'There's a lot to be excited about in healthcare right now,' Pennsylvania nurse leader says

It's an interesting time to step into a nursing leadership role in a new hospital — depending on where you've been and what you've been doing, it can actually be like jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.

But that's not stopping many from moving up the ladder or laterally moving to another healthcare system. When they take on a new position they are able to lay fresh eyes on challenges. 

Also, they can add their unique perspective and strategies for launching initiatives that can make a real difference when it comes to managing nurse burnout and frustration due to the pandemic and subsequent nursing shortages.

A longtime nursing leader and educator, Stacey-Ann Okoth, DNP, RN, took on a new role as senior vice president and associate chief nursing executive at Jefferson Health in Philadelphia earlier in 2023. Dr. Okoth told Becker's she made the move because, "Believe it or not, there's a lot to be excited about in healthcare right now and I want to be a part of it."

Dr. Okoth is also treasurer of the American College of Healthcare Executives of Central Pennsylvania and co-chair of the Pennsylvania Nurse Leaders' membership committee.

As part of an initiative to give hospital leaders a platform to share opinions and advice on a variety of topics, Becker's spoke with Dr. Okoth to gain her valuable insight on topics of current interest to healthcare executives. 

(If you would like to be featured in this Q&A series, please send an email to bari@beckershealthcare.com)

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: Why did you decide to take on a new chief nursing executive position now? 

Dr. Stacey-Ann Okoth: The pandemic brought about a lot of changes that disrupted healthcare — such as the ability to work remotely in many positions. This has opened up a lot of possibilities [for us] to look at alternative models of care to drive down healthcare costs and provide the best experience for the employee and the patient. 

This work excites me — being able to be a part of the big strategy to get our workforce on track, creating pipelines through relationships and alternative methods and leveraging technology. I also believe that one of my skills is leadership development. There are many new leaders in healthcare and I want to help mentor them. I want them to know that if I can do it, they can too. 

I also took on this role because of representation. So many people of color and women have reached out to me to let me know that I am an inspiration to them. They feel comfortable bringing their concerns forward. We work together to solve them through our councils or through coming to the table and discussing meaningful solutions. 

Q: Do you have specific ideas about ways to improve patient care in your hospital? 

SO: I do. We have to find a way to get nurses to practice at the top of their licenses. When nurses can practice to their full potential, access is created for patients. Some of my best providers have been advanced practice nurses such as nurse midwives, nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists. In many cases it's the hospital's own bureaucracy that causes barriers to care. 

For instance, medical staff bylaws requiring a doctor to sign a nurse practitioner's orders when it is not legally required or CRNAs not allowed to do certain procedures in one hospital while they are allowed to do them in another. In certain cases, the CRNA has more practice because the doctors have been consumed with administrative duties. 

Q: How do you stay current on new trends in nursing care? How will you be looking to implement them in your hospital? 

SO: I stay current with nursing trends in many ways. I have found that networking with other professionals has been rewarding. Often, we are tackling the same problems and there may already be a solution that exists or perhaps they've tried a new product and they can share their experiences. 

For example, virtual nursing is a strategy that some organizations have deployed to fill the staffing gaps and create alternative staffing options. In speaking with other organizations that have implemented this program, we were able to get ahead of the process. 

Q: What's most important to keep top of mind as experienced nurses mentor new nurses? 

SO: The most important thing to keep in mind is that the "experienced" nurses on some units have less than two years of experience, because a lot of nurses with many years of experience have left healthcare. So the people we are calling experienced are still learning themselves, and burnout is more prevalent. We have to keep reminding them that it is okay to take care of themselves. There is also a need to be mindful of generational differences, which can be a learning opportunity for both mentor and mentee.  

Q: As you just mentioned, burnout and frustration are high. At the same time, nurses are retiring, leaving the profession or moving to a new position. What initiatives, specifically, are you implementing to motivate your nurses? 

SO: We have placed a huge focus on mental health where we partner with organizations that offer services for our employees. We have also changed traditional schedules in some areas shifting from 12-hour shifts to alternative shifts where the employee can have time to put their children on the bus and pick them up from school. 

We also created a nurse emeritus program where retired nurses can return with a modified schedule and work on projects or tasks to help decrease the workload. 

Further, nurses have been really motivated by our new and improved clinical ladder. Nurses can make up to an additional $10,000 per year by documenting the work that they already do and sharing their knowledge through certification and education to others.  


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