“Whenever someone taps me on the shoulder and tells me they see something in me that maybe I don’t even see in myself, it thrusts me into action,” says Pam White, chief nursing officer of the Northwest Wisconsin region of Mayo Clinic Health System. Even as a brand new nurse, Pam was encouraged to return to her BSN alma mater, the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, for an MSN. “It wasn’t something I’d even thought of, but I had good mentors and people encouraging me,” she says.
Building a career
Pam worked in the early intervention stroke center at Sacred Heart Hospital while she earned the MSN. She enjoyed furthering her education and continued on to become an Adult Health Nurse Practitioner, also at UW Eau Claire. “I started carving out my role in neurosurgery,” says Pam.
She moved to Luther Midelfort’s neuroscience stroke center in 1993. When the chief nursing officer asked her to take an interim director position of the unit, yet again Pam was empowered. “It’s a theme in my life: someone challenges me and I pause to think about it, and ultimately step up.” She served as department director of neurology, spine and neurosurgery, physical medicine and rehabilitation, neurodiagnostics and sleep disorders in the clinic and the neuroscience/pediatric/trauma and neuroscience/trauma ICU in the hospital until 2007.
A move into administration
Eventually, Pam made her way into nursing administration at Mayo Clinic Health System, and was named director in nursing administration in 2007. When Pam’s CNO told her that she intended to retire in a few years and encouraged Pam to think about applying for her position, Pam prepared herself. In 2012, she was selected after a national search to become the CNO of Mayo Clinic Health System, Northwest Wisconsin. “I absolutely love what I do,” she says. Pam is responsible for five hospitals, 16 clinics and a home health and hospice center.
Coming full circle
As Pam nears the end of her career, she can’t help but reflect on the people who encouraged and supported her along the way—especially in the pursuit of education and new career opportunities. She credits colleagues, mentors and family with cheering her on.
So when Mayo Clinic rolled out a policy of minimum educational standards for nurses and administrators, Pam knew she had to step up to yet another challenge. “I’m a believer in walking the talk,” she says. “There is no doctoral requirement for my job, but if I’m asking many of my staff to go back to school, I need to do it too.”
Finding American Sentinel University
As a busy CNO, Pam needed to find a program that fit her life. When she found American Sentinel’s Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership program, the curriculum was exactly what she was looking for to “enhance her knowledge on a daily basis.” Pam started in 2014. “It’s stretched me in ways I never thought possible. I reflected on my decades of experience and really brought it all into my school experience.”
Learning from a cohort of experienced leaders from around the country was another unexpected benefit. “One of the best parts of the program is the perspective gained from colleagues who work in many different areas and roles,” she says.
Proud to represent
As a respected leader at Mayo Clinic, unsurprisingly, Pam’s commitment to lead by example has had a positive impact. “I am a leader at this hospital and so the first thing people ask me when they learn I’m in school is what school I go to,” she says. Today, more than 20 people at Mayo have attended or are attending American Sentinel for various programs.
Pam is in the home stretch of her DNP program and in June 2016, will travel to Denver to walk in commencement ceremonies with her cohort. As for what’s next, she says her goal with the DNP was to become a better leader—and she most certainly has. “I want to continue to make a difference for my organization and staff, but ultimately, I want to lead in a way that influences and impacts the outcomes and experience of our patients,” Pam says. “I didn’t go back to school for the three letters behind my name; I did it to understand what is happening in today’s healthcare world and how it impacts my organization. The DNP allowed me to broaden my thinking and gain viewpoints from colleagues who have become my forever friends. It’s been an absolutely amazing experience.”
Inspired by Pam’s story? A DNP with a specialization in educational leadership prepares master’s-educated nurses in nursing or other disciplines for leadership roles in today’s healthcare environment. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.
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