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5 Chief Nursing Officers Who Are Changing Healthcare

Analysis  |  By Jennifer Thew RN  
   July 26, 2019

Nurse executives discuss how they've successfully tackled challenges in the healthcare industry, and what they've learned along the way.

This article appears in the September/October 2019 editon of HealthLeaders magazine. 

In light of the industry's movement toward issues such as value-based care, changing reimbursement models, and increased consumerism, today's nurse leaders must develop creative, innovative, and effective solutions that can improve healthcare delivery.

Meet five CNOs from around the country who are helping to do just that. These leaders share their experiences, ideas, and successes shifting organizational outcomes, elevating patient care, and changing the work environment.

Nurse executives like these will share their ideas and successes in healthcare at the upcoming HealthLeaders CNO Exchange being held November 13–15 in Ojai, California.

Below is a roundup of stories HealthLeaders has written about these five nursing leaders and the ways they are helping to shape the healthcare industry.

Katie Boston-Leary, RN – Your Nurses Can Fix Your Hospital

Nurses can improve quality and outcomes, enhance an organization's culture, and build relationships with patients, colleagues, and the community.

The key to moving forward is having strong nurse leaders who are willing to advocate for nursing in the C-suite.

"It is really being able to have nurse leaders that can stand with their finance person, with their CEO, and work to get proper data analytics or IT resources to better utilize and manage nursing resources. When our frontline nurses are stretched with managing volume and high acuity, nurses barely have time to perform value-added care that is meaningful versus what we see today—less critical thinking and largely computer-driven protocols, which is 'color by numbers' nursing care," says Katie Boston-Leary, RN, MBA, MHA, BSN, CNOR, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer at University of Maryland Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, Maryland.

Boston-Leary shares how she empowered nurse residents to come up with evidence-based solutions to improve the work environment.

Karen Clements, RN – Why This CNO Takes Advice From a Millennial Nurse

When Karen Clements, RN, BSN, MSB, FACHE, CNO at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in New Hampshire, decided to enlist a millennial nurse to be her mentor to ensure she was meeting the needs of this generation of nurses, Clements flipped the traditional mentoring model on its head.

In an effort to improve the organization's retention rates by better understanding the needs of millennial nurses, Clements sought guidance from a millennial bedside nurse.

“I think it’s important to stay on top of the issues of the nurses coming in and managing the different generations, [and] to be able to provide opportunities for growth, preceptorship, and communication methods,” she says. "I think all of us need to figure out how to communicate with these different generations [about] the work ethic and the schedules and everything that goes along with that."

Clements shares insights she's gained from her millennial mentor on how to meet the needs of this generation.

Linda Hofler, RN – 3 Ways Nurse Leaders Can Change Workplace Culture

To improve nurse job outcomes, nurse leaders need to pay special attention to the work environment.

Leaders at North Carolina–based Vidant Health have committed resources to change the workplace culture for its nurses with the philosophy that engaged and motivated nurses provide better care to patients. Linda Hofler, PhD, RN, NEA‐BC, FACHE, senior vice president and nurse executive at Vidant Medical Center describes the implementation as a "holistic approach to organizational excellence" that benefits the nurses and trickles down positively to the patients.

Vidant's focus on its team members' experience has been occurring for about two years, Hofler says.

"This is probably the most rewarding work I've done in a long time, but it's hard work because in the business of healthcare, people want to check a box and go on to the next thing," Hofler says. "And this is not about checking a box. It's about building networks and finding ways to create new and different ways of doing and being."

Hofler shares how she and the leadership team at Vidant have reshaped the nurse work environment to achieve organizational excellence.

Barbara Jacobs, RN— Improve Patient Experience in Two Sentences

In 2001, the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine), issued the report, "Crossing the Quality Chasm." In it, the organization cited patient-centered care, which it defines as "care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions," as one of six aims for improving the healthcare system.

Barbara Jacobs, RN, MSN, CNO at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Maryland,

is a proponent of making personal connections with patients to facilitate a patient-centered approach.

Jacobs' interest in fostering nurse-patient connections started when she noticed the practice of interacting with the patient as a person was beginning to get lost amid hectic days and technology.

"We were getting everything into the computers and getting so technologically savvy and had volumes of information on a patient, but we were missing the human side of their care," she says. "If you look at people who went into nursing, what helps us feel good about ourselves is helping other people. We want to do that, but sometimes [because of] the distractions of busy days and all of the multitasking that people do, we lose track of the caring part that makes that patient feel cared for."

Jacobs shares how she has worked with staff to help them connect with patients without making it into another time-consuming thing on an already overflowing to-do list.

Erin LaCross, RN – 5 Strategies New CNOs Should Know

By traditional nursing standards, Erin LaCross, DNP, RN, CMSRN, CENP, CNO at Parkview Regional Medical Center and Affiliates in Fort Wayne, Indiana, moved up the leadership ladder swiftly. She has gone from unit clerk 2003 to chief nursing officer in 2018.

As a new CNO, she has learned multiple tactics to become a strong leader.

For example, she emphasizes the importance of getting feedback from both nurses and physicians to better inform the decisions she must make to drive the organization forward.

"I think for a new CNO just out of the gate, [it's good to have] that frame of mind that you're not expected to know all the answers yourself," she says. "It's always best to ask the people who provide direct care to your patients and to your community."

Additionally, adopting a "better is better than perfect" philosophy can help nurse leaders and bedside nurses embrace a mindset of continuous improvement.

"I think where we can get hung up is, we want things to be perfect before we implement any changes," she observes. "And then, in the meantime, while we're waiting for perfection, how many patients could have had better care?"

She shares more details about her leadership strategy that focuses on empowering and inspiring other leaders and staff to improve healthcare.

The CNO Exchange is one of six healthcare thought-leadership and networking events that HealthLeaders holds annually. While the events are invitation-only, qualified healthcare executives, director-level and above, will be considered. To inquire about the HealthLeaders Exchange program, email us at

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Barbara Jacobs, RN, MSN, CNO at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Maryland, talks with fellow nurse leaders at the 2018 HealthLeaders CNO Exchange.(Photo/Spencer Selvidge)

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