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New fellowship program prepares nursing students for leadership roles

New fellowship program prepares nursing students for leadership roles

Stephanie Wilson, Virginia Campbell and Paige Lawson

Equipping up-and-coming student leaders with the necessary skills for success will strengthen their impact on the nursing profession and the health care community.

Even more important, it will help identify and fill a need for next-generation leaders, a result of the increasing complexity of health care delivery combined with the current and impending wave of retirements among baby-boomer leaders in nursing.

In direct response to this need, VCU School of Nursing has created and launched a new Leadership Fellows Program. The program actively encourages and supports the development of future leaders in nursing and provides selected outstanding undergraduate students with full in-state tuition for two years.

“Our goal is to identify leadership ability early and create a pipeline of future nurse leaders prepared for the evolving health care system,” said Jean Giddens, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, dean and the Doris B. Yingling Endowed Chair.  “We have purposely aligned this leadership program to address the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing recommendation that we do more to prepare nurses to be full partners in redesigning health care.”

Members of the inaugural class of fellows – who were chosen based on strong academic performance, financial need and a commitment to serving the community and those in need -- couldn’t be happier to have been tapped for the opportunity.

They are not alone. According to the 2017 AMN Healthcare Survey of Registered Nurses, a larger percentage of millennial nurses than their predecessors are interested in becoming leaders in the profession.

“I am unbelievably grateful … and hope that I am able to pay it forward through the rest of my time in school as well as throughout my career as a nurse,” said Stephanie Jane Wilson of Fredericksburg, a senior in the traditional B.S. program.

Goals for program participants range from understanding leadership roles in multiple contexts within nursing to developing skills in competencies such as communications, building and sustaining relationships, and self-awareness.

Paige Lawson of Richmond, a senior, has been heavily involved in community service since her teens, having volunteered with organizations ranging from a volunteer rescue squad and Nursing Students Without Borders to VCU Health’s Hume Lee Transplant Unit and the Nursing Christian Fellowship.

 “I am very excited to have another avenue that allows me to explore my love for nursing and community involvement/engagement,” Lawson says.

The fellows’ curriculum offers program learning sessions on topics such as listening for effective leadership, supporting underserved communities, promoting diversity and inclusion, and leading change. Each fellow is matched with a mentor, a nursing professional, for one-on-one conversations and guidance.  Opportunities also will be provided to support the School of Nursing’s special initiatives and philanthropic activities, typically via involvement in alumni or development events or publications.

In year one, fellows must attend one or more school-sponsored lectures. They will be asked to reflect upon and discuss what they learned, how it can be applied to their careers and how it supports their leadership development.

Collaborative service projects are a highlight of year two. Teams of two to four fellows will identify a project and mentor(s), then develop a plan for implementation. Each team will produce a reflective paper and make a presentation based on the experience.

The 2017-18 fellows share a diversity of career interests, including emergency medicine, pediatrics, anesthesia and intensive care or neonatal intensive care. All have exemplified the traits that pave the path to successful leadership.

Virginia Campbell describes her fellowship as a privilege and distinction that has “further fueled and inspired my desire to give back to the community.” Her path to nursing school, she says, was positively influenced by the number of supportive, inspiring nurses in her family.

“I knew I wanted a career that was rewarding and that gave me an opportunity to make a difference,” adds Campbell, a senior who calls Fredericksburg and Miami home. As community chair of the Student Nurses Association at VCU, she plans and participates in all of the organization’s community outreach events. She also serves as a community ambassador for the school.

“I have always been so impressed by those who work in health care,” she says.

Lawson looks forward to further developing her leadership skills through the program. Having experienced the rare opportunity of working as an EMT at age 16, she was introduced to the concept of interprofessional teams and identified with the role of nurse.

She discovered – and was impressed by the fact -- that by being a constant figure in the patient’s care, the nurse has the opportunity to interact and develop a real relationship with the patient.

Applying leadership skills in her chosen profession is important to Wilson, as well. She cites the opportunity to challenge her mind as she learns to provide excellent patient care and ultimately to make a difference in people’s lives.

No stranger to special honors, Wilson has received a Virginia Merit Scholarship, is a 2017 University Student Scholar and has been on the dean’s list since her first semester at the school.

But, she notes, it is a particular honor to have been one of the first students chosen as leadership fellows. Hopefully, she says, many future students will have the opportunity.

In its initial year, the Leadership Fellows Program is funded from the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation Scholarship Fund, with the students designated as Whitehead Fellows.

The school plans to name another four to six leadership fellows next year and six more in 2020 with the goal of attracting new endowments that will allow the program to continue to expand. Thus, each cohort will be named for its scholarship source.

By Cynthia McMullen






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