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Stronger Together: How the Chief Nursing Officer Academy is Creating Space for Nurses to Thrive

The academy aims to empower nurse leaders to feel confident in decision making settings by providing a supportive learning community as well as the tools and practices to create systems change.

The Covid-19 pandemic put extreme stress on the U.S. healthcare workforce, leading to worker shortages as well as increased healthcare worker burnout, exhaustion and trauma. Nurses were hit particularly hard.

“Nurse shortages are definitely something I have seen before in my 40-plus years experience leading nurses at the bedside. But I cannot stress enough how different this one is,” says Dr. Joyce Batcheller, founder of the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Academy, a series of 3-day training sessions for nurse executives across the United States. “It is critical to acknowledge that this time around, we need to be innovative in how we work in order to meet new needs and overcome new challenges. As nurse leaders, we must empower our nurses, regain their trust and find ways to lead out of this mess.”

To do just that, nurses are turning to those who know best. Each other.

Batcheller, president and co-founder of The Nurses Legacy Institute which brings virtual trainings to nurses, and president of the Texas Nurses Association, is no stranger to the crucial role CNOs play in not only creating functioning healthcare settings, but also in creating systems change when they stop functioning efficiently. After serving as a CNO for over 19 years herself, Batcheller wanted to create a space where she, alongside trusted colleagues, could “pass the baton” to the next generation of aspiring CNO leaders. That led to the creation of the CNO Academy nine years ago, with funding from Johnson & Johnson.

“I know the importance of having a supportive CNO community. To be a strong leader, you need friends you can lean on. Friends who can relate to you. And the stronger leaders we are, the better we can serve our communities,” adds Batcheller. Working with the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, the CNO Academy aims to create this community by bringing together aspiring nurse leaders from all backgrounds and giving them an opportunity to learn from both experts in the field, as well as from each other. The event offers training around how to transition into a leadership role, how to rebuild trust amongst staff, how to create culture changes, how to prioritize diversity and inclusion, how to build resilience, and much more.

So, what is a CNO and why is their role so essential? The Chief Nursing Officer is the most senior nursing position in hospital settings, responsible for overseeing, managing and leading the nursing staff. They act as a liaison between the nurses and the broader hospital administration, trusted with making sure that nurse voices are heard in all decision making processes.

Hoping to empower nurse leaders to feel confident in these decision making settings, the academy provides not only an environment rich with learning experiences, but actual tools and practices to create systems change. “It is one of the most transformative experiences I’ve ever had. You get to show up in a room where you can be free,” shares CNO Academy alumna Cecilia Rutherford, MSN, RN. “I learned how to show up. I learned how to not only get a seat at the table, but how to effectively communicate my nurses’ needs once I was there. Over the course of the three days, I never felt defensive. I felt deeply understood.”

This partnership, a key initiative of Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to nurses, reflects the belief that to impact the system as a whole, we must first focus on the needs of individual health workers. CNOs are seated at an important intersection, between those who provide bedside care and those who make decisions that directly impact those providers. It is crucial that they are empowered and equipped with the skills they need to ensure that voices of all nurses across the profession are being heard.

“What I’ve witnessed in my experience is nurses being on one island and hospital operations being on another,” notes Rutherford, who was promoted to hospital administrator in April shortly after attending The Executive Nurse Retreat, the next tier program after the CNO Academy. “In order to create positive systems change and make sure our nurses are supported, we all need to pull up some chairs to the table, communicate and work together. And the CNO Academy taught me how to do just that.”

As the nursing profession works to heal and rebuild from the aftermath of COVID-19, Batcheller strongly believes that the only way to do this is by listening to nurses. The pandemic, she says, created new roadblocks and new traumas that health systems have never seen before that can only be healed with new solutions and new innovations—many of these solutions and innovations will come from nurses themselves.

“My energy levels skyrocket watching people realize they’re not alone,” says Batcheller. “This is what motivates me to continue creating this safe space for nurse leaders to share experiences and learn from each other. I am inspired by this generation of leaders, who know the hills ahead of them, and are willing to take on the challenge anyway. As long as they are showing up to strengthen their systems for their nurses, this academy will continue to show up for them in every way we can.”

You can read more about Johnson & Johnson’s efforts to diversify the nursing workforce and strengthen readiness to practice here and more about the Chief Nursing Officer Academy here.