With National Nursing Week kicking off May 6, this is a great time to not only celebrate those who do so much on the front lines of patient care, but also encourage them on as they continue to develop, learn and grow.

In that spirit, we recently sat down with someone who knows more than a little bit about opportunities for nurses — and how you can take advantage of them. As Dr. Jacqueline Herd, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Executive Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) of Grady Health System, said with a smile, "Opportunities are one thing hospitals aren't short on!"

This is Dr. Herd's story in her own words, her path to leadership — and what nurses everywhere can do to grow and develop in their careers.


Q: For nurses considering a leadership track, what advice do you have?

There are so many things for nurses to focus on, but I think it can be broken down into four buckets.

The first thing to focus on is your leadership ability on the front line. How you're leading and working with patients right now says a lot about your potential as a leader later on.

From there, I think you need to reflect on the traits that make for great leaders in general, and try to embody them. Are you a team player? Are you passionate about what you do? Can you lead by example? These are important questions. You'll also need to demonstrate integrity and accountability — after all, many problems you'll face will have existed before you took on a leadership role, but now they're you're responsibility. So what’re you going to do about them?

Third, I can’t overstate the importance of bringing positive energy to work every day, too, since you'll be responsible for energizing and motivating your entire team.

And finally, I think emotional intelligence is key. This extends to the ability to quickly and accurately both read verbal and nonverbal cues. You shouldn’t underestimate how much these kinds of “soft” skills matter to your success.


Q: In terms of education and training, how can nurses prepare themselves for leadership roles?

Nursing leaders can come from all walks of life, from all specialties and practice areas. But no matter what path you follow, there are some minimal educational requirements — for starters, a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing. This education definitely helps to give you the foundational knowledge you'll need in your career. Beyond that, a lot of nurses go back to get MBAs or doctorate degrees, all of which can add to that foundation.


Q: What kind of on-the-job opportunities can nurses pursue to cultivate leadership skills?

Ideally, leadership preparation starts early in your career. As soon as you're coming out of nursing school, my advice would be to look for opportunities where you can lead projects or take on additional responsibilities.

While we are on a Magnet Journey, we are also on a broader journey, focusing on developing nursing professional practices, nursing empowerment, nursing governance and nursing accountability. This creates opportunities for nurses to raise their hands and have active, as opposed to passive, voices in their own practice.

So for nurses interested in leadership, it really starts at the unit level. But you're not going to go from nurse to director overnight, so it's very important that you're seen and recognized as someone who wants to take on leadership. Talk to your CNO. Tell them your goals, and be clear. There's no reason not to say, “You know, I really want to be a unit director or a leader one day.”


Q: Can you tell us a bit about your own growth and development? How did you evolve into a leader?

In my own career, you might say that I come from the "hard knock" or "thrown-into-the-frying-pan" school of leadership development. In my case, a curveball was thrown my way when the previous CNO left our organization very suddenly. There was a leadership vacuum, and I was asked to be the interim CNO.

Initially, I remember thinking, “I can’t possibly do that.” But I also remember the advice and encouragement I received from the people around me. I found I had a lot of formal and informal support, at all levels.

Ultimately, I discovered that my background and experience had prepared me for success and that I had the knowledge and expertise to thrive in the new role. It taught me that I’m a leader — which is one of the reasons that understanding the traits of effective leadership is something that I think is a very important topic today.


Q: How do the skills that make for successful nurses differ from those that make for success in a leadership role like CNO?

Most people think because someone is a very good clinical nurse that they will be a great leader, which isn’t necessarily true. Not all clinical nurses are comfortable moving into that leadership role. People have to believe in your mission and vision. And nurses, in particular, often struggle with understanding the business side of things, not just the medical side of the equation. But as nursing leaders, we have to master the business side, too — budgets, finance, managing numbers and so on.


Q: What role does mentorship play in your work today?

Today, I'm happy to say that I've had the chance to mentor some really talented people. In fact, I’d say I've mentored at least six nurses who are now CNOs. But it goes back to identifying nurses who are serious about leadership, then helping them along the way as they advance their careers.

Bear in mind that a lot of these relationships evolve informally in healthcare settings. So I’d encourage you to reach out to leaders within your organization or leaders you’ve worked with in the past. Always be looking for opportunities to take on more responsibility and gain visibility.


Q: How important is lifelong learning to a nurse's career?

I'm glad you asked that, because I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for nurses to be committed to lifelong learning. It really goes back to the moment you complete your nursing program and take your oath, part of which includes a pledge to ongoing learning.

The bottom line is that you can’t stay current, deliver the highest-quality care and improve the lives of patients unless you’re always continuing to learn.


Q: Based on your experience, how does a nurse’s specialty or background impact the way they should seek leadership opportunities?

When I was still in school, I changed my degree from pre-med to nursing because I felt like there would be so many opportunities within nursing to choose my own path. And the reality is that there are so many different paths to leadership, whether that means moving into risk, into teaching and education, into informatics — whatever the case may be. The most important thing is to find your passion as it relates to healthcare and helping patients. Find your passion and pursue it.


Q: In the news, we hear a lot about nursing shortages. What's your outlook there?

The national nursing shortage, caused in part by increasing numbers of baby boomers retiring, is a real challenge. At the same time, nursing leaders face a unique challenge — and to solve it, I think we'll need to make a significant paradigm shift.

For example, the expectation used to be that you couldn’t really raise your hand and announce that you wanted to be a nursing leader until you had, let's say, five years of experience under your belt. But that’s not the case any more. The nationwide nursing shortage is also a leadership shortage. And as leaders, therefore, we need to be initiating conversations about leadership with nurses much earlier on in their careers.

We need to build a pipeline to backfill for nurses generally, of course. But that fact also underscores the broader need to build a pipeline of nurses to backfill for leaders as well.


ready to connect dr. herd’s story with your own?

As Dr. Herd’s story demonstrates, there are many pathways to leadership for nurses today. There’s also no better time than National Nursing Week to get started, and Randstad can help.

We take a high-tech, high-touch approach to staffing — because, like nurses, we recognize the power of the human touch — and connect great candidates with opportunities where they can continue to learn and grow every day.

Are you ready to accelerate your professional development? Check out all of the openings for nurses available through Randstad today. Plus, if you’re in the Atlanta area, reach out to one of our local recruiters to learn about opportunities to join Dr. Herd at Grady Health.