Patrice Little, DNP, FNP-BC, is a senior policy advisor for the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, an initiative of AARP Foundation, AARP, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation working to improve America’s health through nursing.
She is also a family nurse practitioner and the CEO of NP Student ®, a digital lifestyle and educational resource for nurse practitioner students. In addition, Dr. Little has advocated for the nursing workforce on Capitol Hill and has worked as a content producer for Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Lawmakers show.
Dr. Little is the author of the upcoming book, The Starter Guide to Think Like an NP: Everything you need to know before applying to NP school, and the self-help book, Out of Crazy Born Genius: Reclaim a Life Worth Living After Abuse and a contributor to Advanced Practice Nursing Leadership: A Global Perspective textbook (Springer, 2020).
Before becoming a nurse, Dr. Patrice taught secondary science for three years in South Georgia and served on various committees, including the Ninth Grade Academy Retention Program, Physical Science Curriculum Committee, and as an Academic Decathlon Coach.
Dr. Patrice 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.
Meet Dr. Patrice Little, senior policy advisor for the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action and an adjunct faculty for Georgia Baptist College of Nursing at Mercer University
Talk about your career path and how you ascended to that role.
I like to tell people I took the scenic route to become a nurse. My first degree is in Biology Pre-medicine. Before college, I participated in a Saturday Science program at Nova Southeastern University in south Florida which is very similar to a STEM program. They introduced us to different sciences, including healthcare. I was interested in becoming a physician because of this program.
Fast forward to college, I was on track with finishing my biology degree. I wanted to explore the role of nurse practitioners because of my interaction with the campus’s nurse practitioner (NP). Her name is Mary. Specifically, I set out to become an NP, but you must become a nurse first.
I started my nursing journey by asking her to volunteer to see what [being an NP] was like. Eventually, volunteering at the student health center turned into a work-study opportunity. She was impressed with my work ethic and advocated for me to be a student worker. She encouraged me to complete my biology degree and come back for nursing.
That is why I taught high school science provisionally and how I used my biology degree. I had a great time developing curriculums to ensure students were academically successful. And in my third year of teaching, one of my close sorors said, “do you still want to be a nurse? They have an accelerated program at Georgia Southwestern State University, so you should do that.” I started the accelerated program in August 2006 and graduated in December 2007. After that, I continued with advancement and education, eventually completing my doctorate in 2018.
What inspired you to become a nurse?
Mary is why I decided to become an NP. At the time, she organized a campus assembly addressing ecstasy issues. It was like the problem that we see today with opioids. As a nurse, she took her time and educated us about drugs and how it impacts us. But it’s not even that alone. I went to her for primary care on the college campus. She was so warm and non-judgmental. I felt like I was in good hands, receiving care from her. And I was impressed that she did what was similar to what a physician would do.
My family is from Jamaica, and I was told my three career options: doctor, lawyer, or engineer. My sister is the physician in the family. And when I saw the campus’s nurse practitioner, I said, wait a minute, I want to know more about what she does. She mentioned her flexibility, how much it took, how long it took for her training, and what she could and could not do as a nurse practitioner.. That’s when I knew being an NP was for me. I could see myself doing this. I’m a very family-oriented person. I knew one day I would get married and have children. And I said this role fits what I would like to do in the future.
What are the most important attributes of today’s nursing leaders?
Emotional intelligence is the top attribute because it has to deal with the person’s capacity to have interpersonal relationships with the people they serve. Often, I feel that leaders may lack empathy because they may be more project or task-driven in things to be completed. When you have emotional intelligence, you understand that when your team is supported, emotionally, and respected, they’re more likely to produce at a higher level when the interaction is healthy. So that’s why emotional intelligence is essential.
The next thing is that leaders must be open-minded. That’s how innovation comes about. And that’s how we strengthen our system, either enhance or redesign it, so they’re more efficient in supporting whatever project we have. Often, we deal with leaders who want to be the ones who have the original idea or the only idea. And sometimes, and I know from being a leader, when you work too close to the project, you miss some things that are just slapping you in the face and, like, wait a minute, why don’t you try that. So you have to be open-minded about that. And then also have integrity. I’ve experienced situations where leaders have treated me one way in front of a group of people and then a different way behind a closed door. So we have to be integral with that because we’re demonstrating to our future leaders how they are supposed to conduct themselves in the future. And, of course, the basic or the most common thing is we want leaders to be decisive and disciplined.
But the main thing is interpersonal relationships. That’s what it’s about. That’s what carries you further than anything. It’s how you interact with individuals and navigate challenges or differences. So often, we like to label staff as being difficult or patients as being problematic. And really, what happens is they may have a different particular need, or there may be something going on at the root. And if you have emotional intelligence, you will understand how to handle that logically instead of emotionally.
What does it mean to you to be a nursing leader, and how are you making a difference?
If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought it was to be a nursing leader, my responses would have been different now that I’ve worked as a nursing leader. You must have the courage to stand and speak out when no one else speaks out. And I feel that that’s how I have an impact.
It takes a lot of courage to do something that someone else has not done before when everyone else is telling you, where’s the evidence? Sometimes, the evidence is what you see from your lived experience and has not been produced in the literature. And sometimes, you must go with that gut feeling and do what you need to address a huge problem in your organization or practice.
Being a great leader takes courage. They have to be great at communicating. For people to understand what you are trying to say and the vision, you must be excellent at articulating it clearly and concisely. And then it’s also easier for people to meet your expectations.
I’m making a difference with the platform that I started in 2018. And it’s evolved quite a bit before it was a magazine for nurse practitioner students. And then I realized what they needed, and more students started coming to me and those who aspire to be nurse practitioners. And I said, wow, now I see what the need are. So I get close to them by understanding their needs and curating a program to meet them.
What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?
The most recent challenge highlighted in the news was the nursing scheme, which created 7600 fake nursing diplomas. There are several contributing factors to this. And often, we have to look at the system. Anytime it’s easy, just point, look at the outcome and say, this is bad. Yes, we know it isn’t good. But how did it get there? What’s the core reason people are trying to pass the rigor of nursing preparation to become a nurse? That’s the question that we must ask ourselves. And so when I asked myself this question, I say, okay, wait a minute, what have I seen from teaching as an adjunct, and with my platform, the fostering of student and faculty relationships to support them through the rigor of the program.
The other thing is the need for more resources. If the resources are there, then students can access them. But faculty can also refer students to help. But then, on top of that, we don’t even have enough faculty to meet this nursing shortage need. And certain things need to be in place to support faculty.
As a nursing leader, how are you working to overcome this challenge?
I’m working on a project at this time to address that need.
Other things could be the curriculum challenges we have to understand. For example, last year, I delivered a talk in New Orleans, focusing on the multi-generational workforce. Each generation has different needs. So it’s time out for nursing to say when I was in school, we did this, but it’s not applicable now. So let’s get over our egos and start acknowledging and addressing the issue. And that’s where emotional intelligence comes in.
With generations where the attention span may differ, you almost have to teach them to be students. When it comes to those basic skills to succeed in nursing school, basic reading and writing skills, and critical thinking, people often say I want to be a nurse because of what they see us do—but not understanding that it involves a lot of thought and problem-solving. So how do we prepare the newest generation to be thinkers when everything at the touch of a button is just given to them? It’s a lot of passivity instead of actively learning.
That’s the huge challenge that we have. We always have to look at our systems. What can we do to make our educational system better and more supportive for the student to be successful, but at the same time to lighten up the load on our faculty so they can make sure they deliver curriculums that the students will embrace?
What nursing leader inspires you the most?
The first nurse leader is Dr. Scharmaine Lawson. She’s a family nurse practitioner and the founder of Nola the Nurse Book, which will be a television series soon. What I appreciate about her is not only did she demonstrate how far you can go with your nurse practitioner degree, but when I reached out to her, I let her know what I was doing in 2018 as far as developing a resource for nurse practitioner students, she was the first one who was like, sure you can interview me, what do you need? And then, I followed up a couple of years later, during the pandemic, and I launched a transition to practice a summit for NP graduates. And I said, Dr. Lawson, can you be the keynote, and she agreed and was the keynote for that virtual summit. So I’m just highlighting just a few things that she has done. But overall, those few things translate into two words: support and mentorship. Having her support as a younger nurse segueing into becoming a leader was priceless.
The second one is Dr. Andrea Brassard. She has been a mentor to me for the healthcare policy part that I do now as a nurse because policy influences practice, which is crucial to what I do. I was finishing up my doctor of nursing practice scholarly project. And I have a habit of reaching out to authors who impressed me. So if an article or book is good, I am reaching out to that author. And I reached out to her and said, wow, this is amazing. Can I speak with you for a few minutes to let you know what I’m doing for my project? And she said, yeah, and the relationship evolved from there.
Again, I was impressed with how far you can go as a nurse leader, and more so with your doctorate. You can influence policy and do things on Capitol Hill. And so, again, she took me under her wings. She also educated me and exposed me to other resources and opportunities to help further my development as a nurse in healthcare policy.
What inspirational message would you like to share with the next generation of nurses?
We often seek mentorship to get to the next step in our careers. And it’s just important not to forget to pick up a book. Your greatest mentors will be in the books you read. For example, I’m reading Successful Women Speak Differently because I wanted to develop my speech a little more as a leader. I challenge Black nurses to take 10 to 20 minutes daily and read a book that could help them further develop as professionals.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I’m happily serving individuals and nursing institutions with my curated programs to improve student retention, provide standardized preceptorships, and to take the load off of faculty. I can be found at npstudent.com or LinkedIn for more information.