Susanah Awe, RN, is an SCN1 (Senior Clinical Nurse 1) at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopaedic Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

She grew up in a small town in Nigeria, where career options were limited for women, and her desire to become a nurse was considered too ambitious. Nevertheless, awe defied naysayers and has been a nurse for 36 years.

Awe 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 Susanah Awe, RN, SCN1, at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopaedic Institute (UMROI)

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

I started my career as a registered nurse in Nigeria in 1987 and earned my midwifery certificate in 1989. Then I moved to the U.S. and began working as an RNII at UMROI in 2005. After some years, I decided to pursue my bachelor of nursing degree in 2013 to increase my knowledge of the field and position myself for growth opportunities in nursing care. In 2022, I was promoted to Senior Clinical Nurse 1 (SCN1) after fulfilling all the requirements to progress in patient care.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

Growing up, I had always wanted to be a nurse. I love caring for people and saw nursing as a platform to do that. I also wanted to carry the torch for my Mother, who desired to be a nurse when it was against the norm in her hometown. At the time, college admission was based on who you knew and how much money you had. She could not achieve her dream with little money and no access to influential contacts. She went on to become a teacher. Her boldness inspires me to pursue a dream no one else around her had dared to follow. Being a nurse brings me fulfillment and honors my late Mother’s memory.

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

The most important attributes of nursing leaders are:

  • Treating each person with kindness and respect
  • Excellent communication skills
  • A great leader must be a good listener and acknowledge issues openly, honestly, and objectively
  • Lead by example, not just by words, and be willing to do things most people find challenging
  • Think about the people you work with and have their interests at heart
  • Providing excellent service and being proactive about opportunities to grow one’s expertise. 

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

Being a nurse leader means inspiring, influencing, and motivating nursing staff and other healthcare workers to work together to achieve their highest potential and collective organizational goal. I am making a difference by dealing with other co-workers with respect and kindness and being a good listener with good communication skills. In addition, I have helped solve challenges as they arise.

What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?

Being short-staffed for brief periods has been a challenge, and even more now after the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being short-staffed can lead to stress and burnout. Unfortunately, we lost many healthcare workers to the disease and the stressors it has brought.

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

I contribute to the effort to attract new nurses. When new nurses shadow me, I ensure they feel welcomed and provide support to help them succeed. I work with management to conduct interviews, and I gladly share lessons from my 18 years of experience working with the organization. I also inform them of the organization’s incentives, so new nurses are encouraged to stay and make the best use of the benefits available.

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What nursing leader inspires you the most?

All the incredible UMROI nursing leaders inspire me because they are dedicated, passionate, and hardworking. They provide quality patient care and foster a great work environment for nursing staff. 

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

I grew up in a small town in Nigeria where women’s career options were limited. If you were not a stay-at-home mom, you were selling farm produce or becoming a teacher. Everyone but my parents thought my desire to become a nurse was too ambitious. But here I am today, thriving in nursing. To black nurses:

  1. Pursue your dreams relentlessly.
  2. When you face obstacles, remind yourself of your ‘why.’
  3. Always do what is right, especially when no one is watching or applauding. Your integrity will speak for you.

Further your education, and dedicate time to improving your craft. This will ensure you are positioned to take on new opportunities. Lastly, remember to help other nurses while forging ahead on your professional journey.

Renee Hewitt
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