Patricia Cummings, RN, is a clinical nurse manager at Howard University Hospital. She holds the distinction of inoculating Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband with their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Cummings has been a nurse for more than 15 years and is passionate about health promotion and education. She was born in Guyana and moved to the U.S. about 20 years ago.

She was inspired to become a nurse after hearing stories from her aunt, who worked in the field and graduated from Walden University’s PhD in Nursing Program.

Cummings is an important nursing leader, and we’re pleased to profile her as we celebrate Black History Month with the Black Nursing Leaders Series 2023.

In February, we’ll highlight healthcare leaders who are prominent figures in their organizations and are making transformational impacts in nursing.

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Meet Patricia Cummings, a clinical nurse manager at Howard University Hospital

Talk about your career path and how you ascended to that role.

I have never envisioned myself being a nurse leader. I wanted to be a nurse when I was 16 years old. I was privileged to live with a family member who was a registered nurse. She would come home and tell about their stories and her experiences. And I was very intrigued and always wanted to help people in whatever capacity, so she influenced me into the world of nursing. When I graduated from nursing school, I went through the typical bedside med surg nursing, and I did that for about eight years. And after I decided I wanted to try different areas. That’s one of the great things about nursing. It is very versatile and allows you to venture off into other areas. So I did some home care consulting for the first few years and case management for a few years. And then, the opportunity presented itself for me to acquire a nursing leadership position. And I was recommended by someone I knew who saw something in me and thought I would probably do well in nursing leadership. And so I started, and over the past five to six years, I’ve grown to love nursing leadership, which is my passion. And I can’t envision myself doing anything else.

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What are the most important attributes of today’s nursing leaders?

Today’s nurse leader has to evolve in several ways, especially in light of the COVID pandemic. We’ve had to become creative and tweak some of how we lead. So the nurse leader of today has to be a great communicator. There are persons, whether it’s the staff we’re privileged to lead or the patients we care for, with issues and heightened anxiety just because of everything that’s happening. And so, a nurse leader must listen intently and respond appropriately, be empathetic, and be compassionate. Servant leadership, which I strive for, is one of the best leadership styles needed today. A servant leader who serves offers in whatever capacity to assist and make sure that the job gets done and is very humble has to have a high degree of humility. And that helps to earn your team’s trust and gain buy-in for them to do and see the vision and get it done. And a nurse leader also up to date needs to be innovative, conducting research and keeping up-to-date with current technologies, etc., things that will help make work more efficient. Those are the main attributes a nurse leader needs to have in today’s nursing world.

What does it mean to you to be a nursing leader, and how are you making a difference?

Nursing leadership means I get to influence others. I’ve been a nurse leader for about six years now. And when I was thinking about going back to school for my graduate degree, I did my research. And when I came upon Walden University and looked at their curriculum for the nurse executive leadership program, I was very impressed. And as I mentioned, my aunt is also an alumnus. So she influenced me as far as my choice, but just going back to school and having my degree and everything I received through my education has equipped me and allowed me to influence the people I am privileged to lead. 

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One of my favorite authors, John C. Maxwell, is a leadership guru. Not just nursing leadership, he has a quote, “He who thinks he’s a leader and has no followers is simply taking a walk.” I love that quote because it says if you’re unable to influence others and have them follow your vision and see what you’re trying to establish or accomplish, you’re not fulfilling that purpose. As a nurse leader, I get to influence others. I get to have new nurses fresh out of nursing school come to me. I get to be a role model. I get to influence and contribute to their nursing career. And beyond the nurses, the patients who we get to touch. One of the things I love about my job as a nurse manager is that as much as I am in a leadership position, I still get to interact with my patients. So I am around daily with every patient on my unit to assess their satisfaction, etc. And so I love all of it. So influence is my biggest reward as a nurse leader.

What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?

One of the most difficult challenges facing nursing today, nationally and globally, is the nursing shortage. There has always existed a nursing shortage to a degree. However, the COVID pandemic added to a more significant shortage. A lot of middle-aged and older nurses retired. But the bottom line is that there is a shortage of nurses, which has impacted organizations. Several hospitals around the country have closed down or have decreased their capacity because they cannot afford or not afford to do you’re not able to recruit nurses. And that impacts patient care. So the short has a ripple effect.

As a nursing leader, how are you working to overcome this challenge? 

One of the things I tried to do is to keep up-to-date with other nurse leaders and get a sense of what we, as nurse leaders, are doing as a group. One of the things I learned while at Walden University is that, as a nurse leader, you have to keep up with research and what is trending because, very likely, whatever challenges you’re facing individually, it tends to be regionally, nationally, globally, so get intel on what other organizations are doing. 

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So one of the things that are critical right now is effective recruitment. And that entails screening candidates and becoming creative in where we look for candidates. So I work very closely with my recruitment team. I check in with them every other day to ensure we’re utilizing every possible medium to recruit candidates. At Howard University Hospital, we have very robust nurse residency programs to recruit new grads and provide them with a very efficient experience where they can work alongside experienced nurses and the confidence and skills they need to function. At the end of the residency program, we’ve had a great success rate where most of these candidates are desirous of remaining and staying within the organization. I have encouraged many of my ancillary staff, like CNAs and patient care technicians, to return to school because they know that their team will be willing to help them succeed in their nursing journey. And just word of mouth, I have volunteered to go to various nursing schools, for example, Trinity Nursing and the University of the District of Columbia are some of the colleges were are affiliated with, and speak with nursing students about their career paths and the advocating for them to come to our institution. And as simple as it may seem, I am very involved with the community where I reside and advocating for or spreading the word about nursing. For example, I have two children. One is in high school. One is in middle school, and every career day I attend. I talk with students about nursing, why it is important that they pursue nursing, why we need nurses, and the importance of nurses, etc. And so those are some ways I got the word out about nursing and the fact that we need nurses and with recruitment.

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How were you chosen to inoculate Vice President Harris with the COVID vaccine?

The universe allowed it to happen because of me. I couldn’t say that I had too much to do with it. I positioned myself because when the vaccines became available at the hospital where I worked, they allotted vaccines and opened up a clinic. The volume of people that came into our clinic differed from what we anticipated. They needed more nurses to administer the vaccine. As a nurse manager, I offered to assist for a few hours. And incidentally, on the first day that I volunteered, I had the opportunity to vaccinate our CEO, CMO, and the entire C-suite. Once they received word that Vice President Harris was interested in coming to that particular organization, they had confidence in my ability. Everything aligned itself, and I’m so grateful I was chosen.

What nursing leader inspires you the most?

My auntie. But presently, the person I have just been able to connect with and who I communicate with is Sandra Lindsay. She is the RN who is the person who received the very first COVID vaccine in the entire country. I had the pleasure and honor of meeting her a few short months ago, so I’ve connected with her. And I admire who she is as a leader. She’s a nurse and has her doctoral degree, but she exemplified servant leadership. So it’s best in its best form when she volunteered to be not a guinea pig but to be that person to be inoculated first in front of the entire country. And so beyond that, she is a nurse leader. She’s a director, and I just dialogued with her about some of her strategies, and I’m so impressed. She is a great mentor and model for me.

What inspirational message would you like to share with the next generation of nurses?

To nurses, you are needed. As a nurse and person, the world of nursing needs you. You can relate to a particular group of patients. Sometimes, I’ve had experiences where a patient’s preference for a nurse of the same race can relate to that. And so I would say to Black nurses, specifically, you are valuable where you’re needed. You make a difference. The pandemic showed that those patients who were in need, who were on good to where, you know, transitioning, just wanted a person to be there to hold their hand as they took their last breath when family members were unable to be present at the time. And nurses were the only ones at the bedside. Those patients did not have a preference for color or any other defining characteristic. They just wanted a nurse or a person to be there with them. And so I, again, you are needed. You’re valuable. We don’t have enough nurses in hospitals, and so I aspire to do and to be and to be committed to the profession of nursing. It is a noble rewarding profession. And it’s fulfilling. I encourage those who are nursing students to remain committed to nursing school is not easy. But the rewards, in the end, will be fulfilling. And that would be my message that they stay committed to the profession because you are necessary. I advise all nurses to ensure they are aware of themselves and engage in self-care. Because for us to administer care to others, we must be mindful of our needs. The pandemic taught us that we must regularly check our mental health.

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