20 years as chief nurse: Mass General's CNO on what's next after stepping down

Jeanette Ives Erikson, DNP, RN, first took at job at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1988 based on word of mouth from graduate school colleagues — and she hasn't left since.

She worked her way from a clinical care nurse to eventually become the hospital's CNO and senior vice president for patient care services.

"I feel blessed," she tells Becker's. "I've had what I would view as the best job in healthcare."TW JeanetteIvesErickson 0294 1200p

In November, she announced she would step down from her post to pursue other opportunities within MGH — including helping open two clinics and a hospital in Shanghai, China, and continuing research and nurse leadership development, among several other opportunities she is still "weighing," she says.

Here, Dr. Erikson looks back at her more than two decades in nursing to share her biggest accomplishment and what's changed in nursing, and looks forward to what's next for her.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What drew you into nursing originally?

Jeanette Ives Erickson: I originally wanted to be a psychiatrist, but when I was trying to make a decision on college, I had a wonderful neighbor who I highly respected who was a nurse. The neighbor provided wonderful guidance on what it was like to be a nurse and really changed my thinking. It's wonderful, when you're young and trying to make a lifetime decision at such an early age, to have great to have mentorship and guidance from people who care about you.

Q: What did she say to change your mind?

JIE: The difference is what nurses are able to do with patients; it's very different from other health professional groups. As we know, it's the ability of the nurse to be one with the patient, no matter where the patient is — in the hospital, in an ambulatory setting or at home. Nurses have high-quality time with patients at a time when they are most vulnerable or at a time of great joy in their life.

Q: What about Mass General attracted you there?

JIE: I went to graduate school at Boston University. In my graduate class there were many nurse leaders that worked at the MGH. They spoke highly about the environment, the support for the profession of nursing. They talked a lot about the world-class healthcare being delivered here. It was their words and accolades toward this organization that drew me to apply for a job here.

Q: What was it that made you stay?

JIE: Again, everything that was said about this organization, the mission — the most precious part being the advancement of clinical care — and the healing environment. This is an environment built upon inter-professional teamwork. I'm blessed to work in an environment where all the disciplines come together around the patient to deliver really safe, high-quality healthcare.

The career opportunities here have also been wonderful. Even…after my successor is found, I'm going to stay here working at the MGH. I was offered the opportunity to work on several key initiatives. This is wonderful because I get to work with many of the same people I've always worked with but on a different initiative.

I personally felt that after being in this position for 20 years, I needed to start thinking about what I want to do next and what other contributions I could make.

We have partnered with a group of people in Shanghai, China, and we're helping to open up a world-class hospital there. I've been a consultant on that project for the last five years. As we get closer to the hospital opening, my presence on that project will increase. One clinic has already opened, another will open in May or June, and six months after that the hospital will open. I truly have enjoyed this work and the team of people being hired in Shanghai. It's an incredible opportunity for me to really help build a nursing service with the wonderful nurses in Shanghai who are working on this effort.

I'm also going to do some fundraising activity and continue nursing research on understanding the environment of care, importance of creating a safe environment of care. And I've just been asked to do some nursing leadership development.

Q: If you had to pick one, what would you say your biggest career accomplishment was?

JIE: We really changed the way in which care is delivered in this organization by aligning all of the disciplines around the patient, so there's really more of an inter-professional teamwork. We're more patient-driven and have patient-focused initiatives.

And then to really understand if we achieved all of that, of building a real patient-focused environment of care, I think the greatest evaluation of our work is with our first Magnet designation.

Q: Throughout your nursing career, what's the biggest change you've seen the industry/nursing go through?

JIE: When I first graduated I was a critical care nurse. As I spend time clinically I have come to appreciate the rapid increase in patient acuity. Those patients I cared for in my intensive care unit are now on a general care unit. And that's due to discovery of new evidence-based practice initiatives, research and technology development. We are saving many more lives today.

I would also say there's [more of] an important appreciation of really knowing the patient than there was early in career. And I think healthcare is really looking at addressing disparities and building plans of care with culture, sexual preference, sexual identity, ethnicity in mind. And I'm very proud of that work that we have done over the course of my career.

Q: What are some words of advice you'd give to nurses who aspire to move to the C-suite?

JIE: Well first I would say being a leader and having the opportunity to work with nurses and to represent and to lead the clinical discipline of nursing, and to represent nursing throughout an organization or in external environments is a gift.

Setting your sights on being a chief nurse is an important decision both professionally and personally. But it's a role that I to this day feel blessed to have held.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Dr. Erikson worked more than 20 decades in nursing. In reality, she has worked more than two decades in the industry. We apologize for the error.

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