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Leading Care: Dr. Donna Havens and the ANCC Magnet Commission, American Academy of Nursing and American Organization of Nurse Executives

In this interview, Donna S. Havens ’83 MSN, PhD, RN, FAAN reflects on her leadership in advancing nursing through service in multiple professional organizations.

She is Connelly Endowed Dean and Professor M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing. Among her many leadership roles are: Chair, American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Magnet Commission, 2014-2018;  Chair, American Academy of Nursing Expert Panel on Building Healthcare System Excellence, 2013-2016; Director, American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) Foundation for Leadership, Education & Research, 2010-2014; and Chair, AONE Foundation Nursing Research Committee.

Dean Donna S. Havens

How did you rise to these leadership position? What’s your advice to someone who wants to be a leader in their area of interest?    Become involved in various committees that support your focus of interest. Volunteer in professional organizations, meet professional colleagues and continue to build knowledge about and expertise in these organizations/fields. Aspire and pursue increasingly higher leadership roles in these organizations, volunteer for task forces, network in your field. Build your research/scholarship program carefully and become a true expert in a field – generate knowledge and help to answer important questions. For instance, all the leadership roles above came about because of my enlisting to participate in task forces, committee work and to put my name on the ballot for leadership roles. In addition, my research program on shaping systems to promote desired outcomes was extremely complimentary to important work in these organizations and enabled me to combine two passions: asking important questions about the organization of nursing practice to promote positive outcomes and to use this knowledge to work in these leadership roles with colleagues in these organizations to influence evidence-based change in practice.

Who influenced you?    My parents – especially my dad who died 3 weeks prior to his 100th birthday and at that time, he believed and told everyone that I was the “Chief nurse of the United States”.  He was a hard-working man who held strong values about doing the right thing and working hard to make good happen. He taught me the meaning of perseverance and he sacrificed much to help me to attain a quality education.  There have also been many mentors along the way both from Nursing and from other fields. My mentors helped me to think through important career decisions and opened doors for me to move forward. Most of my mentors were interested in enhancing academic nursing, nursing education and in developing and implementing knowledge about the quality of nursing practice and patient and organizational outcomes. They guided me to develop as a scientist who 30 years later is still thrilled to focus on the same body of science and asking new and important questions to advance this science.

Why is it important to you? Why are you enthusiastic about your work in this role?     I have thrived in all of these leadership roles and others. I love helping people and organizations to “become” and that was what all these roles prepared me to do. It is thrilling to see change and people and organizations develop.

How are you effective in your role? What’s critical to your success in the role?    Communication including carefully listening and taking thoughtful/informed action. Collaboration is essential for me … In my role as Dean in the Fitzpatrick College of Nursing I am working my way toward having a conversation with every faculty and staff person (one on one) in their office to talk about what they love about the College and what we or I can do better. What I learn is absolute fascinating and shows me that together, we have much magic to create!

How does innovation fit into your role as leader?     For me , innovation is essential. I define it as developing and applying new or better solutions that bring value re: current, new and anticipated needs.  I am particularly enthused about what Nursing can bring to this endeavor. Nurses are the 24-7 providers who are providing patient surveillance, delivering care, using healthcare the computer programs, using and teaching patients how to use devices, developing apps to improve health and teaching patients and family how to become and stay healthy. Nursing should be at the table in terms of innovation to improve health and the delivery of health care. It is my goal that the FCN will forge partnerships with the healthcare consumers, the healthcare tech industry, VSB, the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences and others to identify needs and develop innovations that will improve health and health care.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently on your rise to this position or while in it?     Become a dean earlier!  While I had always planned to become an academic leader in Nursing, I had never thrown my hat into the ring for many reasons including fear of the process. However, once I had been invited to serve as the interim dean at UNC-Chapel Hill for 2 ½ years I learned that I was truly passionate about working with faculty and nursing leaders to improve academic nursing, nursing education, nursing practice and patient outcomes.

What is your leadership philosophy?     Along my journey, I discovered the field of Positive Organizational Scholarship that helped me to see that there is much good in the world and that people and organizations aspire to do good rather than always focusing on what is wrong and where “problems” exist. For the past 10 years, this field of science has really shaped my outlook and I try to use theory from this area to shape who I am and how I interact with people and organizations. When confronted with what some might see as “problems”, I frequently ask those individuals “What would right look like” – it provides a platform of common action to move forward. I would describe my leadership style as “leading from the middle”. I enlist others to join me in our path to success, developing them and taking them on a leadership journey with me. For more than 30 years, I have studied and developed “interventions” to build shared governance in nursing practice and in academic nursing. Because of this, I am honored that some have called me a transformational leader, I call it “leading from the middle”.  To some degree it would also qualify as “servant leadership”….developing others and enlisting them to move to a better place with me.

What’s your hope for our profession?  That we will continue to develop, play an important role influencing the health of people and the systems in which care is delivered and that Nursing will continue to SPIRAL UPWARD!