Linda Eddy and Vicki Denson, WSU-Vancouver College of Nursing Administrators, share their journey to becoming faculty members, connecting with mentors involved in university leadership, and transitioning into leadership positions and becoming mentors themselves. They highlight how they have established work-life integration and identified passions outside of the workplace, and how these are fundamental to maintaining wellness and resiliency. As leaders, their commentary reinforces the importance of modeling and championing these characteristics for and among their mentees.
This is “Finding Joy: The Health Care Professional’s Journey to Wellness and Resiliency.” It’s a podcast resource developed by the Interprofessional Opioid Curriculum team at Washington State University. The goal is to promote wellness among students, faculty, and healthcare professionals during challenging times. Funding is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
I’m Doug Nadvornick.
At universities faculty members who teach often have other duties and obligations too. They research. They write for publication. Many health sciences faculty members practice their craft professionally to stay current in their fields and maintain their licenses. Many mentor students and other faculty.
That’s our focus in this podcast: mentoring and leading others through a pandemic.
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Linda Eddy: “I’m Linda Eddy. I’m the associate dean and academic director for the College of Nursing at WSU on the Vancouver campus.”
Doug: “Let me ask you where did you learn about leadership as you grew into important positions within the university? Who were your influences?”
Linda Eddy: “I had some leadership positions early on before I started in nursing education, which was in 1989. I had been a clinical manager and head nurse of pediatric neonatal units. That was a situation of what we learned in our research called the ‘last woman standing’ model of leadership. I was the only one who would take on the position so I’d get it and I didn’t have very good mentors. Because of that, I really didn’t want to delve into leadership much when I started being faculty.”
But the leaders in the College of Nursing wanted her to take on a greater role, so they helped her to land a year-long fellowship to learn about leadership.
Linda Eddy: “I spent a lot of time in Boston with higher education leaders, women leaders across the board. We had really close mentors. We worked on a project during that time, which required me to have access to and learn how to handle budgets and things like that. It was called HERS, Higher Education Resources Services, fellowship was really helpful to me. And then I think mentoring is organic. You can be assigned a mentor like I was, but you really find mentors that you work with and I was really lucky to find an exceptional mentor in the HERS system and then also, at the same time, I started this position. Dr. Renny Christopher, who is our vice chancellor for academic affairs on the Vancouver campus, came at the same time as I started this position and she has been an outstanding mentor to me and continues to be one of my best mentors.”
There have been others too. Eddy credits her former dean of the WSU College of Nursing, Patricia Butterfield, and the current dean, Mary Koithan [COY-thun].
Linda Eddy: “Through that, as I sort of grew in my leadership career and really found that I loved doing the leadership piece, I decided that, in this point in my life, what I really needed to be doing was mentoring others in leadership positions and that’s what I’m doing, primarily, now.”
One of Eddy’s proteges is a fellow faculty member at WSU Vancouver, Vicki Denson.
Vicki Denson: “She’s just really been a good mentor. She takes people under her wing when they’re hired there, no matter if they’re staff or faculty, no matter the level they’re at.”
Denson credits Eddy with helping her grow during the transition from faculty member to administrator. She’s now the director of the college’s RN-to-BSN program.
Vicki Denson: “She’s so approachable. It’s always open door. She’s not intimidating. You feel very comfortable with her so that really helps in the relationship and in the dynamics. Everybody’s an equal in our campus and it makes for a pleasurable job as well as helping to develop and to grow in your roles.”
Doug: “What were the a-ha moments when it came to learning leadership from Linda. What were the few real nuggets for you?”
Vicki Denson: “One, it’s a job. It’s not your life. It still sticks with me because sometimes you get tied up in the role but you want to be able to do it and do it well and have a passion for it. You have to have a balance. Family’s priority. The job comes second. That really was an ah-ha moment. I try to emanate that with the faculty that are under me and the staff. Another ah-ha, just being a team, the importance that everyone has value and everyone has important input and that is something I’ve known, but she puts it into action and to be a role model for that.”
You’re listening to the Finding Joy podcast from Washington State University. We go back to WSU Nursing Professor Linda Eddy and ask her what advice she would give to younger faculty members who are now in leadership positions.
Linda Eddy: “Be as transparent as possible. Have the information that you can have, but when you don’t know the answer, just be really clear about I don’t know the answer. I’ll do the best I can to get it. Don’t try to be anybody that you aren’t. Lead from your inner self. Lead from who you really are and be as transparent as possible. I suspect that if you ask most people that they would say that’s what I’ve done because there’s many times that I say I don’t have any idea. I’ll do the best to find out, but I really don’t know. And I think probably the other nugget is always take advantage of mentors. Another really interesting experience I had, I got a Fulbright senior scholar award when I was, it was in 2010 and I went to the Middle East, to Palestine and I was helping them set up a bachelor’s program in nursing and teaching their young staff how to be nursing education leaders and help two of them get into doctoral programs because a lot of the Palestinian nursing faculty have really little access to education. I’ve continued that kind of mentoring. I still write papers with the young faculty there. I got to practice at the same time I was learning to be a leader. I got to practice being a mentor to young faculty and I’ve always really enjoyed that.”
Doug: “You were talking about transparency as one of the big themes of leaderships, but are there little smaller things that, as time has gone along, as the profession has changed, that you’ve had to adjust to in terms of leadership, in terms of getting through to those younger people that you’re working with?”
Linda Eddy: “There have been some big ones and there’s been some little ones. One of the little ones that is really hard for nursing educators to understand, there’s no done. You don’t go home at the end of the day and say I’m done because we’re not done. We’re always writing a paper, trying to get a paper published, working on yet another set of software that we’re supposed to use, yet another curriculum change. One of the things I think is most stressful to new nursing educators and new leaders is understanding that we have to leave at the end of the day. We can’t take our work with us and be there 24 hours a day. So I think the other thing that faculty and staff that work with me would probably say is that I preach work-life balance and even if there really isn’t such an animal, I do the best I can to help my faculty and staff operationalize that as best they can because I really believe that we’re our best selves at work if we’re able to be our best selves in our outside work life. I think I do model that most of the time. The faculty and staff all know that my passion is riding my horses and training my horses and they see that all the time. I talk about, in appropriate ways, what I do in my off-time and where my partner and I go and enjoy ourselves. So I would say that modeling that, I don’t have to tell them that, all I have to do is do it. I have to model for them a way to have a steady, respectable career and a fulfilled home life because I think you can’t have one without the other. If you’re trying to do all of one, you not doing anything on the other. So I think that’s one of the biggest things that I try to model and I talk to with mentees.”
Doug: “Was it a hard transition for you?”
Linda Eddy: “Yeah, it really was. I wasn’t good at it early in my career. I wasn’t very good at it at all and it certainly was not responsible for but part of what was responsible for some pretty significant crises in my personal life, not being able to let go. But, fortunately, I got that sort of internalized, the need to have some kind of balance, before I took on this leadership position, which has been the longest-standing and most significant leadership position I’ve had. I was there as far as understanding it. Whether I do it all the time, of course I don’t. Nobody does. But I know when I get off keel with that. For instance, my two hobbies are riding my horses and playing flute. I kind of check myself. Am I getting to practice my flute enough? Am I getting to ride my horse and work on things enough? And if I’m not, then I know something is out of balance and I talk to the people around me, both my mentors and my partner, about, certainly I’ve got this off balance. What can I do to fix that?”
You remember earlier in this podcast we talked with one of Linda Eddy’s mentees, Vicki Denson.
Linda Eddy: “I hired her as a clinical track faculty and she’s just an outstanding faculty member, really versatile. Seems to be able to do anything. And it wasn’t long after she was hired to the clinical track faculty that I asked her to be the co-director of the RN-to-BSN program because the director of the program was on the Spokane campus and yet most of the students were on our campus in Vancouver, so we really needed a point person.”
Now Eddy mentors Vicki Denson as Denson grows in her own leadership position.
Linda Eddy: “She very frequently asks to have a Zoom meeting with me after she’s done a meeting just to debrief what’s happened. In some of the really fantastic initiatives that she’s pushing in the RN-to-BSN program, she’s had me and Renny Christopher, who’s the vice chancellor for academic affairs, and our dean be involved. Vicki understands the need to do things from a team perspective. That’s the way nursing education is going. That’s the way health care is going. That’s one of those other nuggets that I really believe in is who we are as a leader is who we develop as a team and Vicki is very good at developing a team, but she wants her mentors, including me, in on that team. So I do a lot of things with her RN-to-BSN faculty.”
We return to our chat with WSU Vancouver nursing faculty member Vicki Denson.
Vicki Denson: “I don’t know that I’m a natural-born leader. I think I have learned to develop those skills. I’m an introvert. Learning from others has really helped. And I think finding my way, the leadership is there to some extent. Some it’s just evident from the beginning, but for me it’s more, I think the pieces were there and Linda and some other mentors I’ve had in my life have helped me see those leadership aspects and how to grow them.”
Doug: “What position are you in now with regard to leadership? Who are you guiding right now?”
Vicki Denson: “I lead the faculty that are under me, that teach the courses in that program. There’s also the different campus advisors and staff that I work with. We have monthly meetings and I incorporate everybody into those, staff, faculty, because we all have a voice and it’s so important. Staff will bring up or advisors will bring up aspects that faculty don’t even think about or I don’t think about because of their expertise in part of the job that we don’t often see. So it’s working as a team and everybody has a part. Also, when there’s student issues I have to deal with those and try to be the mediator.”
Doug: “Do you handle the staff and the faculty and the students in different ways? Or do you have one approach and tweak it for everybody?”
Vicki Denson: “I think I have one approach and tweak it. I value everybody as an equal and so I don’t think of staff as having a lower position. They have just as high a position as I do. I feel like I’m more a transformational leader so I like to bring out the best in others. I don’t like to be in the forefront. Again, I’m an introvert and I’m more on the humble side. I don’t like a lot of attention so I try to lift up others and help them to grow.”
Throughout this series we’ve asked our guests about where they find joy. For Linda Eddy, it’s riding horses, playing her flute, spending time with her partner. Vicki Denson echoed a similar theme, about finding balance in her life.
Vicki Denson: “Balance is having some down time, having family time. I start my day with some devotions so I can get my mind in the right mindset, trying to stay positive and I go back to that when I start having a bad day. It’s being able to have some joy, some happiness, be passionate about your work, enjoy your work. It’s not my life. My life encompasses more than just work. It’s kind of that balance.”
Vicki Denson is the director of the RN-to-BSN program for the WSU College of Nursing in Vancouver. Her mentor, Linda Eddy, the Associate Dean and Academic Director for the College of Nursing in Vancouver. We thank them for sharing their perspectives.
The Interprofessional Opioid Curriculum also wants to thank the following people for their contributions to this project:
This episode was produced by Doug Nadvornick from Spokane Public Radio.
If you are interested in sharing your perspective about wellness and resiliency as a healthcare professional or would like to reach out to the Interprofessional Opioid Curriculum team, please email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit the team’s website at: https://opioideducation.wsu.edu/about/.