Category: Health Magazine, Winter 2023

Title:Reflections on Health with Robyn Begley, DNP, R.N., NEA-BC, FAAN (NHS’77)

CEO of the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) and chief nursing officer, senior vice president of workforce for the American Hospital Association (AHA)

a blonde woman with a coral blazer
Photos: Courtesy of Robyn Begley / iStock

At a young age, I knew I wanted to be a nurse. I was inspired by one of my mother’s best friends who was a nurse.

Darnall Hall signLike nursing, I was drawn to Georgetown because of its focus on service to others and community. I remember visiting the campus and immediately feeling at home. I am still very close to my floormates from Darnall Hall.

I’m so thankful to Georgetown’s School of Nursing for my undergraduate education. Though the terms may be different now, I learned concepts like social determinants of health that prepared me so well for my career.

a teddy bear holding a heart

I began my career working in postpartum, in labor and delivery, in neonatal intensive care and pediatrics. I became a nurse manager very early on, but direct clinical care still tugs at my heartstrings, especially maternal and child health.

Through nursing leadership, I found I had the opportunity to have a greater impact upon clinical practice. I spent 35 years working for AtlantiCare the state of New Jersey in lime greenHealth System in southern New Jersey, including 20 years as chief nursing officer. It was extremely rewarding.

In September 2018, I became chief executive officer of the AONL and chief nursing officer and senior vice president of the AHA. In my dual role, I lead the membership organization of more than 11,000 nurse leaders, focusing on workforce, quality, safety, and future care delivery models among other initiatives.

It is hard to remember what life was like four years ago. The novel COVID-19 virus completely changed everything. Every member of my staff immediately pivoted from “business as usual” to supporting our members—nurse leaders—in the field.

In March 2020, I met with the U.S. president, vice president, and the COVID-19 task force advocating alongside fellow nursing association leadership for increased help to protect and support the health care workers on the front line of the pandemic. The opportunity to help nurses and influence policy at a national level has really been extraordinary and something new to me.

Since July 2021, the AONL Foundation for Nursing Leadership Research and Education has conducted a longitudinal study to understand the pandemic’s impact on nurse leaders. From the results, we confirmed that staffing shortages were quickly becoming the biggest challenge facing health care. We also learned of an emerging challenge—nurses leaving the profession within the first five years.

a coronavirus spore

Another staggering statistic from our survey last summer is that one in every three nurse managers and front-line nurse leaders reported they were not emotionally healthy. The AONL Foundation’s latest survey was released in October. I am very anxious to see what we can learn from this important work.

The number one issue on every health leader’s mind is workforce. Central to AONL and AHA’s initiative is flexible workforce planning: accommodating nontraditional hours and utilizing team-based care models.

We’ve learned many lessons as a result of this pandemic. I’d like to believe—and I’m an optimist—that we’ll take these lessons to heart and be better prepared in the future.

I have learned to be flexible and the importance of self-care in maintaining resiliency. I try to spend as much time as I can with my family, particularly my eight grandchildren. My husband and I enjoy water sports, especially fishing and boating.

The nursing profession is not easy but it is so rewarding, professionally and personally. I’ve had opportunities that I never could have imagined 45 years ago. It really has been a blessing.

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