Geraldine "Polly" Bednash, PhD, RN, FAAN
CEO, American Association of Colleges of Nursing

Mediaplanet: How have your experiences as a nurse impacted your career?

Polly Bednash: From my earliest days as a registered nurse and a nurse practitioner, I developed great respect for the essential role nurses play in ensuring quality patient care.  Nurses are the healthcare providers who spend the most time with the patient. In fact, if you are admitted to a hospital these days, it’s because you need a surveillance system and the care that only nurses can provide. I’m honored to be a nurse and have always held sacred the unique privilege that comes from helping people persevere when they are at their most vulnerable. 

MP: Why is leadership an important skill to hone as a nurse?

PB: For nurses to have a voice in transforming the healthcare system, they must be willing to take on leadership responsibilities and assume roles that have the power to influence change. Our primary goal in nursing is to provide optimal care to patients. To ensure that this occurs, nurses must step up and lead organizations while helping others recognize the best ways to practice in the profession. Leading is not easy, since you are front and center asserting what should happen to bring about meaningful change. This can sometimes create tension in places that just want to continue the status quo. The most important thing current leaders can do is to mentor people to behave like a leader and help them learn how to design the best and the most effective care. 

MP: What advice can you share with nurses looking to expand their careers?

"For nurses to have a voice in transforming the healthcare system, they must be willing to take on leadership responsibilities and assume roles that have the power to influence change."

PB: For those new to the nursing profession, I encourage you to identify your professional goals early in your career and then work, in a systematic and balanced way, to achieve them. Understand where you want to end up in terms of your career, the education you need to get there and that you have a long time to get it all done. You can’t do it all at once, but you should be continuously learning, challenging yourself and finding personal reward in your career and family life. Find joy in your work and you will find the right places to compromise and move ahead.

MP: How did you celebrate Nurses Week this year?

PB: For me, this week has always been a time of celebration since my birthday – May 6 – coincides with the start of Nurses Week.  This year, I took time to recognize the nurses I have a privilege of working with at AACN since this is my last opportunity to do so given my pending retirement. I also enjoyed a screening of the new film “The American Nurse” which offers a stunning portrait of how five nurses are working to provide the best patient care possible in the face of some serious challenges.

It is my hope that all nurses come to appreciate and take great pride in the profound impact they have on patient health and safety during Nurses Week and all year long.