The following story is part of a blog series by Dr. Kathryn Nichol as she shares reflections and experiences from her first days as VHA’s President and CEO.
Well I have had a few first days in my life. First day as a nurse, first day as a mom, first day in a new home, first day as a dog owner, first day with the prefix Dr. and now first day as a CEO! All of these days have had a few things in common – excitement, nerves and great pride.
If I think back to my first career as a frontline nurse, I never would have predicted that I would become a CEO. Not only did I love clinical practice, but leadership seemed to be way out of reach. What I learned over time is that leadership is never out of reach. The opportunity to inspire others, to set an example, to inform the future, and to contribute to a positive culture is there for all of us to seize in each and every role we have. Once I realized this, stepping into progressive leadership roles wasn’t as daunting and was actually rewarding, exciting and of course challenging. This role will be rewarding, exciting and challenging too and I am looking forward to every minute. VHA is a vibrant and caring organization and it is a privilege to have been given this opportunity.
So Day 1! With the COVID-19 pandemic still a very real threat, much of our non-clinical work continues to be virtual so day 1 was full of virtual connections. Do I wish that these had been in person? YES!!! But now that we are all way more techy than we were a year ago, we are much better at connecting virtually. Today I had the opportunity to connect through three Town Halls with around 250 of our staff, service providers, leaders, board members and client and family advisors to share a bit about myself, why I wanted to be CEO at VHA, what I am excited about and to answer any questions. I was delighted to hear one of our personal support workers comment that she was reassured by the fact that I am a nurse and come with an understanding of frontline work. My commitment to our frontline staff, service providers and leaders is that I will bring my nursing experience to every table I sit at and every decision I make. Questions came during the town halls, by email afterwards and I am sure (and hope) they will continue in the coming days and weeks. The questions that I have received were very thoughtful, including – what changes do I see coming to our core business, what is my top priority going to be, will I continue to lead VHA’s COVID crisis response team and what is VHA doing about the ongoing shortage of PSWs working in home care. A change in leadership can be destabilizing and my hope is that through these town halls and future connections and answering these thoughtful questions that our team and our stakeholders will be reassured that VHA will continue to be laser-focused on our important mission of creating possibilities for more independence, championing the needs of our clients and families and delivering high quality, integrated care.
Day 1 also offered the opportunity to talk with one of our staff whose family was particularly impacted by COVID. The pandemic has been devastating for healthcare workers, their families, our clients and their caregivers and families. Our frontline leaders have carried the lion’s share of the work of keeping teams safe, clients cared for and questions answered. I learned two things this past year – 1) while compassionate leadership is always a good thing, it is an absolute necessity during a crisis and 2) the critical importance of frontline leadership and supporting front line leaders when the going gets rough. I learned a lot more than that to be honest but these two learnings are what hit home for me during that phone call.
So yes, of course I am returning for day 2 (for those who asked lol) and am looking forward to it. I will post again in a couple of weeks to share an update on how the journey is going. Spring will only be a week away by then!