Leading By Example

by Shelli Dankoff
OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

A brief conversation with an emerging leader…

Jen Hopwood never saw herself being the vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, but come January, she will have spent one year in this leadership role. “I never thought I would be CNO, nor is it something I aspired to,” said Hopwood as we discussed her move to the top nursing position at the fourth largest medical center in Illinois. “But now I can’t imagine not being here.” Below, she reflects on the past year—and what lies ahead.

Where did your career begin?
I started as a staff nurse at OSF Saint Francis on the Intermediate Medical/Surgical unit, then became a charge nurse. From there I moved to Surgical ICU, becoming assistant manager of Medical and Surgical ICU, then manager of SICU. I helped implement the new eICU program across all our hospitals as executive director of telehealth at OSF HealthCare, where I developed the strategy for telemedicine, before coming back to OSF Saint Francis as CNO.

Do you miss being a bedside nurse?
Absolutely. There is something rewarding when you have a patient who is unstable—you care for them, work with them, their condition improves and they are able to go home. But it is just as rewarding coming up with ways to enable your staff to do those things, too.

When you started as CNO, how challenging did you think it would be?
I knew it would be challenging because of the state of healthcare today. Nursing leaders are challenged to have the best and highest quality of care because it’s what our patients deserve, but we have to provide that care at a lower cost. People have a choice and will pay out of pocket for the care they want, so we have to provide the best care and be the consumer’s choice—no matter their entry point.

Were there challenges you underestimated?
There are always challenges you underestimate, but I have a great team of leaders who are innovative and creative. I don’t have all the ideas, but I have a great team around me, and we work together to come up with solutions.

When it comes to finding those solutions, it’s okay to fail—but fail fast, get out before you have too many resources vested, and move on. We pilot things a lot at OSF Saint Francis. Our nurses and clinicians have done remarkable things to improve the patient experience, quality and transitions in care for our patients. We have reduced our readmission rates and length of stay and that, in turn, decreases the cost of healthcare.

As a leader, you have to be willing to take risks. There is no silver bullet, but you won’t know if something works if you don’t try. You can’t Google how to fix things when it comes to patient care. It isn’t just one thing; it’s 20 or 30 things which involve the entire multidisciplinary team. We learn something from everything—even if we fail.

What has surprised you most over the past year?
I have been surprised at the volume of best practices already in place at OSF Saint Francis. Other hospitals look to us and come to us for guidance, and we’re proud to share our work. Leaders help others get to where they need to be.

Is it important to lead by example?
Yes. It all rolls downhill from me to my directors, then managers, to the floor. We have made great strides with employee satisfaction and engagement—people like what they do. They feel like they are making a difference, and they are. We have empowered them to make a difference—all members of the team, from nurses and techs to the housekeepers in each unit.

When I think about leading by example, I think about our Sisters. They would never compromise their commitment to God. Following that lead, I would never ask my staff to do something I don’t do. I want them to have a work-life balance like I do. It’s important.

If you could look in a crystal ball, ideally, how do you see your role as CNO in the coming years?
Leadership isn’t about forcing people; it’s about getting people on board. It’s my responsibility to create a compelling vision people want to follow. We need to be proactive and not reactive when it comes to getting people healthy. Our outcomes are so rewarding, especially when I think about the impact those outcomes will have on our community. Frontline leaders are transforming healthcare and it’s exciting! iBi

Shelli Dankoff is a senior media relations specialist at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.

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