  How have you and the leadership team helped support and lead Cleveland Clinic’s nurses in Florida throughout the organization’s recent growth, as well as the continuing changes in healthcare?

A:  For many, change is not easy, so helping our nursing caregivers adapt to changes in culture and practice is no simple feat. I strongly believe our leader behaviors and core values provide a wonderful framework to help guide our caregivers through today’s era of growth and change. Leading change, inspiring and coaching throughout the process – and setting the example – are all necessary to ensure successful integration.

To lead through change requires transparency about what is happening and what is to come, ongoing and precise clarity of expectations, and open, honest communication that utilizes as many methods as possible to reach as many caregivers as possible.

Leadership visibility is also essential. Taking the time to answer questions, address concerns and provide follow-up brings a sense of genuine compassion and credibility to the leadership team. It’s important for caregivers to understand how change may affect them and leaders need to guide and support caregivers throughout that process.

Q:  What have been the greatest challenges for your nursing team recently and how do you help your team manage these challenges?

A:  The most notable challenges our nurses are facing are the pace of change, ever-evolving expectations, and working in an environment that is highly regulated. To manage these challenges and succeed, leaders need to create environments that deliver:

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  • Professional development and ongoing education opportunities that allow nurses to keep up with changes and advances in the nursing profession.
  • Tools and resources that support nurses’ success, such as development plans.
  • Opportunities for nurses to share their experiences and have a voice in their practice environment; i.e. Shared Governance.
  • A continuous improvement framework that drives toward nursing excellence.
  • Open lines of communication so leaders fully understand the barriers and challenges caregivers are facing and can work to address them in a constructive way.

Q:  How has the role of the nurse changed as part of the new age of healthcare and what does it take to be a nurse today?

A:  More and more, today’s nurses are pursuing advanced degrees, certifications and specialty training, bringing a new level of knowledge and advanced skill set to the healthcare environment. They have become integral members of the care team and are transforming care as they take on high-level positions as executive leaders and members of boards, and secure seats at as many tables as possible to work on influencing healthcare policy.

To be a nurse today requires a positive, ‘can-do’ mindset and a willingness to continuously collaborate and communicate. Teamwork is essential to providing world-class care for patients and nurses need to know and understand that. They have to be amenable to change and embrace it in a positive way. They also need to be resilient and have the ability to quickly recover from setbacks so they can always put their best foot forward.

Q:  Cultivating the next generation of nurse leaders is important. How do you encourage nurses to step up as leaders?

A:  It is important to identify potential talent and provide opportunities for that talent to shine. As leaders, we need to work with our nurses to identify their goals and ways to develop and support their professional growth aspirations. Providing opportunities to develop leadership skills is a great way to encourage nurses to step up and rise to the challenge. I often encourage nurses to assume leadership responsibilities by:

  • Presenting on topics of interest in their departments.
  • Applying for a leadership role, such as charge nurse, Shared Governance council chair or co-chair.
  • Chairing a committee or task force.
  • Taking on a project or task that challenges their current knowledge, skillset or comfort zone.
  • Taking on the role of a preceptor or coach.

Q:  How did you grow to become a nurse leader?

A:  At the onset of my career, I had wonderful role models and mentors who saw potential in me that I didn’t see at the time. These individuals provided me with opportunities to shine and develop my skills and, as a result, I began my leadership journey early in my career. Those same mentors also encouraged me to go back to school to get my master’s degree and pursue certification, again to prepare me for future opportunities.

Experience is a wonderful teacher and I was able to work with other leaders both locally in Florida and across Cleveland Clinic’s Zielony Nursing Institute to develop my leadership skills. I have now served as the Chief Nursing Officer for Cleveland Clinic Weston Hospital for the last 11 years and have just passed my 1-year anniversary also serving as the Chief Nursing Officer for our new and growing Cleveland Clinic Florida Region.

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Q:  As a leader, what advice do you give those looking to enter the nursing profession? What do you look for when you hire new nurses?

A:  I tell those considering a career in nursing to have an open mind and heart. Caring for others is not always easy, but it’s tremendously fulfilling and rewarding. To be successful in nursing, or in healthcare in general, you need to understand that this is an ever-changing and highly regulated environment. The ability to adapt, work well with others, and embrace a love for learning are key to working in healthcare today.

When hiring new nurses, I use Cleveland Clinic’s core values as traits I seek in a potential hire. I look for someone who encompasses positive interpersonal skills, carries themselves with confidence, is passionate and wants to make a difference, demonstrates integrity, knows what it means to have empathy toward others, and understands the importance of clinical excellence and optimal patient outcomes in all care environments.

Q:  Ten years from now how do you envision the nurse’s role?

A:  Nurses make up the largest segment of the healthcare workforce today and I anticipate this number will continue to grow. Nurses will continue to advocate for patients and serve as the patient’s voice in the transformation of how healthcare is delivered. The nurse’s holistic view of the patient has afforded them valuable insight into the needs of our communities and I see nurses being more involved in designing the healthcare of the future.

Also, I believe the scope of nursing practice will continue to change as the needs of the population and access to care changes. Nurses will continue to shift their focus from the acute episode of illness, to prevention and wellness activities, such as annual physicals, wellness exams, wellness checks on certain patient populations, screening, patient education and more.