Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Suzette Porter

Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Suzette Porter

Suzette Porter, MBA, BSN, RN, is an elder care nurse manager and adjunct faculty member who has been with Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) for over 25

Porter says she got into healthcare because her great-grandmother raised her and was the Florence Nightingale in their small town in Jamaica. She would take Porter to help the sick, elderly, and needy in their hometown.

Now, as a nurse manager at HUMC, Porter’s great-grandmother’s influence is at work caring for elder care patients and as an adjunct clinical instructor for Muhlenberg Nursing School, part of JFK University Medical Center in Plainfield, N.J.

Through Porter’s leadership as a nurse manager, her unit was awarded the Team Daisy Award in 2021 for teamwork. She’s an American Organization for Nursing Leadership member and an alumna of the University of Arizona School of Business Global campus.

Porter is genuinely beloved by her colleagues and patients and is a proven leader who knows the importance of teamwork.

Suzette Porter is an important nursing leader, and we’re proud to profile her as part of the Champions of Nursing Diversity Series 2024. The series highlights healthcare leaders who are prominent figures in their organizations and are making transformational impacts in nursing.

Meet Suzette Porter, MBA, BSN, RN, an elder care nurse manager at Hackensack University Medical Center, and an adjunct instructor for JFK Muhlenberg Nursing School.

What is your title, and where do you work? 

I am a Hackensack University Medical Center’s Med-Surg Elder Care nurse manager.

Do you have a Side Gig?

Yes. When I saw that, I smiled because I took on an adjunct instructor for JFK Muhlenberg Nursing School last semester, so this is my second-semester teaching first-year nursing students. They’re first clinical.

What do you love about your role as an adjunct instructor?

It’s so important to give back. So important. I remember taking my first day, first clinical day, and every time they came in, like last semester, they reminded me of their first impression of me. I just made them feel at ease because I was so nervous and overwhelmed, and I didn’t have that person to say, you know what? It’s okay. Put your bags away. Let’s take a breather. It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be a great semester. So that’s what I’ve been doing. So, this semester that ended in December, they sent me texts and emails. They’re like, “Professor, I remember what you said on the first day.”

Tell us about your role in nursing and how long you’ve been at HUMC?

So this is my 10th year. I worked in the institution since 1998 in guest services before returning to nursing school. (Been at HUMC for a total of 26 years)

I have always believed in mentorship, and I have always sought mentors. I had a mentor in nursing school, and when I got into nursing, I knew Raminita from when I was in guest services because she used to walk by. She was a nurse manager on Pavilion, one of the Pavilion floors. And she always walked by and said good morning. Then, one day, when I was on, it was 4 Link, which is where I’m at right now. I was in the hallway waiting to start my clinical rotation, and she saw me and said, “I didn’t know you were in nursing school.”

I said, “Yes.” Because I didn’t tell too many people, and she said, “You know what? When you’re done, just let me know.” And that’s what I did. So I got that position in 5PE, and she always asked, “What are your plans?” Because in guest services, I was a supervisor, so I had a leadership background, and I told her, I said, “You know what? I want to get back into it, but I know I need to get a master’s degree, further my education.” So, at the time, the hospital had, I think we still do because that’s where I graduated from in 2021, Ashford, where you’ll go to school to further your education. I obtained a master’s degree. They changed from Ashford to the University of Arizona. I started in 2019 and graduated in 2021 with my MBA.

So from there, from 5 PE, I went over to 4 St. John in 2017 as a supervisor, which is, in essence, an assistant manager to the nurse manager there. Then COVID hit in 2020, and my manager decided she would retire. Then, I just went right into the role of nurse manager. So on 4 St. John, we moved from 4 St. John last April to 4 Link North and South. So it was one unit with 41 patients, and now we are split in two. So now we are 24 and 24 or 48 patients on 4 Link North and South. So I managed both units with three of my nurses who became assistant nurse managers because they saw me, always asked what it’s like to be a manager, and wanted to do what I do. So, I mentored them. These assistant nurse managers are just so efficient because they were on the floor with me at 4 St. John, and now they’re assistant managers here with me.

Why did you become a nurse?

It’s always been a dream of mine. My great-grandmother raised me, and I called her the Florence Nightingale of our town in Jamaica because she would take me and visit her older family members. Sometimes, when she would visit them, they would be in deplorable condition, and she just took this on as nothing and just took care of them and cleaned them up. And that inspired me to be a nurse when I was younger. I always wanted to be a nurse, but when I migrated here, my mom and dad had a lot of responsibilities, and I just decided that you know what? I’m going to get a job. And I got a job. But nursing was always in the back of my head. And after I had all of my kids, I said, okay, it’s time for me to go back to school. And I went back to school.

How old were you when you went back to nursing school?

I went back to nursing school when I was 31, when I had my last son. I have 3 boys, and I’ve been married for almost 27 years.

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

Mentorship. I think we have to mentor nurses because when you think about nursing, the future of nursing, and how much this has changed over the years, we have to mentor new nurses because we want to keep some of the core values of nursing that we practiced over the years. We want to ensure that it continues. Mentorship is one for me. Ensure you have a succession plan, especially in my leadership role. I feel so gratified if I’m out on vacation. Last year, unfortunately, I had to be out on disability for a little bit because I had surgery. And to see how my two nurses took charge of the unit and ran it in my absence.

So when I came back, my leader, Dena Egbert, nursing director, told me how great they did. I think that’s very, very important, having succession planning. You have to develop your nurses; develop them. Right now, we have a lot of new grads on our floor and are partnering with our educators or med-surg specialists on the unit to ensure that we’re developing them into nurses. It’s very important to me.

Communications skills. Communicate effectively, making sure that everything that needs to be said is said and how we say it, and how respectful we have to be respectful to each other while we’re communicating.

How did you ascend to this latest role as nurse manager?

In this role as a nurse manager, when my nurse manager at 4 St. John decided to retire, she always talked to me about succession planning, and she would always pull me into things like leadership things that sometimes I feel uncomfortable. I wasn’t confident in it. And she always said, “What happens if I was supposed to be out of here for a little bit or on disability or if I decide to leave?” And she’s like, “You need to know these things. You need to know these things.” So, by the time she decided to retire, I was comfortable and confident enough to say, I can do this. I like working with people, working. I love working with patients. Geriatric is my love. Like I said, my great-grandparents raised me, so geriatric is my first love. So, none of this is a coincidence.

What is the most significant challenge facing nurses or the nursing field today?

The significant challenge we’re having right now, for me, I can talk about because I was just on the floor with the nurses. We had workplace violence in the unit. I noticed an uptick with it because we are working closely with Ramonita and our director, Dena. We have a workplace violence team that comes to the unit to help the staff de-escalate issues and protect themselves in case that happens. That’s one of the challenges we face here in the unit. And I’ve heard of other units, too, but I can only speak for myself. There’s also the situation with exposure. Since COVID, there are many different things that our nurses are exposed to safety-wise, such as viral bacteria.

So those are some of the challenges that we’re facing. But we always have someone to support us. Infection prevention also comes on the unit to help with the new team members, how to protect themselves when going in and out of patient’s rooms, and what to do. So yeah, those are some of the things. And physical demands. Physical demands. I think a lot of our patients they’re heavy. There’s a lot of stuff going on with them. There are a lot of issues. I always encourage my team to practice safely. When rolling in a patient, you’re moving a patient; you’re helping a patient in a bathroom to protect themselves because they’re out often because they got hurt or they have injuries.

As a nursing leader, what do you do to help overcome these challenges?

So what I do with my team is I huddle with them. I huddle with my staff in the morning at the beginning of a shift. Remind them of the important things. Our quality metrics are critical, but at the end of the day, they also need to go home to their family. So I always tell them to practice safe or work smart, not work hard. Work smart. Working smart, I always encourage them to do it. If other issues are going on in the unit, I always partner with med, or I partner with security for safety. I’ll partner with workplace violence to come in and do regular in-services.

Whatever affects us, I always find someone to partner with as my leader. Right now, we have executive sponsors on the floor. I don’t know if you’ve heard about where our executive leaders like Dr. Tank, Jason Kreitner, and Ramonita will adopt the unit, and they will round on the unit on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to improve patients’ experience. So, with that said, if anything is going on in the unit, the team or I can bring it up to them, and they will support us and help us with whatever issues we’re dealing with.

What nursing leader inspires you and why? 

I have a few nurse leaders over the years who have inspired me, but now, Dena Egbert, my director, because I like her leadership style with us as leaders reporting to her and Ramonita Jimenez, CNO. Here’s why I chose both of them. Dena, I appreciate it when leaders give you that autonomy to practice because she always encourages us to lead, and if there’s anything that she can support, we should go to her, and she stays firm with that. It’s always there. If I need anything from Dena, I can go over and knock on her door, and she’s available, or I can text her or, email or call her. She’s always available. I always see Ramonita as that leader who develops you. And I like leaders who, if they see an untapped talent in a nurse, I always go to them and say, “I see you. You like to do this. Let’s talk about ways that you can grow that or develop that.” Ramonita is like that.

And that’s what I like about Ramonita. Over the years, when she used to see me on 5PE, now in a different role as a bedside RN, she knows me from downstairs, a supervisor in guest services. But now, as a role, she asked me, “What do you plan on doing later in your career?” And I said to her, “I think I probably just want to stay in leadership, but I want to see how it is first.” And she did stay on top of me with that. She did stay on top of me with that over the years.

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

I look back at myself and always say this to new nurses. Even the new batch that I had. I have four at night, and I have four new nurses during the day shift. I always tell them to approach every patient as their family, as someone you know. I said it would take some of the anxieties because they often have anxieties, especially the newer nurses. Approach your patients as if they are family, and also practice humility. Humility is a virtue that many people do not have but practice. Practice humility because when you do that, you can sit there or stand there and talk to your patient, and it’s just like you’re having a conversation with anyone. Also, listen. We have to listen to our patients because we often miss stuff if we don’t listen to our patients.