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Leading Care: Dr. Pennie Sessler Branden as Sigma Liaison to the United Nations Economic and Social Council

In this interview, Pennie Sessler Branden ’12 PhD, RN, CNM, CNE, FACNM reflects on her leadership in advancing nursing through service in a professional organization.

She is a new fellow in the American College of Nurse Midwives; adjunct faculty member, Department of Nursing, Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven; and Sigma Liaison to the United National Economic and Social Council (2019-2021).  

Dr. Pennie Sessler Branden

How did you rise to this leadership position?     I have been interested in and consistently focused on global issues in health care, nursing and advocacy throughout my career. At this point in my career, I wanted to be more actively engaged in global health issues and their solutions. After speaking to a mentor, I applied to this position, went through a thorough vetting process and was chosen to be one of the Sigma Liaisons in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). I think that my varied experiences in women’s healthcare, research and education across my career led to my being chosen for this role.

Who influenced you?     Across my career, I have had the pleasure of working with and being mentored by some fabulous nurse leaders. These leaders include, but are not limited to: Dr. Nancy Sharts-Hopko, Dr. Juliet Corbin, Dr. Jane Kirschling, Dr. Donna Nickitas and Dr. Alyce Schultz. Each of them has offered their personal experience, counsel, and mentoring about leadership, research, academia and life. Without these incredible mentors I would not have the level of knowledge and assertiveness I have at this time.

Why is it important to you? Why are you enthusiastic about your work in this role?     I believe that nursing clinical excellence, leadership, research and education are key components to the improvement of global healthcare and its access. Nursing is at a crossroads with many opportunities to improve care on local, regional and international levels. To this end, I always attempt to connect my passion for women’s health and advocacy for better more equitable healthcare and education. I have cared for diverse groups of women and their families as a certified nurse midwife in areas of need, caring for inner-city working-class women, unregistered immigrants and others in international settings. This role as a Sigma Liaison in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations is to represent Sigma and ultimately all nurses at the UN on the Economic and Social Council. By increasing public awareness, using strategic communication and spotlighting issues, Sigma has the influence to reach and impact diverse groups across the globe. I believe I can be an active participant in all of this as a UN Liaison.

What are the issues you deal with and what’s the biggest challenge in your area?     While I am very ealry in my experience with the council, the website notes, “The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development.” And “ECOSOC, one of the six main organs of the United Nations established by the UN Charter in 1946, is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as for implementation of the internationally agreed development goals.”  

How are you effective in your role? What’s critical to your success in the role?   Since I am new to this role, I have not seen outcomes of the work I will do as a liaison. However, in this role, I hope to be able to promote human rights for all individuals but most importantly for the women and children of the world whose voices are often absent or silent and whose needs are frequently ignored. My passion and commitment to the right of health care for all and understanding the importance of engaging people and professionals on all levels to improve the world are keenly aligned with my professional advocacy and activism.

How does innovation fit into your role as leader?     Innovation, as I see it, means thinking about things in as many different ways as possible and then using that information to look at an issue from multiple viewpoints. In this way, one can collaboratively construct strategic plans and ways to evaluate those plans going forward. I am looking forward to being an innovative thinker and participant in the issues we will be seeing at the United Nations.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently on your rise to this position or while in it?     I don’t think I would change anything coming to this point in my career. Each experience and step has allowed me to learn and grow into who I am today. When thinking about my career with the individual pieces put in the aggregate, I see that over the course of one’s career, a person can have a major impact on individuals and communities in measurable and immeasurable ways.

What’s your advice to someone who wants to be a leader in their area of interest?      Trust what you know and do what you are passionate about. Think outside the box and seek out a person(s) to assist you with and mentor you regarding what you need to improve on. This goes for all leaders at whatever level of leadership they are in. Don’t tolerate incivility nor bullying on any level. If you witness it or are a victim of it, go to someone you trust and discuss it and/or call out the person who exhibits that behavior. So frequently, we think we are the only ones going through this but generally most people just don’t want to talk about it or call out the bullies. My skills and attributes include being an astute listener; effective communicator, consensus builder and mentor, each of which is integral to being a strong leader.  I try to role model these for any nurse I work with. Finally, nurses don’t know everything. Therefore, we need to work inter-professionally through networking and on-the-ground interactions to give the best health care possible.

What is your leadership philosophy?     For decades, I have been engaged in various leadership capacities to promote and strengthen midwifery and nursing locally, nationally and internationally. I consider this to be key to building relationships and empowering others. I believe that every person can make a difference and that everyone’s success makes the boat float higher. To achieve this, each person needs to identify their leadership potential, find what they are passionate about and then have models of excellent leadership to observe so that they are able to become the leaders they can be and want to be. Finally, all of this happens over time and each person needs to embrace as many opportunities along the way as they can.

What’s your hope for our profession?     My hope for nursing is that within our profession we continue to build unity and peace. In this way, we might better approach issues and bring them to positive resolutions in a timely manner. We can effect significant change and improvement globally by being the best and most effective nurses we can be. We are stronger together than we are apart.