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Thoughts From a New Nurse COO

By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   January 13, 2015

Often the only nurse in the executive suite is the CNO, but the new president and COO of the University of Vermont Medical Center, an RN, has spent years in executive leadership positions without ever being CNO.

What did Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN, do on her very first day as the new president and COO of the University of Vermont Medical Center? She spent some quality time with the hospital's nurse leaders.


Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN

"The first thing I did last Friday [January 2] was spend four hours on the patient care ward," she says. "It's really important for me to listen and learn, and that's what I've been doing this week."

So often, the only nurse in the executive suite is the CNO, but Whalen has spent years in executive leadership positions—as chief executive of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and executive vice president at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson—without ever having been a CNO. She says nurses in the c-suite are uniquely prepared to see patient care throughout the entire healthcare continuum.

It's "really looking at the care of the patient from a more holistic approach, from start to finish," Whalen says. "I think the nurse sitting at the table really has the education and qualifications and background to really look at the entire perspective of patient care." She adds that nursing is the only discipline at the table with that level of training.

This training has taught Whalen to always think about the patient in her executive decision making. She says her entire commitment and passion is putting patients first, directly thinking about how every decision she makes will impact patient safety and quality.

"I think that was ingrained in me as a nurse," she says.

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Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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