Diversity Forges Possibilities and Paths to Leadership

May 9, 2014, 9:56 AM

Deidre Walton, JD, MSN, RN-PHN, is the 11th president of the National Black Nurses Association. She is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College with more than 30 years managed care experience in nursing practice, education, and administration. Walton is a retired commissioned officer for the U.S. Army, holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the founder of the Imani Community.

I fully embrace the American Nurses Association’s 2014 theme for National Nurses Week: Nurses Leading the Way. This theme flows from the clarion call from the Institute of Medicine that nurses should be full partners with physicians and other health professionals in redesigning health care in the United States.

Strong leadership is critical if the vision of a transformed health care system is to be realized. Because the demographics of the United States are increasingly more diverse, it is also imperative that the field considers not only leaders from diverse backgrounds but also how to lead diverse constituents as partners in our mission.

Strong leadership is also tied to the achievement of a transformed health care system. But the transformation can only come by the field embracing diversity. That is the essential first step. What follows is greater success in combatting health disparities, and supporting development and growth of new leaders.

The National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) is committed to eliminating health care disparities. We recognize that the nursing professional can play a leading role in finding solutions and pushing for change in that area. We cannot separate our priorities from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) call to prepare more nurses to take formal and informal leadership roles at hospitals, in board rooms, and as participants in the political arena.  In all those sectors, inclusion and an embrace of diversity is essential to forging paths to developing new nurse leaders.

Health care organizations that understand the value of leaders from diverse backgrounds have an opportunity to lead by example and set transformation in motion.  This also creates an inclusive environment to engage internal and external constituents. The benefits are multi-faceted as these organizations learn to maximize the potential that comes from inclusion. Effective nurse leaders of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds are inspired and equipped with the ability to reach and soar. This process supports evidence-based strategies in our work environments. It also establishes attainable models for collaboration and partnerships across departments, among colleagues, and across a range of stakeholders essential for nurses to make an impact in health care systems.

As we grow and expand our abilities, nurse leaders are able to actively engage others in goal-setting. We can gain valuable input from a cross-section of constituents. Together we build credibility through open and trusting cross-cultural relationships that influence decisions and decision-makers. We can shape the future. Not only do we act as champions of change for our profession, but also we advance new and transformative possibilities for our community.

NBNA is committed to supporting leaders, within our ranks and among all nurses, who are pledged to the transformation and redesign of health care. This will enable us to provide strategies that document best practices, determine research needs, track lessons learned, and identify replicable models of success. 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.