Skip Navigation LinksHome > April 2011 - Volume 41 - Issue 4 > Nursing Leadership in Professional Organizations
Journal of Nursing Administration:
doi: 10.1097/NNA.0b013e3182118566
Departments: Inspiration Point

Nursing Leadership in Professional Organizations

Hill, Karen S. DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE

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Author Information

Author Affiliations: Vice President/Nurse Executive, Administration, Central Baptist Hospital, Lexington, Kentucky.

Correspondence: Ms Hill, Central Baptist Hospital, 1740 Nicholasville Rd, Lexington, KY 40503 (

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This department highlights nursing leaders who have demonstrated the ability to inspire and lead change. This competency is seen in the ability to create, structure, and implement organizational change through strategic vision, risk taking, and effective communication. Each article showcases a project of a nurse leader who demonstrates change in a variety of environments, ranging from acute care hospitals to home care and alternative practice settings. Included are several "lessons learned" applicable to multiple settings that provide insight for other nurses in executive practice.

Over the years, each nursing leader I have had the pleasure of interviewing has been a role model and inspirational leader. This month's featured leader, Karen Drenkard, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is no exception. Karen is not only inspirational, but also in her new leadership role as the executive director of the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and previously as the director of the Magnet Recognition Program®, she has the opportunity to impact nursing practice and patient care throughout the world and for generations to come. Many nurse leaders report that working with their organizations on the "Magnet® journey," regardless of the end result, has improved the environment of care for nursing as well as raised the bar toward excellence in patient outcomes.

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About Dr Drenkard

With nursing degrees from Russell Sage College, Marymount University, and George Mason University, Karen feels that continuing her formal education not only opened the door for numerous career opportunities, but also helped develop new networks of professional colleagues and refined her writing skills. In her role at the ANCC, she continues to educate herself, now in the area of professional organization and association management. Reflecting on preparing to meet new career challenges, she suggests that continual learning and self-development should be lifelong activities.

Karen began her healthcare career as a staff nurse in medical-surgical nursing, quickly advancing to be a charge nurse and preceptor. After 3 years, she became a unit nursing director, starting on a pathway to formal leadership roles. She recounts that, sometimes in a career, hierarchical growth and promotion are not the only means to move forward. A lateral step in a career can support the development of skills and expertise while enhancing work-life balance. In Karen's case, 3 small children were the catalyst for her to move from direct management into a support role as a quality program coordinator role at Inova Fairfax Hospital. With a focus on system redesign as well as quality processes and regulatory preparedness, her new role was beneficial for her subsequent large-scope organizational leadership positions. In the system-level role, Karen coordinated redefinition of the care delivery model for 5 facilities as well as developed her skills as a facilitator for groups and teams. She gained expertise in leading organizational change and working with nursing leaders across the system to improve corporate culture as well as working across boundaries. She reports that these program coordination roles enhanced competencies such as managing large scale change and seeking input from multiple constituents with differing perspectives. Her advancement within the Inova Health System continued with her appointment as the system-wide chief nurse executive in 1999 and senior vice president of nursing in 2003. In these roles, she supported the successful attainment of Magnet redesignation for Fairfax Hospital and initial Magnet designation of Inova Loudoun Hospital, 2 of the 5 hospitals in the system. Subsequently, Inova Fair Oaks Hospital also attained Magnet designation.

Karen reflects back that the scope, size and time commitment of the job of a chief nurse is incredible. To be successful, the support of family is essential. The encouragement of her husband in her career progression was critical in both her nursing practice and educational pursuits. Family responsibilities, especially as a parent, are a priority, and she has always worked to ensure that her team members are also able to manage the needs of work and home life. For her, the need for balance was a consideration at several points in her career and led to her decision to make the lateral career moves. With young children, these times in her career provided opportunities to build skills and knowledge without line responsibility. This knowledge and her other skills proved helpful when career opportunities for line positions were forthcoming.

In 2008, Karen became the director of the Magnet Recognition Program at the ANCC. Following the retirement of long-time executive director, Dr Jeanne Floyd, PhD, RN, CAE, Karen assumed the role of ANCC executive director in January 2011. As executive director, she is responsible for implementing the vision and strategy of the ANCC, with operational responsibility for certification services, measurement services, accreditation of nursing continuing education, the Magnet Recognition Program, the Pathway to Excellence Program™, the Institute for Credentialing Research, the Institute for Credentialing Innovation, marketing and business development, and quality management. There is a board of directors for ANCC and 4 Commissions that govern the credentialing of both nursing individuals and healthcare organizations. Communicating with the number of directors and commissioners involved in these groups as well as support staff presents a new leadership challenge for Karen as she ensures adequate support and resources for each governing board.

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About the Magnet Recognition Program®

Karen has an opportunity to shape the future of nursing through her current roles with ANCC and the Magnet Recognition Program. Magnet organizations are leading initiatives to improve the structures and the framework for nursing practice while supporting nursing retention and satisfaction as well as patient care quality. In addition, the current emphasis in the Magnet Accreditation Manual© requires demonstration of sources of evidence that provide outcomes at all levels.1 This reinforcement of the benefit of evidence-based practice and evidence-based leadership has inspired some organizational leaders to learn more about how to improve their systems, increased comfort levels with nursing research and evidence-based practice, and developed refined support structures for nursing.

Research is available through the study of Magnet hospital environments to demonstrate relationships between nurse staffing, education, expertise, and patient outcomes,2 and Karen will continue to support the dissemination of these data as research develops. Her recent article, "The Business Case for Magnet,"3 provides a 10-year review of the Magnet research linking Magnet status to improved clinical quality, cost, service, and people/human resource outcomes and offers the return-on-investment opportunities that the Magnet designation brings to organizations.

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Lessons Learned

Reflecting on lessons learned for nurse leaders, Karen recommends the following:

* Never underestimate the value of networking. In each role of her career and through the Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellowship, Karen actively worked to learn networking skills and develop and maintain personal and professional relationships. Now in her current role, she recognizes the value of expanding her network outside nursing to leaders of large professional organizations and associations, again, benefiting both her organization's impact and herself personally though new relationships.

* Strategic advances along a career path may be, lateral. Karen found program coordination opportunities to be some of the most valuable in attaining skills that would later benefit her in other leadership roles.

* Work to improve your writing skills. As a member of several editorial boards including JONA, Karen feels that is it our obligation as nurse leaders to regularly disseminate new knowledge and perspectives through professional publications. In today's changing healthcare environment, nurse leaders must be able to succinctly and accurately develop a business case, write exemplars, and create and refine multimedia methods of communication.

* As a leader, you must be self-reflective in assessing your opportunities for continual learning and development. When presented with a new role or situation, you must create your own "orientation plan" to ensure you seek out the resources you need to meet expectations for new challenges.

* Assess the need to "call the meeting." One technique that Karen finds successful is to enlist the assistance of experts to "come to the table" or participate in activities and initiatives where their expertise is needed. This approach ensures that the right people are participating on teams and also that the right expertise is present to achieve the best solution.

* Educate yourself about technology. Karen is leading a movement to increase automation in the Magnet Program Office® accreditation process. Swift technological innovations are providing organizations such as the Magnet Recognition Program an immediate opportunity to reevaluate current expectations and work processes with a goal of migrating to less paper, thus increasing efficiency and responsiveness and decreasing costs.

* Nursing leadership and practice evolutions present as a global opportunity. Karen, along with the members of the Commission on Magnet, are looking to nurses in all countries to highlight and quantify the value of nursing excellence. This opportunity will be accelerated by translating the Magnet sources into other care delivery settings outside hospital. The principles that supported the development of the Magnet program in hospitals in the United States are universal. Applying those principles to other cultures, practice settings, and health systems as well as to other providers within the United States, priority for the future and a new frontier for Dr Drenkard's leadership.

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1. American Nurses Credentialing Center. Magnet Recognition Program® Application Manual. Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Credentialing Center; 2008.

2. Aiken L, Havens D, Sloane D. The Magnet Nursing Services Recognition Program: a comparison of two groups of magnet hospitals. J Nurs Adm. 2009;39(7/8):55-64.

3. Drenkard KN. The business case for Magnet. J Nurs Adm. 2010;40(6):263-271.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.