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Leading Care: Dr. Anne Fink and the National League for Nursing

In this interview, Anne M. Fink ’11 PhD, RN, CNE reflects on her leadership in advancing nursing through service in a professional organization.

She is Fitzpatrick College of Nursing assistant dean for College and Student Services; director, LEAD Professional Development Program; assistant professor; and Member, National League for Nursing (NLN) Certified Nurse Educator Commission, 2018-2021.

Dr. Anne Fink

How did you rise to this leadership position?  Members of the Certified Nurse Educator Commission must be elected.  In order to be elected, I needed to first be selected to run on the ballot, making a case why I should be selected over the other candidates.  To make that case, I needed to demonstrate my strengths and skill set related to the position and how my professional accomplishments were congruent with the mission, vision, and core values of the NLN.

I believe that I was selected for the ballot due to the long history of service with the NLN that I had cultivated.  I started with membership in the NLN Constituent League’s regional organization, the Pennsylvania League for Nursing, Area II.  I progressively accepted leadership positions on the Board, first serving as a member then leading multiple committees. I served as an NLN Ambassador, sharing NLN information with faculty at two different universities.  Finally, I served as a member of the state leadership for the Pennsylvania League for Nursing.  I had also demonstrated service in other organizations, assuming leadership positions in each (Sigma Theta Tau, PHENSA, and Phi Kappa Phi).  Therefore, I had proven myself a dedicated member who would become involved and had a history of responsibility and accountability.  I can be counted on to do what I say I will do and honor my commitments.  As we all can agree, that is a welcome trait to have in a committee member.    

I also have appropriate knowledge and skill related to testing and evaluation for the Commission’s work.  I have been a nursing faculty member for 25 years. I have a lot of experience having achieved tenure at a previous university, and over the last 6 years working as an administrator.  I have a passion for test item writing, have led seminars and workshops on item writing, grading written work, etc., created and taught a graduate level course on “Measuring Educational Outcomes,” and have been a NCLEX Test-Item Writer for the NCSBN.  I have a long history of serving on evaluation and regulation-based committees and Task Forces, i.e. – Multiple Curriculum committees, Strategic Planning committees, Test Item Review and Analysis Committee, Standardized Testing Evaluation Committee, Regulation and Compliance Task Force, Distance Learning Regulation Task Force, CCNE Committees, and a NCLEX Performance Improvement Task Force.

Finally, my research agenda is related to diversity and cultural competence, which includes impact on testing.  It is also consistent with the NLN’s mission, vision, and core values.

I did not get elected to a national position on the first try.  This was my 4th application for a national position.  Although I made it to the ballot once prior, this is the first election that I won.  The disappointments were discouraging, but I was passionate about making a difference at that level of service, so I continued to apply.  I now serve on two Committees of the Commission in addition to being a member.  Therefore, I believe that I was a good choice for them!

Who influenced you?  Personally, my mother instilled a good work ethic in me and coupled with my natural drive to continually achieve and my inclination for responsibility, I am a strong work horse.  If there was nothing to do, I would find something and do my best at the task!

Professionally, I have had a few role models and a few who served as dire warnings.  However, the stand-out Mentor for me has been Dr. Nancy Sharts-Hopko.  Nancy has an illustrious career with a wealth of experience and a vast network of colleagues from whom to draw additional knowledge.  Dr. Sharts-Hopko takes many graduate students under her wing and provides advice and wisdom.  Although I did not at first ask for her guidance, once I saw that it worked, she became my sage for all professional advice.  She encouraged me to seek national service opportunities and wrote the recommendation for my first application.  When I was not selected, she understood my disappointment but assured me that I would one day be successful and encouraged me to try again when I felt ready to do so.  She provided a lot of good information over the years.  Her impact has also led me to make myself available to faculty who seek my counsel.  If I can be half as helpful to others as Nancy has been to me, I will be pleased.

Why is it important to you? Why are you enthusiastic about your work in this role?  For most of the organizations that I have participated with in my career, I was excited about the work.  In this case, while I am also excited about the work, I was frustrated by the experience of pursing and renewing my certification and I wished to improve this process for other nurse educators.  As a new member, I am learning a lot about why the processes work as they do, the months of hard work to create the processes, and the dedication of the Commission in ensuring quality.  I am working with the sub-committee to understand their work and bring a different perspective.  I have definitely been the spark to ignite many new conversations among the Commissioners.  I am enthusiastic that I am making a difference in the lives of other nurse educators, yet securing excellence for the Commission.  I hope during my tenure on the Commission to become more involved in the testing aspect of the Commission’s work.  In addition to the work, I am enthusiastic about learning from the other Commissioners who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience as well.           

What are the issues you deal with and what’s the biggest challenge in your area?  The Commission must ensure that it meets strict certification accreditation standards, ensure rigorous and sound certification exams, continually benchmark with other certification exams, manage grievances, manage day to day operations, and plan for growth.

How are you effective in your role? What’s critical to your success in the role?  Organizational barriers are my biggest challenge on the Commission and in my employment.  “We have always done it this way” or “Our [insert item] works just fine as it is” or “Oh, that’s just how it is” are among the most frustrating barriers that I encounter.  Most people are not risk takers who embrace change.  I embrace change – it is the only constant.  Resiliency has been identified as an important aspect of happiness.  A key concept of resiliency is understanding that nothing is static and that it will soon change.  While I think this is a strength of mine, it is also a deficit because I have difficulty fully understanding others’ challenges in adapting to change.  However, I think these barriers hinder my ability to move forward at a speed that I view as competitive.

In the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment, one of my top 5 natural talents is having a “futuristic vision of what can be” and contagious enthusiasm for achieving that vision.  Again, this is both a help and a hindrance since not all colleagues embrace change.

I think listening to others is a key factor for success in any endeavor, especially what is not being said but is being felt.  It can guide future action and avoid potential pitfalls.

Knowledge of organizational politics and navigating interpersonal relationships in light of politics is critical in every endeavor.   

How does innovation fit into your role as leader?   Innovation characterizes my approach to my work on the Commission.  I am evaluating every aspect of the work for potential future areas of improvement.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently on your rise to this position or while in it?   

In addition to my ealrier comments, I have always struggled with organizational politics.  I have underestimated “ownership” of current processes and procedures when suggesting change.  As a result I have inadvertently made enemies at the outset.  This has hurt my career and made my job more difficult many times.  Yet because of my enthusiasm for quality improvement and change, I continue to make this mistake to this very day.   

What’s your advice to someone who wants to be a leader in their area of interest?  Say “YES!” to opportunities as they become available.  When offered a project (and you can manage the workload [even if challenged a bit]), take the project.  If an event is happening, go.  You never know who you will meet or what you will learn that will be helpful to you as a resource in the future.  Get involved in professional organizations.  Start small just by joining and learning about the organization, gradually join a committee, and later lead the committee.  Eventually you will have enough experience to apply to serve at the state and then national or international levels.  I also recommend not letting fear hold you back.  It took me years to overcome my fear of doing a professional presentation.  Once I tamed the fear, I enjoyed doing these and now wish that I could do even more.  Our own minds are our worst enemies.

Our own minds can also be our best asset.  Create a vision of where you wish to go and then work toward that goal.  It will take time but you will get there.  Again, do not be afraid to try new things along the way.  When a challenge occurs (and they will occur), view them as learning opportunities that only make you more experienced and skilled.  When you misstep, analyze how you can avoid that misstep in future or could improve upon your approach.

Listen to the advice of others about your performance and be critically reflective of this feedback.  We are rarely perfect and there is always room for improvement to become your best self (I sound like Oprah there).

Be prepared to work.  We all know the adage, “Nothing worth having comes easy” and I believe that this is true.

What is your leadership philosophy?    I am a transformational leader with authentic leadership characteristics.  I listen to others and research the current state to identify needed change.  I then envision the future and work to garner enthusiasm and consensus for the vision from others.  I use storytelling and examples from my own experiences to help to engender “authentic following” then I “dig in” and contribute to the work effort that I have asked others to do to accomplish that vision.

What’s your hope for our profession?  I believe that we as a profession make our lives more difficult than it has to be with numerous options to enter practice, multiple degree types, unnecessarily difficult accreditation requirements, lack of unification among nursing professional organizations, lack of focus on important issues to address, in-fighting, incivility, lack of diversity, and lack of empowerment.  The public also does not fully understand the contributions of nurses, nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, etc.  It is my hope that the increasing focus on empowerment of women (and nursing remains predominantly female) will inspire nurses to unite in a way that they have not previously.  Imagine a scenario in which ALL of the nursing organizations had a summit and selected the top three issues affecting nurses today and ALL groups proactively worked on these three issues (educating nurses across the nation or around the world, educating the public, creating programs) uniting for the greater good.  The power that nurses would yield would be unprecedented and unstoppable!  Once nurses see the power that they can have, I believe they would continue to resolve issues that have plagued nursing and see real change in a surprisingly short amount of time.  This may be naïve because there will always be those who disagree with one another, however, I am confident that nurses all share the same desired outcomes and can reach a consensus on how to achieve these.  I have faith in the nursing profession.