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This CNIO is a Nurse First


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Written by Jennifer Thew, RN

"So you used to be a nurse?" I can't tell you how many times I've been asked this after explaining my non-traditional career path to someone.

When I started my career at the bedside in a large, urban teaching hospital, no one ever questioned whether I was a "real" nurse or not. I wore scrubs, passed out medications, and worked weekends. It was clear in the minds of many that I was a nurse, because that's what people believe nurses do.

But now that I'm working in the media industry again—I've moved between publishing and clinical care throughout my 17-year career—I'm back to having the "used to be a nurse" discussion.

Even though I spend the bulk of my day thinking about, talking to, or writing about nurses and healthcare, there always seems to be some question about whether I'm a nurse or not. 

I've seen this happen to other nurses as well. I once heard a radio piece where the reporter referred to Marilyn Tavenner, who was CMS administrator at the time, as a former nurse even though she still held an active RN license. 

I've also heard nurses who are COOs, chief patient experience officers, vice presidents of various services lines referred to in this "used to be a nurse," manner despite the fact that skills in collaboration, planning, implementing evidence-based policies and procedures, are the cornerstones of nursing practice.

A few months back, I talked about this phenomenon with Amy M. Rosa, RN, DNP, MSMI, chief nursing information officer, Baptist Health, Jacksonville, FL.

I brought it up because the more I talk with people about health information technology, the more I feel that nurses who work in the IT realm, are also getting that "used to be a nurse" label.

Below, she shares her thoughts on how RNs who have chosen IT as a specialty use their nursing skills on a daily basis and how she functions as a nurse leader rather than strictly a technology expert. The transcript has been lightly edited.

On the path to nursing leadership:

I was on a CNO track. I was being directly mentored by a CNO at a hospital I worked at for 14 years to eventually be in that position.

I was very much looking forward to it, but then life happened. The vice president of IT for that same organization had acquired a job [elsewhere] as CIO for a large health system in the same county.

It was at the same time that EMR implementations were firing up, and she had the foresight to realize she needed a clinical person on that leadership team to lead that change.

She offered me the job of manager of clinical applications. I had never done anything in IT before—ever. So I jumped into this and I was overseeing clinical applications for a health system of 8,000 people and learning it very fast.

The first thing I did was build relationships with the nursing executives at the facilities. I so much enjoyed [it] that I got my masters of science in medical informatics.

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