Why 1 chief nurse nixed 'challenges' from her vocabulary

Dianne Aroh, MSN, RN, chief nursing officer at Tacoma, Wash.-based Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, is passionate about turning every challenge into an opportunity.

Ms. Aroh grew up in Jamaica and from a young age, she wanted to be a lawyer. It was not until her brother was injured playing soccer that she considered an entirely new field. 

"I was very involved in his care," she told Becker's. "I was at the hospital every day after school and I was so fascinated with the nurses, physicians and caring. I wanted to be his nurse and I felt that was a calling for me."

After immigrating to the United States, she began working at New York City-based Montefiore Health System. "They really saw more in me than I saw in myself," she said. Her mentors helped her move from a staff nurse into manager roles. Eventually, she became the chief nurse executive at the hospital. From there, she served as executive leadership at two hospitals before taking her current position at Virginia Mason in 2021.

Here, she discusses some of the challenges in healthcare and the programs she is most proud of.

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

Question: What's the greatest challenge facing nurses right now?

Dianne Aroh: The greatest challenge facing nursing is also its most exciting opportunity. We need nurse leaders to be more reflective about how we are approaching challenges and our willingness and courage to abandon what we're comfortable with so we can move into the future of nursing. Different people want different things, and people are being more open about what's important to them. Yes, we are confronting challenges, but I want to change the word "challenge" to new opportunities.

Q: What concerns you most about the healthcare field?

DA: Our willingness to be bolder. I think what concerns me most is that we will abandon optimism in the face of challenges. But the opportunities to do something differently, I should say, are insurmountable. I think making sure that we remain in a state of optimism, understanding and reflection will allow leaders to see that what worked in the past may not work now. We need to ensure that we are changing and transforming as leaders — for us to push back on the traditional ways of how we've always managed, and lead in a different way. We should consider our workforce as true partners in our strategy and abandon that top-down approach to leadership. We are workers together and we have a common goal, and we're gonna get through this together.

Q: What's something your hospital or system is doing that you're most proud of?

DA: I am proud of the growth we've made, like our commitment to health equity, that we have more minority physicians, and the fact that we've made that level of commitment and we put our money behind that commitment. I am also proud that we continue to invest in specialty programs. 

And of course, the fact that we're leveraging technology and taking our nurses into a different type of care model. We are now embracing the fact that nurses need to practice at the top of their licenses. We are hiring more pharmacy techs and are going to hire safety companions to ease the burden of work on nurses. I'm also proud of the fact that we are going to be promoting more upskilling of people within our organization that want to have a different career trajectory. 

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

DA: I would say the best leadership advice that I've ever received is never let anyone define you; never let anyone tell you who you can be or who you are.

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