Unique Executive Fellowship Develops and Empowers Nurse Leaders

Program illustrates transformational leadership and structural empowerment

Being an executive nurse leader today takes business acumen and communication skills. To ensure that it is preparing its nurses for the future, Cleveland Clinic’s Nursing Institute launched a customized Executive Nurse Fellowship in spring 2018.

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“In today’s complex healthcare landscape, nurses need to learn how to be drivers and contributors to the senior hospital leadership team,” says Joan Kavanagh, PhD, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, Associate Chief Nursing Officer of Office of Nursing Education and Professional Development, “because executive nurse leaders influence both organizational success and the patient experience.”

With limited programs available to educate aspiring nurse leaders, Cleveland Clinic’s Nursing Education team developed an internal program with role-specific curriculum tailored to each participant’s unique skillset. The inaugural Fellowship welcomed 11 of Cleveland Clinic’s high potential senior nurse leaders for a five-day immersion class followed by a year-long mentoring partnership that ran through summer 2019.

Serving as a springboard to the year-long mentorship, the professional development curriculum covered financial skills, performance metrics, legislative policy, social capital and communication strategies, and included opportunities for networking, community partnerships, interactive learning, group exercises, role-based scenarios and simulations. The fellows participated in more than 20 educational sessions with top academic and service executives from Cleveland Clinic nursing and outside colleges and leadership organizations. (Read the full article here.)

For the last year, the fellows have been paired with Cleveland Clinic nursing executive mentors. The fellows were assigned project-specific strategic planning work.

“One of the primary goals of this program is to take high potential leaders and give them the tools they need to create a path to develop and grow outside of their own expertise through more systems thinking,” says Kavanagh. Here, two mentor-mentee pairs explain how they worked together.

Partnership No. 1: Working on an education initiative

Sue Collier, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Vice President, Nursing and Chief Nursing Officer, Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital served as a mentor to Jake Runion, MBA, BSN, RN, CNOR, Director of Surgical Services at Cleveland Clinic’s main campus.

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Says Runion, “For a long time, I have wanted to make an impact on reintroducing perioperative surgery into the nursing education curriculum. Sue was able to give me important feedback and connect me with the people who could help. Our discussions were instrumental in paving the way for our team to turn our idea of a perioperative surgery education curriculum for nursing students into action.”

Runion worked with the Education team and reached out to contacts at Ursuline College’s (Pepper Pike, OH) nursing program to explain to them the importance of preparing nurses for perioperative care. Over several months, Runion led nurses on his team to create a contemporary academic-clinical partnership that focuses on a robust clinical rotation program for perioperative nursing. The rotation started in the fall 2019 semester at each Cleveland Clinic site. This first step ensures that Ursuline College students will receive 36 hours of perioperative clinical time, compared to the previous standard of eight hours of time, maximum.

“Our ultimate goal was to partner with Ursuline College and others to fully reintroduce peri-operative nursing into their didactic curriculum,” says Runyon. “I am so thrilled that we were able to create this new academic-clinical partnership. From this experience, I learned the value of broadening my ‘advisory team’ to be successful. The structured approach of being mentored with a senior nursing leader and implementing a project has taken this to a new level for me. It has led to more accountability.”

Says Dr. Collier, “This fellowship program helped us to develop a different mentoring relationship than I’ve had in the past, because it was more formal. We had a written document that outlined roles and expectations, a mentorship agreement with proposed timelines, and a form to create and track goals. The formal processes prompted thoughtful deliberation about what we each could and would bring to the equation, as well as what we hoped to gain. With the launch of the new curriculum, I’d say it was highly successful.”

Partnership No. 2: Working on an initiative to encourage innovation

Kimberly D. Hunter, DNP, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, Associate Chief Nursing Officer and Nursing Director in the Neurological and Orthopaedic and Rheumatologic institutes, was paired with Matt Drew, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC, a Nursing Director at Cleveland Clinic Euclid Hospital.

Drew’s project was focused on promoting clinical nurse awareness of innovation opportunities at Cleveland Clinic. “I was on a team that looked at driving participation in our innovation programs,” Drew explains. His team worked collaboratively with the Office of Nursing Research and Innovation to make recommendations. After meetings and discussions, the goal was determined that each nursing unit throughout the system would be required to submit at least one idea for enhancements to care every year to two established internal innovation programs, called “I Innovate” and “Step Forward.” These programs make it possible for all nursing caregivers to develop, cultivate and possibly implement innovations to improve patient care and/or create nursing efficiencies.

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“Through this fellowship I learned more about non-clinical work beyond acute care nursing,” says Drew. “Kim helped me to develop a new thought process that gave me more enterprise-wide thinking and she urged me to expand outside my comfort zone. It was a completely different perspective and so helpful that we had a full year to work together.”

Says Dr. Hunter, “We committed to meeting every month for a year and we spent time getting to know each other and reviewing his goals. We brainstormed opportunities. I enjoyed sharing insight with him from my experiences and I also enjoyed being a mentor to a nurse leader from a different hospital in our system. Because we followed through with each other every month, I believe we met our goals.

Kavanagh concludes, “Throughout this experience, the fellows successfully addressed real-world healthcare issues to expand their knowledge and enhance their ability to create, influence and drive outcomes and organizational change. They gained insight on leadership strategies and competencies, and they had rich opportunities to communicate in leadership circles.”

For more details: Read about the launch of the program in 2018.