For August, NWONL has chosen Peggy Woolf, a longtime and exceptionally active Member who we consider a core-contributor to our Mission. Peggy might tell you she is a “retired” but given her involvement in the regions nursing initiatives, I’d submit that’s an overstatement. What we admire greatly in Peggy is her demonstration of the impact of lifelong nursing on individuals, organizations and the communities they serve. We asked her to share some wisdom and guidance with us.
CW – Peggy, you've been a longtime Nursing Leader and member of NWONL. Tell us about your career and where you are now.
Peggy – “My nursing career has afforded me the good fortune to do a variety of things in different parts of the country. My work experience included direct patient care (25 years), teaching nursing (5 years), and eventually formal leadership (15 years). I enjoyed patient care and imagined being in that role for my entire career, until I was recruited into management. When in my first real management job, I planned to stay for two to three years and then return to active patient care. When the two-year mark arrived, I clearly realized there was a lot remaining that I needed and wanted to do in that role, and I certainly still had much to learn. I also began to understand that being in formal leadership enabled me to have a wider sphere of influence than was possible in most direct care positions, even the ones in which I had nearly boundless opportunities to grow.
I have now been retired five years. A tendency of mine is that I can easily overextend myself. I took to heart the wise words to dip my toes in slowly to do whatever was next for me. My various post-employment volunteer activities have centered on leadership, finance, civic engagement, and determinants of health. I continue to enjoy being a NWONL member, geographically located with the Portland & Vancouver Council. In addition to the networking and continuing education, I’m glad to be working on judging and now updating/developing the various NWONL awards—very inspirational. When I was employed, NWONL helped me get outside my everyday “stuff” and look at leadership more broadly. Participating in regional council gatherings was always refreshing. Now I find I still can be refreshed as a retired member and of course through virtual means in 2021. (This is not a paid political announcement for NWONL; it’s simply the truth.)”
CW – Yours is clearly a demonstrated and distinguished career. What has been noteworthy? What stands out for you and why?
Peggy – “One thing that struck me is how much overlap exists in nursing with other disciplines and roles in life. When I decided to pursue graduate business studies later in my career, I purposefully chose to step away from the medical campus and study with people in different fields. I wanted to learn and see things from different points of view. I found spending time in this alternative setting increased creativity as I worked to prevent, define, and solve problems in my last two formal nursing leadership positions. Another thing that stands out is how well both nursing and management prepared me for an assortment of post-retirement volunteer positions.”
CW – So it wasn’t just direct Nursing and Nursing Leadership, it was across the spectrum… Given your background and experience, what are the perennial challenges and opportunities face both new leaders and longstanding leaders?
Peggy – “Two challenges/opportunities are especially clear for me. The first is we must continue to support one another as nurses and nursing leaders—during a pandemic or not. Without working together as team members, I don’t see how we can thrive or even get through each day. The second is the challenge of staffing. Whether in professional or lay media, nursing staffing is front and center. I point out to those studying to become nurses and those who are new nurses – numerous possibilities will exist for you. I also encourage them to spend adequate time in direct care nursing, even if they have different end goals for what they wish to do.”
CW – You identified the critical need of being a team and supporting one another and the (ongoing) need for developing nurses. Expanding on the above: What do you forecast on the horizon for nursing leaders and what should we be talking about and working on that we may not have engaged on (or enough) yet?
Peggy – “First, fairly recent history tells us that if we nurses don’t work inside and outside our ranks to clearly define and solve the staffing issue, others outside of nursing will try to “solve” it for us. And almost certainly the non-nurses will see the solutions as those based merely on tasks, rather than based on the professional role of nurses. I care about this issue as a nurse and also as a patient. Second, we as nurses do a great job of communicating amongst ourselves the value of nursing. What we do not do so well is to quantify this value and to get the information about our worth out there to the rest of the health care world and to the public. Only when my friends and family require some kind of nursing care do they begin to understand its importance. Here’s an aha moment: looks like I have not done an adequate job communicating to those closest to me the significance of who we are and what we do.“
CW – What I interpreted was “we need to ensure we are involving and communicating well outside our ranks and own organizations” if we are to make an impact and sustain change. What are key points, both personally and professionally, you would like to share with aspiring and new(er) nurse leaders?
Peggy – “At this point in my post-employment phase, I have the benefit of perspective to look back over five decades of nursing. Nursing leadership has provided me with tremendous personal and professional growth. My most intense management position started with seemingly insurmountable challenges, even though I had good support from my director and others. In fact, to this day I sometimes consider what this director would think or say about a particular predicament. Thank goodness I powered through, although I’m not exactly sure how I did that. Nursing leadership changed the way I see the world. Now, as a seasoned leader, when I become aware of a particular situation in which judgment may seem to come easily, I wonder about the rest of the story, because very likely there is more to the situation than what I just heard. What a gift! I found I became a more intentional listener. I have a healthy level of skepticism (not unlike the kind I had when I was the parent of a teenager). The percentage of what I hear that I take to be certainties decreased during my years of formal nursing leadership and stabilized at well under 50%. That has led me to see even more clearly the need to evaluate the accuracy of circumstances that appear to be facts. My nursing leadership career was and remains a huge part of my life. It also prepared me for what was next after full-time paid employment. I am grateful for what my nursing leadership career has given me.”
CW – That was a powerful closing response, especially (for me) your point that there is very likely more to the situation and how nursing prepares you to see the world in a different way. I speak on behalf of our Board and Membership when I say thank you.