A UPMC nurse's rapid rise to leadership

Ashley Iannazzo, DNP, RN, has experienced various changes during her career trajectory. Most recently, she went from one direct report three years ago to overseeing about 700 employees as senior director of clinical operations at the UPMC Center for Nursing Excellence and UPMC Travel Staffing senior nurse leader. 

Dr. Iannazzo shared how she views her leadership journey, discussed her role in Pittsburgh-based UPMC's in-house travel staffing agency, and passed along advice to professionals who are striving to level up.

Her journey in healthcare has roots going back to high school.

"I always knew I liked medicine, whether it be as a medical doctor or a veterinarian," Dr. Iannazzo told Becker's. Then, "I got an opportunity in high school to shadow a nurse, and I loved being able to be with the patient all day and connect with the families. 

"And that was the opportunity I needed to connect my personality and love for partnership and connection with that medicine aspect that interested me as well."

After high school, Dr. Iannazzo applied to nursing schools, ending up at University of Pittsburgh Nursing for her four-year degree. She selected a med-surg rotation at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh. 

"I worked on Magee's … med-surg telemetry unit. I did my transitions there, and then I was hired over spring break," she said in a UPMC article.

"I was so proud that I already had a job before I even graduated. I started there in the summer, and I quickly trained to charge nurse due to some needs on the unit and my natural ability to lead teams. I then returned to Pitt for a Master of Nursing Science in the Clinical Nurse Leader program. I took advantage of our flexible scheduling programs by becoming a full-time weekend program nurse."

Dr. Iannazzo later was offered a quality improvement fellowship and then hired full-time as a quality nurse coordinator. After completing her doctorate in health systems executive leadership, she stepped into a programmatic nurse specialist role supporting the UPMC Experience. She was then promoted to director, and then promoted to senior director with the launch of UPMC's in-house travel staffing agency. 

UPMC initially announced in December 2021 that it had created UPMC Travel Staffing, a new in-house travel staffing agency to address a nursing shortage and to attract and retain workers. 

Through the agency, nurses and surgical technologists earn $85 an hour and $63 an hour, respectively, in addition to a $2,880 stipend at the beginning of each six-week assignment.

As of June 1, UPMC has hired more than 700 staff into the in-house travel staffing agency, with 60 percent of those workers being external hires, Maribeth McLaughlin, MPM, BSN, RN, chief nursing executive for UPMC, told Becker's earlier this year.

And UPMC has now added a regional option to the program.

Dr. Iannazzo said her involvement as a UPMC Travel Staffing senior nurse leader took a leap of faith.

"I got to experience the pandemic firsthand, working in a corporate role, primarily focused on our capacity and staffing operations," she explained. "And then a year later, UPMC knew we needed a different strategy and a different approach to not only staffing but also recruitment and retention of our own staff. … The chief nurse executive approached me and said, 'Hey, we're going to do this, help me put this proposal together.' And we launched it within 30 to 45 days."

Throughout her career, leaders have provided growth opportunities because she's let them know about her interests, she said. 

"I've been coached and mentored by not only our [human resources] colleagues, but also our finance colleagues. My leaders set me up for success with the network that I could build and start trusting over the past three years."

Dr. Iannazzo encouraged other healthcare professionals seeking leadership opportunities to communicate with their own leaders about their interests and where they want to grow in their career. 

"I've always taken advantage of my annual performance reviews and my monthly one-on-one meetings to have those open conversations and share my interests and share what I feel like I need an opportunity to work on and how I like to be recognized," she said. "And I think making sure your leaders know what you're interested in and what you think your future might look like is important."

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