Good teamwork is as essential to a high-functioning nursing unit as the nurses themselves. Even the best nurses can’t operate in a silo–patient care takes a comprehensive and cohesive approach where nurses know what to do, know what everyone else does, and each nurse supports the rest of the team.
Despite being a fundamental nursing practice, teamwork can be challenging. Some teams don’t work well and don’t know what’s wrong, or they know what’s wrong and don’t implement solutions that work.
So what’s the key to good teamwork?
It’s all about communication.
“This applies to all professions–communication is key,” says Dr. Margarita David, DNP, MSN, BSN, BA, RN, PCCN, CSN, founder and CEO of Dr. Registered Nurse Success Academy, LLC. But fine-tuning communication skills sometimes gets pushed aside for the immediacy of nursing duties. “Many nurses get overwhelmed with doing what the job requires and what needs to be completed. There’s not enough time.” The dangers of an ineffective team are many; the worst outcome is when it causes patient or nurse harm. For example, patients who leave the hospital without a clear plan or a plan they need help understanding are more likely to be readmitted within 30 days. “That also affects a hospital’s numbers,” she says. “It’s a domino effect.”
Developing Skills and Practice for Effective Work
Dr. Margarita David is the founder and CEO of Dr. Registered Nurse Success Academey, LLC
Teamwork can be guided, but it can only succeed with flexibility. What works for one team may not hold for how another team operates. So constantly reassessing how a team works–its strengths and weaknesses–is necessary. “In nursing, everything changes every single day,” says David.
Building teamwork skills often starts when nurses are still in school, says Dr. Shelley Johnson, EdD, MSN, MBA, RN, NE-BC, CNE, dean and professor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s School of Nursing. “In nursing education, there’s a lot of content delivery, and we ask students to work on communicating with each other for support and to talk through difficult concepts,” she says, noting that a tried-and-true method that nurses can use throughout an entire career span is the SBAR method. Presenting problems and solutions with the SBAR method helps nurses identify issues and background, assess, and then recommend how to solve things; it’s a method that can be used in many situations. “They can use the SBAR format if they are going to a faculty member with an issue, or they can use it in a presentation to advocate for themselves, others, or as a leader.”
Dr. Shelley Johnson is the dean and professor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s School of Nursing
According to David, nurses should seek opportunities to intentionally put themselves in positions to grow confident speaking up because that’s what it takes to be an effective team member and leader. “Get involved in a research council or on practice committees,” she says. “Get involved, and then put yourself out there.” Because so much of nursing is focused on direct patient care, nurses have fewer chances to speak in front of others or to gain the confidence that comes from that experience. Nurses can also actively practice at conferences and meetings where they learn to communicate what they want.
Johnson says that when nurses grasp the skills that will strengthen their team, standardizing the language and process makes a difference. “You want it to mean the same thing when there’s an emergency,” says Johnson, “so no one is confused.”
And if tension does develop, team members need to recognize the problem, reassess the approach, and address it. Take a step back and wait for things to deescalate, says Johnson, and then come from a place of humility. Have patience, she says, and evaluate what happened, what went wrong, and how to fix it. In interdisciplinary teams or even working with patients, the chance for miscommunication is elevated, and sometimes an apology is necessary and the right thing to do. “Own your mistakes,” Johnson says. “You don’t want to break a relationship to the point where progress fails, you can’t work together, or someone doesn’t want you as a nurse.”
Recognize the cultural communication component for each team you work on, says Johnson. “Think of how others are receiving your messaging,” she says. Nurses can also look for subtle signals in their teammates to know when the teamwork isn’t optimal. Look for body language and facial expressions, and listen to the responses from team members. “We must be proactive with talking and practice active listening,” says Johnson. “That active listening is important for gathering information, managing teams, and being team members,” she says. The skill is important enough that practicing it with role-playing is valuable.
Everett Moss II is a nurse anesthesia DNP candidate at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University
Every person’s role is important when a patient is moved from the ER to a trauma unit or the ICU and then is moved to discharge. “We saw that especially during COVID,” he says. Healthcare industry workers who aren’t in direct contact with patients still have a significant impact on nurses’ ability to care for patients effectively, he says. And nurses routinely communicate with pharmacies, labs, other teams, and family members or caregivers, so each step extends the team working on a patient. “In nursing, you’re forced into an environment where you have to learn teamwork or suffer the consequences of not,” he says. “And in our profession, if we suffer the consequences of not, our patients do too. I don’t believe an area of nursing survives without teamwork.”
Advanced practice degrees also provide communication skills that help nurses with teamwork, whether they remain bedside nurses or expand into other roles. As nurses progress to team leaders, David says they must understand how to lead effectively. “Understanding your style is vital in making sure you lead others,” she says, noting that she found her style and works with it. “I have a democratic approach. I tell them my expectations, but then I ask about their expectations of me. I let them know if you come to me with a concern, I want to hear a potential solution.” Building rapport strengthens trust so that each nurse can work for the betterment of the whole team. “It has to be 100 percent of the people working together,” says David.
Moss likens teamwork’s effectiveness to how sports teams operate. “Until you establish who does what, everyone may not know their role,” he says. “They may think, ‘I don’t know what you’re expecting from me, and I don’t know what to expect from you.’”
Johnson agrees. “None of us can do this alone,” she says. “The moment we do, we all fail.”
You Make a Difference: such simple words to write but a challenge to put into practice. So I’m thrilled to introduce you to a nurse living up to the mantra. Meet Alice Benjamin, or Nurse Alice, as she’s known to many and how she’s making a difference in her patient’s lives, the surrounding community, and the nursing profession every day.
Nurse Alice’s personal experience of her father dying in the ER from cardiac arrest while awaiting care inspired her to become the best cardiac nurse in the world and a community health leader to help create programs and empower and educate communities of color to take control of their health and get the most out of their healthcare.
But that is only part of her incredible journey.
After starting as a volunteer with the American Heart Association educating people about basic heart health, she advanced her nursing education. She learned more about research, health policy, and public health and advanced her clinical expertise within cardiology as a CNS and NP. Nurse Alice’s education and personal experiences helped her become a well-respected and credible community health leader.
She eventually landed opportunities on national platforms and in the news media to become a TV medical correspondent. Each stop of her nursing journey provided her with unique, colorful, resourceful, well-rounded, and practical, real-life experiences that have molded Nurse Alice into the nurse leader she is today.
Minority Nurse chatted with Alice Benjamin, APRN, MSN, ACNS-BC, FNP-B, CCRN, CEN, CV-BC, Chief Nursing Officer and correspondent for Nurse.org, clinical nurse specialist and family nurse practitioner, and critical-care and emergency medicine nurse at the Community Hospital of Huntington Park, California, with over 23 years of experience about the need for community education, how to make a difference in nursing, being a health advocate, her poignant story about her connection to the ER, the endless possibilities for creating a job in nursing, why nursing needs all of the brightest minds and kind-hearted people, and more.
Learn Nurse Alice’s Secret Sauce for Being a Happy Nurse and Loving Your Nursing Career
The ANA’s theme for National Nurses Week this year is “You Make a Difference.” You’re making a difference in nursing as the Chief Nursing Officer and correspondent for Nurse.org and host of the podcast “Ask Nurse Alice,” a medical correspondent for NBC LA, a family nurse practitioner, clinical nurse, and a mom, author, and health advocate. What is your secret for juggling it all?
The secret sauce is I love what I do in different ways. They’re the same. But there’s a common thread of education and community service, which is something that fills my bucket. I enjoy community education and talking to other people. And my mantra is that I love to talk to people before they become my patients, just because I’ve seen so much of the devastation as a daughter and mother. It’s different when I’m on one side of the bed rails taking care of a patient, but when I’m on the other side, and it’s my loved one in the bed, it’s a vulnerable place to be in. So I like to talk to people to prevent their issues as much as possible so they can have a quality of life. So I love doing what I do as an extension. It’s patient education, using different platforms, like on television with NBC, on a podcast, through Nurse.org, or blogs. I feel so lucky, so blessed to love what I do. Now, some parts of nursing are challenging, but overall, I love what I get to do. I’m like, wow, this is so cool.
Your work makes a difference in the lives of so many every day. What are some ways that nurses can make a difference?
There are numerous ways in which nurses can make a difference. There are nearly 4.4 million of us now, and if we could all divide and conquer. And I would like to empower nurses to think about their passion. What are you good at? What’s your lane? There are so many different ways that we can approach this. But one of the things I think nurses need to do is take care of the patient inside of those hospital walls or those clinics. We must cover so much groundwork, strategizing, and working with other groups and disciplines outside hospital walls. Yes, people come to the hospital for care, but that’s already after something happened. We don’t want to work ourselves out of a job, but we want to care for people so well that they don’t need to come here. And to do that, we need to swing the pendulum and focus on preventative care, health promotion, disease identification, and early intervention because we want to keep people outside the hospital. Nurses need to get out in the communities to educate and become patient advocates in whatever area they wish. Advocate for their patient’s best interests—advocating for what will be better for their care, a more efficient and effective work system, and better work conditions. Because when you have happy nurses, you have happy patients.
You talk about happy nurses. However, nurses must cultivate and maintain optimal mental and physical health to affect change in their patients. What are some things that nurses should be doing to ensure they’re healthy to provide the best patient care possible?
Nurses and healthcare providers know exactly what to do because we tell our patients what to do. But yet, we don’t always do those things for ourselves. We’re so focused on caring for others that we don’t fill our cups. So nurses need to allow themselves to embrace and recognize we are consumers of healthcare too. So when we’re talking about our patients, we’re taking care of our patients too. And I think somewhere along the line, nurses and doctors over here, their patients over there. Nurses and doctors are patients, too, right? So we must ensure we’re doing our annual physical and getting our mental health checks. That’s something that even the whole general public misses altogether. The pandemic highlighted many things, but nurses were going through the mud. It’s such a place of being happy to help people but simultaneously feeling devastated because we are asked to do more with less in a situation where we were fighting the Invisible Man before we understood what COVID is. It’s a profession that’s predominantly women.Many of us are mothers, so we’re also taking care of children and always heard stories about the woman being the rock of the home and making sure everyone else is cared for. So we must allow ourselves some grace and recognize that we are also patients. We need just as much physical wellness, mental wellness, respite care, relaxation, and de-stressing as the next person, and if we don’t do that, we will find ourselves being someone’s patient.
Nurses were the heroes throughout COVID. So what can nursing do to honor nurses who are leading, excelling, and innovating our healthcare systems and the communities they’re practicing in?
Something that we as nurses can do is celebrate each other to support one another. The American Nurses Association is so powerful. They’re able to move legislation and lobby and get things done. There are fewer physicians than nurses, yet nurses have been so fragmented. We have the AMA, but not everyone’s a member. But if we were more unified and took our collective voice to support different initiatives, we could be more powerful in moving important legislation and changing practices for the better, not just for the nursing profession, but for the patient.
To lead and excel in nursing, we have to support one another. That’s one part of it. The other part is that we must also learn to play well in different sandboxes. Because a lot of what we do as nurses are inward driven, nursing school and nursing education, you have this whole larger healthcare conversation happening adjacent to us. And we can’t just be side to side. We must jump into that sandbox, join the conversation, and collaborate. Historically, nurses haven’t been invited. So it’s essential that as we move forward, and we move our profession forward, we need to be more politically savvy and more strategic in how we work with other agencies and groups. Because overall, many groups outside of nursing all have the same goal of improving patient outcomes, improving healthcare, and decreasing chronic illnesses. So working nurses need to unify our voices and learn how to strategize and work with other groups to move the needle on important health initiatives.
To move the needle on important healthcare initiatives, nurses must leverage every opportunity for professional development. So what are the best ways for nurses to access resources and insights to guide their professional development?
This starts in nursing school, but I know nursing school is jam-packed. But early on, as soon as we enter nursing, we need to learn the importance and significance of finance, budgeting, and strategy working with other groups. Because when I went to nursing school, we were taught to care for the patient. It doesn’t matter how much this costs, or don’t worry about anyone else. You focus on the patient. This practice has blinded many of us, not realizing that we can work smarter instead of harder if we collaborate and network with other groups, agencies, and disciplines to share some of our resources. There’s no point in nursing establishing a committee to do all this work independently while another group is doing it. And we’re both doing work but not making as much progress. If we worked together, we could move that needle further. But in nursing school, that’s not necessarily one of the priorities and teachings. But as we grow in our career ladder, we need to foster experiences and learning opportunities that teach us how to do that networking and the collaboration that happens in an interdisciplinary setting. And also in the back of our mind being business and finance savvy to understand that. This is in the patient’s best interest, and B and C might be good considerations considering finances and resources.
What do you recommend nurses do to excel and lead in their nursing careers or inspire others in their nursing journey?
I’m joining a professional organization, and there’s AMA, but then there’s also your specialty nurse organization. I’ve always been a part of my professional organizations and participated in events remotely and in person. I’ve always been a part of my professional organizations, and I’ve participated in events remotely and in person. The synergy happening in that room when you have a nurse or an ER nurse from California, an ER nurse in New York, and you’re discussing situations and can hear like, oh, wow, that’s how you handled that situation. Now that’s the process. Oh, let me bring that practice back to my facility. And it’s an opportunity to share evidence-based practice and talk about the latest research. Iron sharpens iron to build our community and engage with one another.
I did something beneficial for me, and I hope it’ll help someone else. As someone who was very cardiovascular health-focused, my love, my number one love and passion, I was a volunteer for the American Heart Association first and still am for several years. I take my expertise as a nurse and my knowledge about cardiovascular health and work with the American Heart Association to help identify programs and processes that specific communities need to improve patient outcomes to get people to check their blood pressure, eat better diets, and things like that. I was often the only nurse in the room, but work with people of different interests. These are all community folks convening together for the sake of wanting to improve cardiovascular health. But it opened my eyes to what happens in our communities. I know hospital stuff, and I know some clinical things, and I know those healthcare organizations. Still, when a grocery store owner is so interested in cardiovascular health and wants to put on events at their store and do a cooking demo, it opened my eyes to creative ways to do patient education and empower the community to take charge of their health. We have many opportunities to expand and grow our skills and knowledge outside our nursing organizations.
You mention engaging with the community. What are some ways for nurses to better engage with the community besides joining nursing organizations?
For example, I did community service with the American Heart Association. I also served as the health chair for my local NAACP and Urban League. I also volunteered at my son’s schools. Wherever there are people, there will be some health issues. Someone might fall and break their knee, and as nurses, even if you’re a NICU nurse, or labor and delivery nurse, if someone slips and hurts their knee, you will know some basic fundamental things to stabilize that patient. When COVID hit, all know how to stop the transmission of infection. Every nurse was a great resource during the COVID pandemic, teaching different communities about preventing transmission and things you should do to protect yourself. So it’s essential for nurses first to identify their passion. What places are you going to, and what groups are you already part of? Maybe it’s something that’s happening at your church, perhaps it’s your daughter’s Girl Scout troop, and you can participate there. So there are just so many different opportunities. That’s one of the great things about nurses too. We’re so creative and innovative. I’m sure once you identify my passion and what groups I am a part of, you can probably list 100 ways you could help communities.
Talk about the importance of what nurses do beyond the bedside: advocacy, shaping public policy, serving on an organization’s board, and having a seat at the table.
It’s critical that nurses, while we are at the bedside, do as much as possible to share with the public, the community, and our politicians what we do and how we can contribute. Yes, I can start an IV, but then I can also help you strategize an effective plan or bill to improve the quality of school lunches so our children aren’t becoming obese with the foods they’re eating at school. So beyond the bedside, we can advocate.
During the President Obama administration, I had the pleasure of volunteering with AARP. I went through this extensive AARP Volunteer Leadership Program and learned the Affordable Care Act inside and out. So when I came back from training in Washington, DC, I participated in different congresswoman’s town halls, talking about the ACA and seeing changes opening up. Here I am talking about health’s significance and its importance. Health is universal, and it impacts everyone, regardless of what side you sit on politically. But advocacy, I was able to do that, working with state politicians. That’s something that you can do to shape public policy. I live in Los Angeles. I would go to Sacramento, be there to talk to the general public as well, and go knocking on doors to talk about the significance of a particular bill, like the tobacco tax, to decrease the number of people smoking. So I participated in shaping public policy. You do that because the public makes up the voters. They’re the constituents that the politician needs to listen to, but also knocking on those doors and speaking directly to those politicians, and serving on executive boards. This is something I don’t necessarily like, but again, this is where you lean on what your passion is. And it might not be now, but many years from now. It’s so important that we have nurses sit on hospital boards and boards of insurance companies.
There’s a nursing process called ADPIE. And that’s short for assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. It’s like a Six Sigma. We go through a thought process whenever we provide patient care, and the ADPIE strategy can be applied anywhere. And if we can get nurses on these boards, especially decision-making boards, that will be key in helping to guide and shift and change policy, procedure, and practice not just in the hospital but outside in the community and how things are done. We know what patients need because we care for them 24/7 and listen to stories that physicians don’t hear because patients trust us. So that experience and thought process will be instrumental in helping to move and make changes outside of hospital walls.
You are a health advocate for your patients. How do you empower them to take control of their health, wellness, and lifestyle?
Whenever I get in front of people, to take their guard down so they don’t think I’m talking at them, I’ll start the conversation by reminding them I’m a patient too. I’ve been in the hospital too. This has happened to me. I’m a nurse, but I’m also a regular person just like you, so I’m not immune to sickness or illness or any of these things, just like I’m telling you about the significance of getting mental health checks and talking to a therapist, I need that too. We’re equal. We are all human beings. We are all subject to the same things. So I do that first to establish trust. Then, I take the time to understand the audience I’m speaking to because, in nursing, we’re taught to talk to the 80%. But there’s also going to be a 20%. Maybe this doesn’t apply or needs to be individualized to the patient. So I constantly individualize the information I’m presenting or talking about.
For example, suppose I’m at an event and speaking to a roomful of Asian people. When it comes to talking about diet, I’m making sure that while I’m talking about traditional foods, I’m also going to speak to those cultural and ethnic foods that are common. Doing that helps the people who are listening to me to feel seen. Many times, especially small, minority, and vulnerable groups feel like they’re talking over my head. They’re not talking to me because that doesn’t apply. My culture doesn’t do that. But when I can individualize it, they feel heard and seen, fostering trust. And when we can foster trust, people are more inclined to follow up with the care plan. So when you have that distrust or mistrust, patients will say, they said that, but I’m not doing that because there’s no trust. So I try my best to continue to support them. Sometimes there’s that one-time interaction with someone. And it’s like, here today, gone tomorrow. But we can still help one another through social media and other ways. And I think that’s why Facebook groups are so big. You can have a community of supporters even long past the initial interaction.
What do you like best about being a family nurse practitioner?
I didn’t plan to be a nurse practitioner, especially not in the emergency room. I wanted to be an accountant. When I was going to school, my dad fell sick. When he was in the military, he began smoking cigarettes because they would say to smoke them if you got him. So he picked up smoking, which led to high blood pressure, a heart attack, a stroke, and congestive heart failure. And ultimately, my dad died in the emergency room from a massive heart attack and went into sudden cardiac arrest. Now being the eldest, I would help my mom care for my dad and things like that. I’d always question why this didn’t make sense. And it was because, at the time, providers weren’t communicating effectively or in a way that my dad understood or that my family understood because we weren’t healthcare professionals. We didn’t know that particular hospital had many patients and was under-resourced. And unfortunately, it’s one thing we don’t necessarily like about healthcare, but we’ve all heard the stories about ERs being so busy, and then someone dies in the hallway while waiting to be seen because they’re so understaffed. And so that was my situation with my dad.
I said I would be the best cardiac nurse in the world. And that’s when I set out to work with American Heart Association, anything and everything cardiovascular. I’m doing it as volunteer work. I don’t care. I want to learn it all. So I can teach and empower the community so this doesn’t happen to them. I worked in ICU critical care, telemetry, and all these places, and I’ve worked in home health everywhere. I never wanted to work in the emergency room because it was too painful. So fast forward. I got frustrated with not having prescriptive authority, and in my journey, I ultimately went back to become a nurse practitioner and landed in the ER. And it was a place I never wanted to work because it was too painful. But now I can redeem things for my father because I’m now that provider and will be so attentive. I’m not going to let you die in the hallway. We know that sometimes people come in the ER and feel their symptoms are dismissed –medical gaslighting–and we’re not doing any of that. So I get to be the provider and care for someone like my dad. Hopefully, in my attentiveness, and because I care so much because of being a patient advocate, I can do as much as possible not to have those outcomes. I can’t control it all the time, but I can do my best to prevent those things from happening.
Do you think education level and specialties play a role in a nurse’s job satisfaction and navigating your career?
More education puts you in a position for opportunities you may not have as an associate degree nurse versus a doctoral-prepared nurse. And then also along the lines, it’s not just the letters behind your name but the quality of education. That’s what you’re learning in the program. As someone who’s gone back for more, I started with the LPN certificate and then ADN, and I initially thought a nurse was a nurse. So along that journey, I learned more about evidence-based practice research leadership, performance improvements, how to be more politically savvy, strategize, negotiate, work with and have crucial conversations with stakeholders, and learn more about budgeting, finance, and cost avoidance. So those are important elements of nursing education that you learn along the way. You’ll still get frustrated with some things, but you’re better equipped with tools and how to navigate those rough waters. So I think education and specialty training, like getting your certification if you work in critical care, having your CCRN or if you’re an emergency room nurse and having your CEN because, in that certification, you’re tested on a series of clinical situations, medication scenarios with how you would manage certain conditions. And when you work in one hospital, you might not have exposure to something. If you go back for your certification, you will have been exposed to multiple relevant things within your specialty. So if a high-risk, low-volume case comes into your hospital, you’ll know how to manage it. So education certification plays a role in job satisfaction and career navigation.
Nursing is an admired and honorable profession, and nurses have been ranked as the most honest profession 21 times, yet nurses need help to persist in their field. So what can nursing do to save itself and progress forward?
We must maintain the integrity of our nursing education. There have been many discussions about compact states and nursing schools, some not so good, some great as of late, but we mustn’t have a nursing shortage. Yes, we need more bodies, but how will we get there? We won’t get there by lowering the entry standards to nursing programs because it’s still critical and life dependent. We’re taking care of people’s lives, so we don’t want to water down the requirements for nursing school. That’s not how we’re going to solve the nursing shortage. While you may get more people to care for patients, how does that affect the quality of patient care? In the end, if you’re pushing nurses through just trying to get them through, we need to focus on investing in our nurse educators and getting more of them. Then attract the best of the best and the brightest because if you want students to learn about critical care, you need the practicing critical care nurse, not the retired 20-year retired critical-care nurse teaching it. But you’re only going to attract them with competitive salaries. Working at the bedside, for the most part, does pay more than working as an educator. So we must look at how we will improve nursing in that sense. And see what else as far as saving itself. That will be a key and foundational thing we must take care of. And then the other pieces.
As nurses, we need to move beyond the bedside. And I don’t mean abandoning patient care. We need people in patient care, but there may be creative opportunities. For example, some larger academic organizations allow their nurses to work at the bedside. Then for their community service for a certain amount of hours, they are compensated or given other points or a reward system to do things in the community. So to move the needle forward, we need one foot at the bedside and one foot beyond the bedside. So we’re straddling the fence. But I know it sounds like a daunting task, but we can do it. We have to look at our resources. And it’s not a game of checkers. This is the game of chess we’re playing. But if there’s anyone that can pull this off, nurses can. We’re the largest segment of healthcare workers; when we talk, people should listen.
What are your words of wisdom for nurses currently in the profession and others considering becoming a nurse?
First, I want to say we need you. We need anyone and everyone passionate about taking care of patients. That is the primary charge. I know it’s a reliable profession. But, most importantly, you have to want to care for patients. And that caring is going to look a little bit different for everyone. Some people say I can’t stand the sight of blood or I can’t do this. I want people to understand that, yes, there are some fundamental things that you will have to learn. But we have nurses in government. We have nurses in politics. We have nurses in education. We have them in public health. We have them in schools.
Take your pick. There are so many options. Nursing is one of the few professions you can enter where everyone has a standard education, and we all pass a standardized test, the NCLEX. But once you do, that sky’s the limit. And I had a mentor tell me, Alice, wherever there is pain and wherever there are people, there will be problems, so you can create your job. During the pandemic, we’ve seen many nurses leave the bedside, some are still at the bedside, but they’ve created their jobs. Some are still in patient care, but it looks slightly different. There are so many problems and plenty of work to go around. We need all the best and the brightest minds and kind-hearted people. We need you.
Alice Benjamin’s nursing education journey has been everything except traditional. At first, she thought her path would hinder her career, and she secretly envied the traditional 4-year nursing program. But her education journey has provided unique, colorful, resourceful, well-rounded, and practical real-life experiences that helped mold Benjamin into the nurse leader she is today.
Benjamin aspired to become an advanced practice nurse and grow within the nursing profession, but the impact outside of the hospital motivated her the most.
Seeing the health disparities and health inequities negatively impacting the black community inspired Benjamin to become a community health leader in creating programs and empowering and educating communities of color to take control of their health and get the most out of their healthcare. Then she advanced her nursing education and learned more about research, health policy, and public health. Finally, she advanced her clinical expertise in cardiology as a CNS and NP to make a difference in her profession.
Benjamin, affectionately known as ‘America’s Favorite Nurse,’ is the chief nursing officer and correspondent for Nurse.org. She credits her education and personal experiences for becoming a well-respected and credible community health leader, propelling her into the national spotlight with appearances on national media platforms as a medical correspondent.
The series highlights healthcare leaders who are prominent figures in their organizations and are making transformational impacts in nursing.
Meet Alice Benjamin, APRN, MSN, ACNS-BC, FNP-B, CCRN, CEN, CV-BC, Chief Nursing Officer and correspondent for Nurse.org, clinical nurse specialist and family nurse practitioner, and critical-care and emergency medicine nurse at the Community Hospital of Huntington Park, California.
Talk about your role in nursing.
I’m an advanced practice nurse. I’m a clinical nurse specialist and a family nurse practitioner, working primarily as a nurse practitioner in the emergency room. I wear many hats because I’m also the chief nursing officer at Nurse.org, the largest online nursing platform. I also do much volunteer work with the American Heart Association and AARP. And this stems from just loving being a nurse and caring for other people because I do a lot of work in community education and advocacy, which even spills over into television, which is another opportunity to educate viewers at home.
I love nursing. I’ve been doing this for over 24 years. I couldn’t even think of doing anything different than what I’m doing now. Again, I’m in the emergency room now, but I’ve worked ICU, telemetry, home health, and critical care. There are so many places and needs for nurses. My mentor once told me wherever there are people, you need a nurse. I’ve found lots of great opportunities in the nursing profession.
Tell us about your career path and how you ascended to that role.
Right out of high school, I never knew I wanted to be a nurse. But I was the eldest, and my dad was a retired serviceman and smoked cigarettes in the military. They used to say, smoke them if you got him. So he picked up that habit and suffered severe health issues. He had high blood pressure, strokes, heart failure, and heart attacks. And as the eldest, I would help take care of him, and my dad would tell me, “You’re gonna be a great nurse one day.” And I said, “Well, I’m gonna be an accountant, I’m gonna count the money and things like that.” But I naturally fell into it. And right out of high school, I signed up for a vocational nursing program, and on the pathway, you can take the early part of it and become a nursing assistant. So I immediately became a nursing assistant and went to school to become a licensed vocational nurse. And once I achieved that then I went on to more school and became an RN with my associate’s degree. Then I started working as an RN and went back to school, I got my bachelor’s degree, still working, and then I went and got my master’s and became a clinical nurse specialist, an advanced practice nurse.
I did that for quite some time and even went back to more school to become a family nurse practitioner because I wanted to do more in healthcare as a nurse. Again, inspired by my dad, who died of a massive heart attack. And when he died, I said, “I’m going to be the best cardiac nurse in the world.” So I spent my career climbing the career ladder as a nurse and doing tons of community service with the American Heart Association, the NAACP, the Urban League, and women’s groups to get the word out about heart disease in underserved communities. So while working in the hospitals, I simultaneously did that. And in hindsight, I look back, and I’m like, gosh, where did I have the time to do all that? But when you’re so passionate about something, it fuels this fire and motivation. I just had the energy and the passion to do it.
I’ve also been adjunct clinical faculty at pre-licensure nursing programs to help model nursing and cultivate and foster future nurses. And during this career, inspired by my father, I often tried to bridge the gap by taking what I was doing in the hospital and the community organizations I was working with. Because people go to the hospital, they receive care, get discharged, and then they’re in the community with whatever resources they have. They must learn to navigate resources, insurance, and everything they need to stay healthy. So I did a lot of bridging the gap. At one point, I was the first nurse to chair the American Heart Association’s western state affiliate’s health inequity program. I oversaw American Heart Association’s community outreach programs over ten states which I’m very proud of because, as a nurse, knowing firsthand what happens in the hospital and having the experience of my dad, who went to a small community hospital, that didn’t provide all the resources and help that he needed to bridge the gap. So I’ve spent much of my career trying to bridge the gap between hospitals, clinics, and the community.
What are the most important attributes of today’s nursing leaders?
One of the essential attributes of a nursing leader is knowing how to be strategic when it comes to communication and working with others. As nurses, we are great at our nursing organizations. We advocate for nursing quite often. But sometimes, we’re not invited to specific strategic meetings, committee workgroups, or important work being done in healthcare, and we should be at that table. So we need to invite ourselves. We need to rub elbows with other groups recognizing that nursing is the largest segment of the healthcare workforce. We have nurses of all levels, LPNs RNs, and different types of advanced practice nurses, and we have a lot to contribute as the eyes and ears and often providers of care in the hospital. If we can be a part of these committees working on crucial national health initiatives, we can contribute and help make a change. So, for example, for my work with the American Heart Association, someone asked, “Would you want to chair this committee?” I said, “Absolutely.” It was interesting because I was the only nurse invited to that committee of 50 of us from over ten states. They said I was the first person ever to attend. So we have to recognize that nursing doesn’t just happen in the hospital. It occurs anywhere people are, and we need to strategize with other community leaders, even from business finance and education, and realize we can make a difference in many areas.
What does being a nursing leader mean to you, and what are you most proud of?
It always feels good when a patient comes back to you, and you may not even recognize that person, and they’ll say you took care of my mother or me when I was in the hospital. Then they tell you the story, and you start to remember, and they thank you so much because they were knocking on death’s door. And because of the care that I provided or some motivational words that I shared with them to keep them motivated and keep them going, I made an impact on their life. So that always feels good.
But as far as professionally, what am I most proud of? I have a lot of things that I’m proud of. But one of the things that makes me unique has been my presence on national platforms and television. A Woodhull Study shows that less than 2% of health experts are on tv or less than 2% of television contributors are nurses. Often, when nurses do have the opportunity to talk on television, it’s about a strike or some act of violence against them or something that victimizes the nurses instead of the nurse being a leader. I’m the expert. And I’ve had the privilege of being on several different programs, and now and as a medical contributor for NBC for Los Angeles, as a nurse to model that nurses can be health experts, too. So I’m very proud of that.
What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?
One of the things we have to focus on is the work environment and the mass exodus that’s happening with nursing. COVID did a number on many people, more than we could have anticipated. But again, it’s the largest segment of the workforce, with workers on the frontline in these hospitals. Nursing care is around the clock and is what keeps hospitals open. Nurses were overwhelmed, overworked, under-resourced, and often needed to be appreciated more in ways that nurses found meaningful. We must fix that because nurses are leading the bedside. And we know that the baby boomers will be retiring, which will give us a nursing shortage. We know that more than 80,000 nursing school candidates are turned away yearly because we don’t have enough space in schools for them. We’ll find ourselves in dire need and shortage of bedside nurses if we don’t turn around and fix the workplace environment. And there are a lot of things. Talking about finance, staffing, the pipeline quality of education, what is meaningful to the nurse, and how to make them feel appreciated because it’s not always about the money. It’s about just being appreciated by your employer. So we have to fix that, or healthcare will crumble even further.
As a nursing leader, how are you working to overcome this challenge?
One of the things I’m doing to help with that is my role at Nurse.org as their Chief Nursing Officer. Nursing schools, hospitals, students, and different health organizations follow, listen, or collaborate with nurses at work. And what I’m doing as a nurse leader there is making sure that we are addressing critical professional issues that impact our profession, and our practice, spreading the word on important things, giving attention to the nurses who seem voiceless in their stories, and getting the attention and hopefully providing the influence that’s needed to get agendas and policies and practices moved and changed. Because things will happen at a certain hospital in a small city, and nobody ever knows. But if we take that story, we amplify it on our side. We not only let all the nurses know that this is going on, but then that sparks conversations in hospitals with their leadership. If we can address and discuss those issues, it gives them attention to something that doesn’t have to happen at the next hospital.
You said that your father was your inspiration to become a nurse. What nursing leader inspires you the most and why?
Mary Eliza Mahoney is my most significant source of inspiration. She was the first African American to study and work professionally as a trained nurse in the U.S. She inspired me. And especially during those times in the 1870s as an African American. Graduating from nursing school was a challenging feat. I could only imagine the barriers in place, but I’m sure her passion for caring for people pushed and motivated her to move forward. She could overcome adversities and challenges, especially of that magnitude, for the sake of wanting to care for someone, which is inspirational to me
What inspirational message would you like to share with the next generation of nurses?
There’s so much I want to say to the future generation of nurses. It may sound very cliche, but I want to tell them not to give up. And I say that because we can often ask for something at a hospital and be told no. Or that doesn’t fit our agenda. Or we can’t do that right now. We need the resources. And I found that where there’s a will, there’s a way. And so in the work that I’ve done, especially with community work, there often is no budget, we’re working mainly with volunteers, we have to influence people to want to participate and get to the cause, donate to the cause. And by not giving up, we can push forward to get our agendas, move the policies that we need to put in place the practices we need to put in place to make things better for the next nurse and the next patient. So the next generation of nurse leaders will be vital because it’s not a denial. It may be a delay. So I don’t want them to give up. They must keep pushing so conditions can only get better. We’ve come so far in nursing. Here in California alone, nurse practitioners can practice independently in a position. That’s been a tall order. We’ve been fighting for that for so long. But we wouldn’t be where we are today if we had given up when met with so many obstacles. So I don’t want nurses to give up, and that’s the message I would tell the next generation of nurses.
Dean Amar is an accomplished leader, advanced practice psychiatric nurse, and researcher studying sexual and dating violence. She joins NYU from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) School of Nursing, where she has been dean and a tenured professor since 2018.
NYU Welcomes Dean Amar
“Angela Amar comes to NYU’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing with an outstanding reputation as a researcher, a nursing educator, and an advocate for the profession. She particularly impressed us with her distinguished record of leadership, not only at UNLV but also at Emory and Boston College, and especially her focus on advancing diversity and inclusion in the profession, her concentration on student success, and her attention to faculty development, “ says NYU President Andrew Hamilton. “We were struck, too, by how strategically she was able to transform her vision, ambitions, and goals for UNLV’s School of Nursing into reality, with improvements in research funding, publications, student success, and faculty hiring.”
Before her tenure as dean of the UNLV School of Nursing, Dean Amar joined the faculty of Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in 2012, where she served as an assistant and then associate dean between 2013 and 2017. She developed forensic nursing programs for Emory, Boston College, and Georgetown, establishing a nationwide educational model on forensic nursing for nursing schools. Dean Amar’s scholarship on sexual and partner violence focuses on improving care and support for survivors of violence and trauma when they enter the healthcare system.
Dean Amar is a widely published author. Her books, articles, and book chapters include A Practical Guide to Forensic Nursing (2015, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing; with Sekula); “Gender Violence Prevention in Middle School Male Athletics Programs” (2020, JAMA Pediatrics, with Laughon); “Bullying Prevention: a Summary of the Report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine” (2016, with others); “Administrators’ perceptions of college campus protocols, response, and student prevention efforts for sexual assault” (2014, Violence and Victims; with others); and “Gender Differences in Attitudes and Beliefs Associated With Bystander Behavior and Sexual Assault” (2014, Journal of Forensic Nursing; with others). She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including receiving the 2022 Nursing Leader Award from the Asian American Group and Las Vegas India Chamber of Commerce; being selected for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Wharton Executive Leadership program; and receiving the 2017 Lillian Sholtis Brunner Award for Innovative Practice in Nursing, Alumni Award, from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, a Distinguished Fellow of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, and a Fellow of the National League for Nursing’s Academy of Nursing Education.
She earned her BSN (1987) and MN (1992) from the Louisiana State University Medical Center’s School of Nursing and her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania (2003), and is licensed as an RN in several states, is a board-certified advanced forensic nurse, and is certified as an adult psychiatric and mental health advanced practice nurse.
Teberah Alexander, RN, BSN, also known as “Nurse T,” and founder of Nurses Who Care, is holding a Future Nurses Program for kids 6-13 on Saturday, May 6th, from 1-5 pm at Renaissance High School (6565 W. Outer Drive) in Detroit in honor of National Nurses Week.
Nurse T’s Future Nurses Program gives children a hands-on experience in nursing and healthcare professions through interactive workshops. The program will introduce these crucial fields to kids directly from the source and celebrate that nursing isn’t just a job. It’s a calling.
The free program will also appeal to youth, nursing students, nursing instructors, health care professionals, hospital administrators, pharmacists, teachers, and the community. Register for the Future Nurses Program at thenurseswhocare.com by April 27th.
Nurses Who Care founder Teberah Alexander RN, BSN is a veteran nurse with more than 14 years of experience in clinical care.
Nurse T Doll Inspires the Next Generation of Nurses
Alexander, the founder and CEO of Nurses Who Care, is on a mission to entertain children during playtime while encouraging their personal development skills through books, dolls, and games. So she used her experience and wisdom from her nursing career to also launch the Nurse T Doll, designed to instill a love for the medical field in young girls and boys, fostering ambitions to become the patient care professionals of the future.
In the spirit of playing with a purpose, the doll will help teach kids about a day in the life of a nurse because “we are counting on the next generation to connect with their inner enthusiasm and study nursing,” says Alexander. The Nurse T Doll is also the first-ever nursing doll in the image of a real nurse.
I have been an RN for 20 years and a medical assistant for five years prior.
Please talk about your career path and how you ascended to that role.
I feel that it was in God’s plan. I started as a MA and had a 5-year plan to be a nurse (5 years is how long the MA/phlebotomy certification lasted). I met my goal. However, just as I was ready to enroll in nursing school, I realized that I could not afford my livelihood and attempted to withdraw. As I withdrew from the day program, CCBC initiated its first evening/ weekend program (God’s blessing). I enrolled in that program and completed it on time as scheduled within five years. My next goal was BSN, so I enrolled in the first nursing partnership cohort with Notre Dame. With the same partnership, CCBC recruited faculty from within the hospital where I was employed. I then duplicated the same situation for MSN.
At the MSN level, l concentrated on nursing education. I started healthcare in ambulatory care as MA. I entered a nursing role in critical care for 14 years. Then, I transitioned to outpatient ambulatory care as an interventional radiology nurse. While working towards my MSN, my current leader transitioned to a more corporate role and inquired how I felt about management. I never thought about management, just education. I am a product of teenage parents. I remember holding flash cards for my mom. I remember organizing my mom’s books. I remember when my mom told me about tutoring adults that couldn’t read and how important it was not to be judgmental. My manager had been teaching and guiding me to function in her absence, and I also attempted to do that with my team. I remember thinking, why would I allow someone new to take over a role I already know I can progress? So I applied for that position and was hired. I branched off to skilled nursing and went from manager to ADON within a year and DON within two years. After skilled nursing, I felt I needed to help patients never reach long-term care or intensive care units. I then returned to ambulatory care with a focus on the PCMH model. I came to UMMS to be a part of a larger organization that would allow me to flourish and be a change agent for innovative nursing care with a more diverse population.
Why did you become a nurse?
I have always been able to put the needs of others before my own. I have always enjoyed the satisfaction of taking care of others. I became a nurse to help, care for others, and give back to society.
What are the most important attributes of today’s nursing leaders?
The essential attributes are empathy, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Even if it is not your belief, seeing someone’s point of view opens doors for communication, which is always good. Proper communication leads to innovation within the healthcare system.
What does being a nursing leader mean to you, and how are you making a difference?
Being a nursing leader means someone who inspires passion and motivation in others to believe in advancement and forward movement. A leader ensures their team has the support and tools to achieve their goals professionally and personally and to advocate for professional advancement.
What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?
Access to diverse, equitable healthcare and the lack of available nursing educators.
As a nursing leader, how are you working to overcome this challenge?
Making short- and long-term goals include maximizing my education to obtain DNP and assuring work-life balance. Also, to actively and continually participate in the academia of licensed and unlicensed healthcare professionals. Also, by encouraging others to set goals for advancement in healthcare.
What nursing leader inspires you the most and why?
I am inspired by all nursing leaders who can lead the profession with their hearts first by balancing equitable patient care and cost-effective care. The nursing leader who truly empathizes with the population’s needs. The nursing leader who supports diversity, equity, and inclusion as a framework in their leadership style. Most of all, I am inspired by the leader who understands they are only as good as their team.
What inspirational message would you like to share with the next generation of nurses?
Denzel Washington said, “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.” Everything worth having is worth working for… sometimes our circumstances should be our motivation.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
As Oprah powerfully stated, “No matter where you are on your journey, that’s exactly where you need to be. The next road is always ahead.” So be kind to yourself and know that you can do it!