Welcome to the first edition of Matchwell Time-Out, where we take a deliberate pause in our busy day and highlight healthcare leaders who are positively impacting the healthcare industry. You will learn about innovative nurse leaders, critical moments in their careers that got them to where they are today, and how they see the future of workforce development contributing to healthcare reform. Today we are talking with Patricia Horton, RN, MN, MBA, CMC. She has a celebrated career working in numerous sectors of healthcare. From candy striper to CNO at one of the largest healthcare systems in Georgia, Pat has touched many lives. She is a hard worker and loves being adventurous- as evidenced in her newest venture as CEO and is laying the groundwork for her non-profit organization, Georgia Center for Nursing Excellence. Pat seeks to take the nursing shortage head-on with her non-profit by establishing relationships in the community to help nurses begin their journey early in life. She is also a great juggler, literally and metaphorically. I have the honor of meeting with her monthly as my mentor, and I think it is only right for me to allow others to hear about her journey and learn from her vast experience. She is a force in the healthcare industry, so settle in and be prepared to be in awe, as I am every time I talk to her.
Tell us a little about your journey as a nurse.
As a young girl I dreamed of being a nurse and often played the role of nurse with my friends. At sixteen I was a candy striper and had the opportunity to be around healthcare professionals, which increased my interest in nursing.
In the summers between college, I chose to work in the hospital fulltime to save money for college expenses and to add hospital experience to my application for nursing school. My first summer I worked as a laundry aide and the second summer a dietary aide, the only jobs available that I was qualified to perform. Eventually, I was able to work as a nursing assistant after taking some of my nursing classes. At the time, I considered these experiences just jobs, giving me an income so I could continue to attend school. Little did I realize these experiences would have a significant impact on how I viewed the entire healthcare team and their impact on patients.
My first position after nursing school was a critical care nurse in the ICU. I was fortunate as a new nurse to have strong support from leadership and the healthcare team, who had a strong sense of camaraderie in caring for patients. I learned many fundamental elements of leadership on this unit and from the senior nursing leadership team that inspired me to advance my education and eventually move into a leadership role.
I have had many different leadership roles from bedside nurse, charge nurse, clinical nurse specialist, nurse manager, director, CNO and workforce development, all contributing to the knowledge and experiences that have shaped my leadership perspective. My leadership experience was also influenced by relationships that extend beyond nursing, challenging me to broaden my perspective, strengthening my courage to think differently, and prompting me to challenge the status quo.
You have two master’s degrees, what are they and why did you choose them?
My first master’s degree was a Masters in Nursing, where I specialized in critical care as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. I enjoyed precepting, teaching and mentoring new nurses and realized to advance my career I would need an advanced degree. Interestingly, after graduating I was offered and accepted an interim leadership role for three months. Not sure what I would do next as the interim role was finishing, I was offered a leadership position to help open a new hospital. This was a dream job because I had the opportunity to combine my leadership role with my clinical nurse specialist training.
Eighteen years into my career, I was still excited about being in a leadership role and came to a decision point where I needed to consider furthering my education. I had to make a choice whether I should pursue a PhD in nursing (since there was not a DNP at that time) or get an Executive MBA. Investing time and resources in getting another degree required serious contemplation, considering my husband and I both worked full time, and we had three children between the ages of six and fifteen. While both degrees would be interesting, I wanted to choose the program that would provide me with the knowledge and skills to achieve my career goals. I chose the Executive MBA program because I wanted to learn more about the business and management of healthcare to advance my leadership career. While some Executive MBA programs focus specifically on healthcare, I choose to attend a program that brought experienced professionals together from a variety of industries to broaden my business knowledge.
This year Matchwell is having our first ever student loan giveaway sweepstakes. If someone approached you saying they have $25K to invest in their education, what advice would you give them?
I think my first response would be, WOW, that is wonderful! Investing in your education is probably one of the best things you can do for yourself and your future. Investing in yourself can help you open doors and realize a future full of possibilities. I know you may be anxious to get started on your education and before you start the process, I wanted to give you a few recommendations to consider.
- First talk with a counselor and take an assessment that helps you figure out what you are good at and identify your areas of interest.
- Identify jobs/industries that align with your skills and interests and pay livable wages.
- Find out more about the jobs you have identified by shadowing the role, talking with someone in the job, or volunteering. It is important to understand the job requirements and duties.
- Consider your educational options so you do not go into debt: community/technical schools, state schools, living on campus or at home, develop a budget that outlines your expenses etc. If you need to assume debt to complete your degree, it is important to consider your financial obligations and the salary you will be paid.
- Create your personal plan for investing in your education after you have completed your research.
Taking the time to explore what you are interested in and what type of work you want to do is critical since the investment in your education takes time, money, initiative, and persistence. Education opens doors and broadens your horizons for personal growth and development and it provides you with a foundation of knowledge and skills that improves your career choices and helps you find a job that supports the life you want.
If you are pursuing an advanced degree, I suggest you consider aligning your career goals and interests with the degree that will help you achieve them.
Your non-profit organization focuses on workforce development, how does education influence workforce development?
Education is essential to workforce development. Strengthening collaborative partnerships with K-12, community colleges, universities, businesses, employers, non-profits, government agencies and workforce centers is necessary to create efficient and adaptable systems that can respond to developing a sustainable nursing workforce. Educating the future workforce starts in K-12 by promoting life-long learning skills, exposing students to potential career pathways, and providing the resources that are needed to prepare students for future work. With the rapidly changing healthcare environment, education will have an important role in preparing students for future work and in reskilling the nursing workforce as jobs evolve in response to changing demands.
What is your opinion of the current nursing shortage?
Throughout most of my nursing career, Georgia has faced a nursing shortage, challenging both staff and leaders to make difficult decisions that affect patient care and a host of other indicators. The nursing shortage is a complex workforce challenge, not easily solved with short-term solutions. The nursing workforce shortage has increased, and the pandemic has exacerbated the situation causing a significant impact on nurses, patients, and employers. The Georgia Center for Nursing Excellence (GCNE) was established in 2020, to provide the infrastructure that is necessary to collaborate with stakeholders on developing and implementing innovative workforce strategies to build a sustainable nursing workforce pipeline. We believe the unique value of the GCNE is to create strong partnerships with stakeholders to address the nursing shortage in Georgia, which cannot be achieved independently.
You are so much more than your accomplishments and goals. Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
I like to work hard, and love being adventurous. My sense of adventure came from my dad, who never ceased to surprise us with something fun to do. In college I liked to look for unusual or adventurous classes that added some excitement to my schedule. One of my favorite classes was the FSU Circus. I learned to juggle, do ballet on the rope and my act was the swinging trapeze. Juggling is a great activity for relieving stress since you immediately become absorbed in the activity and most of the time you end up laughing.
Describe two pivotal moments in your career that got you where you are today.
I had been working for about eighteen months as the critical care clinical nurse specialist and was preparing for maternity leave with my second child. My supervisor, the critical care director, had been in her role for eighteen years and planned on staying until retirement. We were all shocked when she announced that her husband had been transferred and she would be leaving soon. I was surprised when she asked me to apply for her position. It was an exciting opportunity, but I needed time to consider the impact this role would have on my personal and professional life. While considering this opportunity I received numerous messages from staff and other leaders encouraging me to apply. I did apply and was selected for the leadership role, which was the beginning of a fulfilling leadership journey.
Another moment came later in my leadership journey. I enjoyed my work and found it fulfilling but my hours were continuing to increase. Many nights I answered emails at home while trying to spend time with the family. I still had one child in high school and my mom was visiting for a month. My mom was always helpful and rarely ever intervened or made comments about how we raised our children. One night while sitting next to me she said, “it may not be my place, but I think you need to consider what is going on. You and your husband are both working long hours and you still have one child left at home who is growing up quickly. You are missing out!” That was all she said and that was enough. I could not stop thinking about what she said and the influence I had or did not have on my youngest child. As a result of her comment, I considered my options and decided to resign from my leadership role. I took some time off to be with my son and to reflect on my future. This was the right thing for me because it gave me time to think about how my experience, knowledge and skills could be used to make a difference in healthcare. It led me to the work I am doing today, workforce development.
Impressive, right? I could write a book on all the leadership nuggets Pat has shared with me. Her honesty, tenacity, and desire to challenge the status quo are what healthcare innovation needs. She has spent her career caring for patients and aiming to leave an indelible mark on the industry by approaching the challenges of healthcare with a new lens. Pat Horton is a luminary, and Georgia is fortunate to have her and her non-profit Georgia Center for Nursing Excellence working towards improving the nursing profession. Pat is only one of many healthcare leaders we are highlighting this year. Join us next month for Matchwell’s Time-Out and read about more leaders in the industry who inspire us to do great work.