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South Nassau serves up lessons in nurse leadership at cafe

Monday June 9, 2014
Nurse managers from South Nassau Communities Hospital gather for a recent meeting in the Leadership Cafe.
Nurse managers from South Nassau Communities Hospital gather for a recent meeting in the Leadership Cafe.
(Photo courtesy of South Nassau Communities Hospita)
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Sue Penque, RN
Nurse managers at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y., are gaining confidence by discussing key leadership issues in a relaxed environment.

Based on a similar program at North Memorial Healthcare System in Minnesota, the Leadership Cafe is offered bimonthly to 25 nurse managers who share knowledge in a conference room turned French bistro.

“It’s a social and non-threatening atmosphere that really enables people to participate in the conversations,” said South Nassau CNO/Senior Vice President Sue Penque, RN, PhD, NE-BC, ANP-BC. She said she started it as a way to go beyond the basics to help develop nursing leaders professionally for their positions.

“We were realizing that the leaders knew how to budget and interview, but what they really needed was the chance to dialogue and do some critical thinking about their roles as nurse leaders,” Penque said.


Eileen Mahler, RN
She spent a year organizing the program, which was not easy considering the staff was working toward Magnet designation, which the hospital achieved in January.

Penque used an assessment tool from the American Organization of Nurse Executives and worked with Director of Nursing Education and Magnet Program Director Eileen Mahler, RN, MSN, NE-BC, and Director of Nursing Karine Austin, RN, PhD, MSN, CBN, NEA-BC, who served as co-leaders.

Hot topics
Lunchtime Leadership Cafe sessions deal with human dynamics, team building, organizational culture and collaboration.

“We also spend a lot of time on change theory because of the way healthcare is going,” Penque said. “For example, strategic planning has gone from three-year to two-year plans.”


Karine Austin, RN
Before the sessions, nurse managers are asked to read several articles. At the cafe, they share their thoughts and answer questions, such as “What does authentic leadership mean to you?” They switch tables every 20 minutes.

“What they share are best practices,” Austin said. “If something is working on one unit that has made a difference in patient outcomes, then it is disseminated to all of the nursing leaders and then replicated.”

Penque compiled the literature, such as “The Seven Ages of the Leader” by leadership studies scholar Warren G. Bennis, and “The Making of a Nurse Manager” by Eloise Cathcart, RN, MSN, FAAN.

First impressions
Nurse Manager Wynette Bruno-O’Connell, RN, BSN, attended November’s kickoff session. She expected a PowerPoint presentation, but instead walked into a decorated room with sparkling cider, snacks served on tables with red tablecloths and Celine Dion music. The session helped her focus on dynamics and leadership skills, she said.


Wynette Bruno-O’Connell, RN
Nurses are encouraged to leave pagers and cell phones behind.
“I was really able to focus on what I was doing, and it was relaxing,” Bruno-O’Connell said. “When I left and got back to my unit, I think my afternoon was a little bit more productive.”

Austin and Mahler are conducting research on the program, collecting qualitative feedback to assess the nurses’ personal development and satisfaction. A scale is used to measure relationships with physicians, work/life balance, professional growth and how these things impact nursing units.

“We’re looking at the nurse manager practice environment and if this dialogue and experiential learning is going to help them on their unit,” Mahler said.

The co-leaders want managers to develop their own vision.

“They’re really the CEOs of their unit,” Austin said.

Austin and Mahler are pleased the cafe sessions are helping nurses enter a calm place where they can recharge their batteries and build confidence.

“It prompts them to share how they’ve resolved problems and what they’ve learned in practice,” Mahler said. “It gives them a level of peer support.”

Stefanie Dell’Aringa is a freelance writer.


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