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Insider Secrets on Transitioning to a Nurse Educator


Transitioning from 25 years of emergency department nursing to nursing education in 2006 was a conscious decision. Unknowingly, I was simultaneously accepting a leadership position for which I was ill prepared. This personal deficit had a domino effect on the programs that I developed and translated to a work/life imbalance for many years. I have since learned that leadership does not grow naturally on an individual over time nor through a rite of passage. It is learned, embraced, and cultivated. I penned this blog to shorten the learning curve for others traveling a similar path.

1. Work on yourself - There are many avenues and resources to improve your emotional intelligence. As a National League for Nurses Simulation Leadership Fellow in 2015, I began my journey with the book Strength Based Leadership by T. Rath and B. Conchie. It highlights leadership with a focus on your personal strengths, assessing the strength of others to diversify your team, and building mutual appreciation amongst your team. To me, this book provided inspiration and encouragement to continue my journey. I have since listened to at least 130 audio books on leadership, women in leadership, and business. Most of the time I listen while I am on my morning walk; the words in the books serve to inspire me daily.

2. Get rid of passive tone and hedges in your conversation - Chapter 8 of Tara Mohr's Playing Big highlights the "little things" in speech. Did you know, the words just, actually, kind-of/almost are heard by peers as 'hedges'? They suggest self-doubt, apprehension, or insecurity and keep us from being heard or taken seriously. Additionally, nursing culture traditionally uses passive or suggestive language as opposed to active language. When I was co-developing the Healthcare Theatre® program at the University of Delaware, I knew that in order for the program to be successful, it would need additional administrative support. My request was "I was just hoping that we could also hire an administrative assistant." Can you guess who filled the role of administrative assistant for the first three years? Rewind, and lets re-state the original request "In order for Healthcare Theatre to run effectively, we need to hire an administrative assistant before July 1st." After practicing active, time sensitive diction, my request was granted. Check your tone before your requests; "I have a few things on my wish list" or "I almost think we need to evaluate the textbook we have been using". This verbiage will fall on deaf ears. Instead, I suggest you think of Cold Stone Ice Cream and their slogan "gotta have it". Add a time frame and justification and you will be well on your way to success.

3. Be a clock builder instead of a time teller - If I am being honest, this is the hardest one for me. In the book Built to Last, J. Collins and J. Porras explain the difference between a time teller and a clock builder. A time teller is focused on building a program in the short-term, requiring their expertise and presence for success. The clock builder creates a program for the long-term; building a legacy that can prosper throughout many generations. The key for clock building is holding yourself and everyone else accountable. Once there are established processes and expectations for everyone on the team, there is accountability. I learned this the hard way. After changing positions at the university, my successor was left with questions and loosely established processes. They were trying to build a clock from my years of time telling. It was frustrating for the both of us. Looking back, I wish I had understood the domino effects on the programs I was developing. I still prefer to be creative and engaged in visionary conversation but I also carve out time to build the clock for the team I am leading.

4. Do not compromise on what you know to be right - Margaret Thatcher says "If you are prepared to compromise on anything at any time you will achieve nothing". Do you struggle to get support for new initiatives or innovative technology? I suggest you include updated resources while you are clock building. When discussing curricular changes, use research findings, guidelines, and/or standards of practice to draw on for inspiration or justification. These resources are also helpful when trying to convince the decision maker to open the purse strings and approve budgetary items. It is easy to get side tracked during financial discussions; validated resources serve to ground and refocus the discussion.

I visualize my leadership journey as a long path; a majority is still before me but as I look back at the trodden road, I am happy with my progress. While entering into uncharted terrain, snippets of what I have heard over the last year are there to reassure me and give me confidence to move forward. I feel as though they have truly helped me. I will stay the course while standing on the shoulders of giants who have been there before me.

- Amy Cowperthwait Avkin CEO, RN, MSN, ACNS-BC 

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