Skip to main content

Leading Care: Dr. Jodie Szlachta and the Pennsylvania Governor’s Health Policy Board and PANA

In this interview, Jodie Szlachta ’07 MSN, ’11 PhD, CRNA reflects on her leadership in advancing nursing through service in a professional organization.

She is director, Fitzpatrick College of Nursing Post-Baccalaureate Nurse Anesthesia Doctor of Nursing Practice Track; Immediate past-president, Pennsylvania Association of Nurse Anesthetists (PANA), 2018-2019; Member, Pennsylvania Governor’s Health Policy Board; and Board trustee, Arthritis Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania, 2017-present.

Dr. Jodie Szlachta

How did you rise to this leadership position?     I volunteered.  A great way to learn is to get involved and ask lots of questions.

Who influenced you?    My mentor Bette Wildgust, who was a previous PANA Past President and current Board members.   It has also been somewhat of a self-guided mission.   The more you do, the more you learn.  There is definitely some trial and error involved, and significant courage is needed at times .

Why is it important to you? Why are you enthusiastic about your work in this role?     Political activity is something that intimidated me due to my lack of previous involvement and knowledge deficit related to the legislative and political processes.  I have learned a great deal participating, networking and asking questions, and I think that nursing can have a big impact on health policy in the state if nurses  are educated and empowered to participate.  Advanced practice nurses are primarily clinicians and the legislature is quite unfamiliar with their professional role and responsibilities.   Advanced practice nurses’ interests are not well represented in Harrisburg an  a ground swell of grassroots lobbying is needed to have the PA government leadership realize our value in caring for all Pennsylvanians.

What are the issues you deal with and what’s the biggest challenge in your area?     The PANA  is advocating for Title Recognition in PA as we are 1 of 2 states without title recognition for CRNAs.  This means CRNAs practice under a  PA nursing (RN) license and are not able to apply or have issued a  CRNA or Advanced Practice Nursing License in PA.  Our military CRNAs must obtain a CRNA license in another state (literally pay a fee to another state) in order to be called to active duty. This is embarrassing for PA. Our state should facilitate the service of military CRNAs who volunteer to serve down range in harm’s way, not make serving more difficult.  PA has the largest number of CRNA educational programs (13) and when our students obtain positions post-graduation in another state, their credentialing and start-to-work can be delayed several months because PA does not have a separate license for CRNAs, and therefore cannot be transferred to another state.  CRNAs in our state have tried to volunteer for disaster relief efforts and they have been denied because they do not have a CRNA license in PA and therefore, are not recognized in a national emergency. This is also embarrassing to our state.

How are you effective in your role? What’s critical to your success in the role?     I have learned to navigate situations where I am uncomfortable due to my inexperience and have developed skill in  introducing myself as a CRNA to legislators and clearly explaining legislative  issues relevant to CRNAs.  I am naturally curious and ask a lot of questions, which leads to learning more about the process and the structure of the legislative environment in Harrisburg.  I am also quite enthusiastic about my profession and this energy is contagious as you have to be passionate about your cause in order to effectively sell your product.

How does innovation fit into your role as leader?      CRNAs are naturally problem solvers and political advocacy is no different.  Our Board is constantly analyzing the legislative landscape,  individual legislators, lobbying groups,  committee membership assignments, election cycles and dynamics,  and subsequently developing strategy and action plans to achieve our legislative goals.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently on your rise to this position or while in it?     I think having  one more day in my week would be such a help to me.

What’s your advice to someone who wants to be a leader in their area of interest?     Don’t underestimate the impact you can have!  Nurses are smart, resourceful and natural problem solvers who function in a caring way.  We have a unique perspective and we need to collectively  advocate for our own profession so the legislature and public understands our role and significant value within  the health care system.

What is your leadership philosophy?     The only way to do more is to do more!  I am committed to advocating for our profession and educating others about what we do.  I aim to inspire other members of my team to be leaders and I make every effort to identify my team’s strengths and then direct them to roles that utilize those areas in which they excel, to the benefit of the team.  I assign students assignments that will empower them to realize their capabilities so that they go on to be leaders in our profession and mentor others.  I assign the SRNAs to visit their House Representative or State Senator and then write a paper describing their experience.  This is a powerful assignment about which there is great student angst beforehand and great surprise in how interested the legislators are about our profession, especially in students who are currently in a PA nurse anesthesia program.

What’s your hope for our profession?     My aim is to continue to represent CRNAs at every opportunity so that our local community and  the greater legislative community is aware of the role of nurses and advanced practice nurses play  in the state.   I also hope to inspire nurses to engage in the political process so that nurses are appropriately represented in Harrisburg and our legislature has a working understanding of the care and value we offer  to the citizens of PA .