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Developing nursing leaders from within

Penn State Hershey has many people to thank for supporting the building of the new Children’s Hospital. From its very foundation to its breathtaking Learning Wall, gracious donors have helped to turn this vision into a reality. Contributor Francis (Fran) S. Soistman, Jr., co-founder and executive vice president of Jessamine Healthcare, Inc., along with his wife, Holly, were  looking to make an impact in a specific way—the development of nursing leaders.

“I’ve spent almost my entire career on the healthcare insurance side of the business and have a very strong appreciation for the role that nurses play in delivering quality health care,” explains Soistman. In the past, the Soistmans have set up endowments for Penn State to fund nursing scholarships. “We wanted to do something of significance to further support men and women thinking about going into nursing and bring more highly trained nurses into the field.” When they decided they were ready to make another contribution, the Children’s Hospital seemed a good fit.

Jeanne Arnold speaks to nursing students

Jeanne Arnold, local philanthropist and advocate for the Children’s Hospital and former senior vice-president of patient care services for Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, speaks to one of the leadership classes.

In preparing for the transition to the new Children’s Hospital, the nursing leadership recognized a large staffing challenge. In fact, the Children’s Hospital would require a 100-percent increase in nurse managers and clinical nurse managers. To meet this need, Penn State Hershey saw the opportunity to “grow from within” by developing and implementing a program that would transition members of its existing pediatric and women’s health nursing teams into these leadership roles.

“We put together a proposal for succession planning and development of nursing leaders at the bedside that includes education on change management, emotional intelligence, crucial conversations, vision, and strategy,” explains Patti Hart, M.S.N., R.N., C.P.N., N.E.-B.C., director of nursing for the Children’s Hospital and Women’s Health.

“The proposal was compelling, and it became so evident that this was a great place to offer our financial support,” recalls Soistman. “We were all too happy to fund the training and succession planning necessary to support the hospital, and we’re thrilled that the grant has already made an impact.”

Meeting every quarter for a year and a half prior to the building of the Children’s Hospital, the program’s objective was to not only fill these nurse manager positions, but to truly develop outstanding nursing leaders who could best serve the youngest patients and who would help move change forward in the new building.

There are about 100 nurses who have either formal or informal leadership roles at the Children’s Hospital and in Women’s Health. These nurses, who include charge nurses, clinical practice group leaders, nurse educators, nurse managers, and clinical head nurses, are receiving varying degrees of education to prepare them for the transition.

Nurses will experience drastic changes to the way they practice in the new building. “Not only are they operating in a new environment that is unfamiliar to them, but sister units are being separated, and schedules have changed,” says Hart. “We wanted to give them the right tools and training needed to make these changes easier and to hold themselves and others accountable for managing the changes.”

So far, the succession planning is going well. Most of the leadership positions outlined in the grant that the Soistmans funded have been filled. The goal is to have them all filled by fall 2012, when the Children’s Hospital opens.  “Our nursing leaders are really embracing the program and are getting ready to handle the new challenges they’ll face,” says Hart.

“Nurses work hard and hold themselves to a high standard of care, but they also provide tremendous compassion and support to patients and their families,” says Soistman. “That’s an intangible, and it’s invaluable.”

– By Dawn Costantini

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