An RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar on Why She Wants to Be a Nurse Leader

May 15, 2014, 12:00 PM, Posted by Jing Wang

National Nurses Week just ended, but several nurses are continuing the conversation, blogging about the reasons they aspire to leadership. Jing Wang, PhD, MPH, RN, is an assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2013-2016).

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When I was a nursing student, I cared for home-bound elderly patients on a volunteer basis. Many of the patients I cared for weren’t able, or didn’t know how, to care for themselves properly. They didn’t always take their medications as they were prescribed, and they didn’t always take their chronic conditions very seriously. Often, they would wind up in the emergency room for conditions they could have managed at home.

I decided to become a professional nurse to help elderly patients take better care of themselves at home—and stay out of the hospital. I am so glad I did; I am overjoyed when my patients learn to become compliant with their medication regimens, eat right, and get the exercise they need to stay healthy.

I know I made a difference with my patients, and that knowledge motivated me to find more, and better, ways to help more patients. I wanted to effect large-scale change, to develop interventions that have the potential to help the millions of people all over the world who suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes.

I knew I couldn’t do that as a clinician alone, so I decided to continue my graduate studies. I earned a multidisciplinary master’s degree in public health, a graduate certificate in clinical and translational science, and a doctorate in nursing. I am now an assistant professor at the school of nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and am studying ways patients can use smartphones and electronic health record systems to help monitor their behaviors.

Connecting smartphone-collected diet and physical activity self-monitoring information to electronic health records systems, I believe, can not only help patients become more aware of their behaviors and make needed changes to keep their chronic conditions under control, but can also help clinicians become more aware of the patients’ behaviors and make individualized plans to help patients manage their conditions.

But I need more than education to make my dream of broad-scale change a reality.

I need to be a leader in health care and in society. Only then will I be able to disseminate my findings and spread my message to a large audience of stakeholders and decision-makers. Only then will I be able to advocate for the kind of resources we need to translate the needed research into practice.

That is why I am so grateful to be a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar. This incredible program has enabled me to pursue my research interests and also to understand what it takes to become a nurse leader.

During the program, I have learned that being a leader doesn’t just mean being in an administrative role. It also means knowing how to effect change in one’s area of research and how to build bridges with professionals from other disciplines. Research can’t be done in silos, and leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I’ve learned that we must collaborate with other providers, from various backgrounds, in education and in practice to speed up the pace of change.

I also know that, as a nurse leader, I am a role model for my students. I have the opportunity to give back to my profession as a teacher and mentor, and I am taking advantage of that opportunity as a nurse educator.

When I started out as a volunteer nursing student, I saw myself as a nurse, but not necessarily as a nurse leader. I now see myself as a leader, and I know why that’s important not just for me and my career, but for patients here and around the world.

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