Who am I as a nurse and leader?

Tracey H. Coventry |

The author pays homage to nurse leaders she admires and emulates.

Woman taking a picture of herselfAuthor shares leadership “selfie.” Says she is the sum of values, attitudes, and behaviors she observed in nursing leaders whose actions matched their values and beliefs.

Who am I as a nurse and leader? I am the sum of the values I hold and the attitudes and behaviors I have witnessed and embraced. My achievements and growth through a variety of situations over many years have led me to where I am today, and my story reveals a more complete picture of the nurse within.

Tracey H. CoventryI was a young country girl in Australia in the 1980s when I started my nurse training in the city. Despite my naiveté, I quickly discovered who “ran the ward,” who was to be obeyed without question, and what my responsibilities were to the smallest detail. I did not understand or appreciate nursing leadership and how it would influence my nursing career. But from observing, asking questions, having frequent discussions with experienced staff, and taking part in debriefing sessions with my new nursing friends, I learned how to be a good follower. I soon understood what was expected of the “student me,” how to deliver high quality nursing care, and how to manage my patient-care time efficiently and effectively.

From the very beginning, I was attracted to certain qualities in other nurses. Glenda, a registered nurse, was my first role model. Her clinical proficiency and ability to find time for patients while dealing with difficult situations impressed me. I remember when one of my patients deteriorated quickly and required resuscitation. I was shaking and anxious, but Glenda reacted calmly, acted quickly, and explained the procedure to me even as she participated in the intervention. Her interest and kindness in supporting my development and her readiness to include me in real-life learning opportunities made her my hero. I knew then, when I had students, I would be like Glenda.

After my training and following a graduate year in an acute-care hospital setting, I was keen to see more of the nursing world outside the boundaries of my state and country. To experience life differently, I wanted to move outside my own cultural environment. Living and working in Scotland broadened my knowledge and skills and allowed me to further examine and reflect on nursing leadership. In a pediatric intensive care unit, I encountered the power of collaborative teamwork that focused on patient and family recovery goals.

Susan, the nursing team leader, had an unstated, easily recognized clinical influence that inspired loyalty and harmony among others on the clinical team. From my perspective as the bedside nurse, I observed her passion in caring for a child who was critically ill and the parents who had received devastating news. Susan was sensitive and patient. She knew that fear of the unknown affected the grieving process and that leading the family through this time required delicate communication about procedures. Her presence and support of my role in this situation were also comforting to the family. We forged intense relationships in this most difficult of times. I witnessed wisdom in decision-making, courage in adversity, and strength in connecting. I knew then, when I was a leading a team, I would be like Susan.

Another change of country and focus followed. Singapore and community nursing provided a different cultural experience and another opportunity to view nursing leadership. From our first meeting, Jenny, a childbirth educator, had a consistently approachable and kind-hearted manner that engaged clients and staff. I observed her integrity and investment in every part of the mother’s journey, from pregnancy to delivery and beyond. At times, this was straightforward and intensely joyful, at other times challenging and traumatic. Jenny’s diligent attention to the smallest detail of each mother’s antenatal, birth, and postnatal plan was evidence of her commitment to ensuring the best experience possible. The time and effort she spent educating clients—with effective presentation techniques, creative resource materials, and a good sense of humor—prepared mothers and families for taking a flexible approach to childbirth and childrearing. Jenny performed each act of nursing, not because she believed she could change the world, but because providing knowledge and teaching skills made a difference in the lives of families. I knew then, when I was working in education, I would be like Jenny.

Upon returning to my own country, I moved to a new state and undertook further training to become a clinical nurse educator. I was employed in a metropolitan hospital on the pediatrics unit. I quickly realized that Judy, the clinical nurse manager, was an exceptional leader. Her style was generous and relational, her communication skills were outstanding, and she always advocated for staff members, no matter their position. Judy exemplified the mentor I wanted to be. What stood out was how often Judy recognized and rewarded nurses for excellence in providing care, despite staffing challenges and high patient acuity. Her contribution to a positive work culture was second to none.

Judy set the direction of the unit, assessed staff performance, and supported individual professional development while providing constant encouragement, reflection opportunities, and constructive feedback that allowed staff to embrace healthcare’s challenges and changes. Personable and charismatic, Judy mentored with a smile and a sense of fun. Each day, she did a ward round just to talk to every child and family, while still prioritizing time for staff. If the situation called for a listening ear, a brain to pick, or a push in the right direction, Judy was there with coffee or a tissue. I knew then, when I was a mentor, I would be like Judy.

After further study and exposure to university education, I transitioned to a new role in academia. As a staff clinical educator, I understood learning and teaching, but as an academic, I was a novice grappling with expectations, processes, regulations, and learning platforms. From the start of my academic career, Kerrie provided guidance and support.

Kerrie had worked at the university for a number of years and was familiar with undergraduate and postgraduate roles. Her enthusiastic pursuit of education, scholarship, and research was infectious, and, before long, I was ensconced in a whole new world. Kerrie’s influential leadership in supervision, management, and administration was visible not only to the academic community but also to industry nurses and professional nursing organizations. An optimist, Kerrie offered hope and confidence as the foundation for success, empowered others to pursue greater professional commitment, and expertly provided creative thinking and problem solving. My professional engagement grew as a result of Kerrie’s leadership across a range of dimensions. I was particularly impressed by her skills in fostering positive supervisory relationships. I knew then, when I was a supervisor, I would be like Kerrie.

This is what nursing leadership means to me. I am the sum of the values, attitudes, and behaviors I have witnessed and personally embraced. I am more than I was and greater than I thought I would be. I have been privileged to observe and work with nursing leaders whose actions match their values and beliefs. My experiences have led me to where I am today, and my stories about Glenda, Susan, Jenny, Judy, and Kerrie reveal a more complete picture of the nurse leader in me. RNL

Editor’s note: Tracey Coventry will present “The Impact of the Supernumerary Clinical Nurse Educator on Graduate Nurse Patient Outcomes,” and “The Influence of Clinical Nurse Educator Leadership on Graduate Registered Nurses’ First Year of Nursing” on Saturday, 28 October, and Monday, 30 October, respectively, at the 44th Biennial Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. Click here and here for additional information about both presentations in the Virginia Henderson Global Nursing e-Repository.

Tracey H. Coventry, PhD, RN, is assistant postgraduate coordinator and lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Notre Dame Australia, in Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia.


  • Vol43-4
  • stticonv17
  • Singapore
  • Scotland
  • nurse leader
  • mentor
  • leadership
  • australia
  • Roles
  • Woman taking a picture of herself