Northern Regional Hospital’s “Leadership Academy” Develops Employees’ Leadership Skills
Tina Edwards and Daniel Combs are long-time, dedicated, professional employees of Northern Regional Hospital. During the past several decades, both have performed extremely well in their respective positions, earned the admiration and respect of colleagues and patients, and achieved the kind of satisfaction that comes from knowing that their efforts have contributed to the hospital’s mission.
Neither one, however, had given much thought to leadership … or becoming leaders.
But that all changed when both were accepted into the hospital’s Leadership Academy – a comprehensive educational program designed to foster the leadership potential of employees who volunteer to participate in the rigorous six-month curriculum. By the time Tina and Dan earned their graduation certificates from the Academy, each had showcased their newly-acquired leadership skills by creating and helping implement a new program that enhanced the health and well-being of patients and the communities served by Northern.
Birth of the Academy
Leadership has been defined in many ways throughout the centuries. More than 150 years ago, John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” A more modern-day voice, author and speaker John Maxwell, has noted, “The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development.”
Those sentiments are being put into practice by Chris A. Lumsden, FACHE, President and Chief Executive Officer of Northern Regional Hospital. A nationally recognized leader in healthcare administration, Lumsden asked members of his NRH leadership team two years ago to custom-design a curriculum – using an educational model with which he was familiar – that would encourage and empower employees to become leaders.
“Leadership is not defined by an employee’s job title,” said Lumsden, emphatically. “We have many leaders throughout all levels of our organization who use their own creativity, powers of persuasion, and persistence to inspire themselves and others to do great things. The goal of our Leadership Academy is to encourage those employees to strengthen and refine their leadership potential in order to improve patient care and enhance our community commitment, while further advancing their own personal and professional development.”
Before launching the Academy’s first class in January 2020, two veteran hospital leaders were tapped to fine-tune a curriculum and serve as co-Facilitators. “It took a great deal of time and effort to develop an enriching and immersive educational program, but it was a lot of fun, too,” said co-Facilitator Debbie Moser, RN, BSN, SCRN, who serves as the hospital’s Director of Staff Development and Stroke Coordinator. “That’s very true,” echoed Jessica Arrington, co-Facilitator and Director of Patient Access, who added that the comprehensive curriculum exposes participants to all aspects of hospital operations – from attending Senior Leadership team meetings to touring facility spaces not typically visited or seen by most employees – including the kitchen, boiler room, and rooftop.
Employees interested in enrolling in the Leadership Academy must apply with a written application and then undergo an in-person interview with a group of hospital administrators. “We’re looking for individuals who are willing to grow and eager to expand beyond their comfort zones,” explained Moser. “Participation in the Academy is not necessarily designed to be a stepping stone to promotion. Rather, it’s to enable leaders to reach their potential within the context of the organizational mission.”
Each Leadership Academy semester runs for six consecutive months; and each class is limited to approximately eight participants. Students are required to attend weekly class sessions on a variety of leadership-related topics; complete a pre-selected reading list; shadow selected members of the hospital’s executive team; maintain journals to help reinforce impressions and new knowledge obtained from their experiences; attend legislative field trips (locally and in Raleigh, NC and Washington, DC) to better understand the relationship between business and governmental bodies; and present a final “Case Study” to serve as a formal proposal for a project or program they’d like to pursue.
Each participant is also assigned a mentor from among the hospital’s key administrators. “Mentors act as a guide and valuable resource for students – especially as students become more adept at embracing the value of teamwork and seeing and appreciating ‘the big picture,’” explained Arrington – who has served as a mentor. And mentorship, she added, is a two-way street. “By breaking down hierarchical and departmental silos, communication and teamwork are enhanced throughout the organization,” she said.
Before earning their graduation certificates, each Academy student presents his or her Case Study – a carefully researched project proposal that incorporates the values and practical business considerations that have been explored as part of the curriculum. To date, all proposals presented have been approved for full implementation or remain under serious consideration by the Senior Leadership Team. “The essence of the Leadership Academy is best exemplified by the rich variety of dynamic, health-related programs and services proposed by our students,” said President/CEO Chris Lumsden. “It’s exciting and very rewarding to watch the growth of new leaders within our organization use their newfound knowledge to develop programs that further the mission of Northern Regional Hospital.”
“Discharge with Dignity” Case Study
Tina Edwards, Patient Access Manager of Outpatient Services, was eager to enroll in Northern’s Leadership Academy. “When I read the email sent to all staff about the Academy, the idea of learning and growing as a leader was very appealing to me,” said Tina, who has worked at the hospital in a variety of roles for seven years.
The program was “an eye-opening experience,” she said. “It helps you reflect on yourself – as you realize your strengths and weaknesses. And it helps you realize you can make a difference.”
For Tina’s Case Study, entitled “Discharge with Dignity,” she proposed the creation of a Compassion Closet that would help meet the needs of eligible patients being discharged from the hospital. Her idea arose after witnessing an event … and then later experiencing what can only be considered divine intervention. “One day, while working in the Emergency Department, I saw a gentleman get discharged from the hospital and then leave with no shoes,” she said. “I kept thinking about that man all day long, and started to wonder if we could have provided him with some sandals or a pair of shoes.”
After work, a still-troubled Tina went home … and finally fell asleep. “When I woke up the next morning, God said to me, ‘This is your case study!’” she recalled. With such divinely inspired encouragement, Tina met with her mentor, and explained that she had to stop working on the case study she had already begun and start anew – so she could address the issue she had wrestled with for the past 24 hours. Her mentor agreed, and they both began to research possible options.
“It all came together pretty easily after we got started,” she recalled. Tina worked rapidly to engage her work colleagues in the development of a special area within the hospital to store clothing, toiletries, and other personal-care items – all of which could be provided, as needed, to discharged patients who appeared to be homeless or among the most vulnerable within the community.
As word of Tina’s project spread, donations of both clothing and money began to pour in – including a hefty $2,000 donation from the Northern Regional Hospital Foundation. Today, as a result of Tina’s epiphany and the generosity of others, discharge planners and other hospital personnel can access the “Compassion Closet” to help ensure that newly discharged patients have clothes or other personal items they may need.
“The Leadership Academy was instrumental in reminding me that each of us can make a difference,” says Tina. “For me, that difference was to help make sure that patients left our hospital with not only their health, but their dignity, as well.”
“We Can Help” Case Study
“I’ve been here for 24 years and learned very quickly, while participating in the Leadership Academy, that there was a lot I didn’t know,” laughs Daniel Combs, RN, BSN, EMT-P, Staff Development & Student Programs Coordinator. “The stuff we did and learned was just amazing!” said Dan of his indepth exposure to hospital operations, government relations, and community affairs.
“I was surprised by the costs and amount of effort required to just maintain the facilities – from switching from fluorescent lights to LEDs and keeping the facilities heated or cooled,” said Dan. Since Dan’s academic semester occurred during the height of COVID-19, he also had a bird’s eye view of the actions taken by the hospital’s administrators in response to the global pandemic. “Northern was very proactive in taking care of patients and its own employees during COVID,” he says proudly.
As a fully certified Emergency Nurse and licensed EMT/paramedic, Dan has initially trained or re-certified many of his healthcare colleagues in the lifesaving techniques of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Most of that training, done before COVID, involved face-to-face instruction and assessment of a handful of students – all in the same room, at the same time. With the onset of COVID and its attendant regulations requiring social distancing and the wearing of masks, the old way of providing CPR training was no longer possible.
Using his Leadership Academy training, Dan researched and began to formulate a more comprehensive approach to CPR training – one that would permit self-directed CPR training using life-like mannequins (both adult- and infant-sized) and a sophisticated software program that offers real-time feedback about each student’s CPR techniques. Dan’s goals were twofold: to more efficiently re-certify inhouse personnel (including doctors, nurses, allied-health professionals, and other colleagues); and expand such life-saving training to interested citizens within the community.
After several meetings with the hospital’s Chief Financial Officer (“which I never would have initiated before attending the Leadership Academy,” Dan said), he was able to outline the long-term benefits of purchasing the self-learning “We Can Help” CPR training system to supplement the hospital’s existing “HeartCode Complete” model. Both programs are approved by the American Heart Association (AHA); with “We Can Help” having been developed by the AHA and RQI Partners.
As a result of Dan’s “We Can Help” case study (prepared with the assistance of colleague Brandy Chilton, Nurse Informatic Analyst), the hospital’s leadership team approved the $22,000 purchase. Since then, re-certification training of Northern’s healthcare professionals has been completed, and the hospital can offer CPR training to interested community residents. “I’m proud that Northern now has the ability to expand its reach to provide life-saving CPR training to members of our community,” said Dan. “We really are relying on each other more than ever right now. What better way to look out for our neighbors than by giving them the tools they need to save someone’s life?”
“We are very encouraged by the early success of our Leadership Academy,” said Northern’s CEO Chris Lumsden. “By continuing to develop leaders within our hospital, we are able to further improve and expand our ability to meet the healthcare needs of patients and the community. It’s a win-win-win arrangement, and further validation of the importance of educational initiatives that focus on professional development.”