People are the priority, says Providence CNO Dr. Sylvain Trepanier

As systemwide chief nursing officer of Renton, Wash.-based Providence, Sylvain "Syl" Trepanier, DNP, RN, oversees a team of 48,000 nurses across the 51-hospital system.

Dr. Trepanier joined Providence in 2017 and most recently served as chief clinical executive for the system's Southern California region. He stepped into his current role Jan. 1.

One of Dr. Trepanier's first major priorities as CNO is to grow Providence's Nursing Institute and Clinical Academy, an accredited professional development program that seeks to create a sustained pipeline of specialty nurses, nurse practitioners and other clinicians.

Here, Dr. Trepanier shares the biggest issue he's currently facing as a CNO and the best piece of leadership advice he's ever received, among other topics. 

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for style and clarity. 

Question: What is the biggest issue you're facing as a CNO today, and how are you working to address it?

Dr. Syl Trepanier: The biggest issue we are facing today is the workforce crisis in the United States. We have struggled with a nursing shortage over the last decades. That said, in my 32 years of practice, this is the worst I have seen by far. The crisis is fed by a myriad of forces such as a pandemic that shook us to our core, an increase in retirement, and an increase in both patient acuity and volume due to significant delays in care related to the pandemic. We have also seen many local, state and federal mandates and pre-licensure limited admission capacity.

With the Providence Clinical Academy, we support all nurses who transition into practice as a new graduate nurse via a residency and those who transition into specialty via a fellowship. Providence has also invested in our people by announcing an investment of $220 million into our workforce through recognition and referral bonuses and rapidly filling 17,000 job openings.

Q: What are your top nursing priorities for 2022?

ST: At Providence, the top nursing priorities for 2022 are workforce, workforce and workforce. Our people are our most important asset. To that end, we must focus on hiring, onboarding and retaining registered nurses. To support the priorities above, nurse leaders must sustain investment in the workforce, such as supporting residency for all new graduate nurses. We must remain steadfast in promoting the well-being of nurses, invest in their development and promote a culture of safety, equity, inclusion and a sense of belonging. 

Q: What are the most important skills CNOs need to thrive in today's healthcare landscape?

ST: The American Organization for Nursing Leadership offers a comprehensive list of competencies. To supplement this document, I would suggest that CNOs need to demonstrate warmth. Showing up with warmth will foster the trust required to inspire others. In difficult times, nurses need to be continuously inspired. I would also suggest that nursing leaders need to demonstrate agility and move quickly with grace. Lastly, now is a great time to innovate and take risks.   

Q: What's the best piece of leadership advice you've ever received?

ST: Many leaders have inspired me in my career, and the best piece of advice I received was to listen deeply and actively. The best way to listen is to ask questions and to demonstrate curiosity. When you demonstrate curiosity, it allows you to connect with others, and it fosters innovation. Lastly, curiosity will enable you to listen with empathy.

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