Leading the Way

Vol. 2 •Issue 19 • Page 12
Leading the Way

UCSD Medical Center’s Gerard Phillips, MBA, BSN, RN, Takes Top Honors in ADVANCE’s 2005 Best Nurse Leader Contest

‘Inever expected to have a nurse manager as a mentor, but he makes himself so approachable, so available for clinical concerns that you don’t even hesitate to share your personal issues with him. What sets him apart is his genuine care and respect for his staff. His actions prove that Gerard is a nurse first and manager second. He hasn’t lost the caring aspect of nursing.”

That’s how Marlon G. Saria, MSN, RN, AOCNS, clinical nurse specialist at UCSD Medical Center described his colleague, Gerard Phillips, MBA, BSN, RN, nurse manager, when he nominated him for ADVANCE’s 2005 Best Nurse Leader award. Putting people before policies isn’t something new for Phillips. It’s just part of his character. What else would you expect from someone who brings deep fried turkeys to his staff on Thanksgiving or gourmet chocolate cakes for a special surprise? It’s his unique ability to connect with people that has set him apart throughout his nursing career. It’s also the reason why he’s the 2005 Best Nurse Leader award winner.

Relationship Rewards

“It’s been my experience that staff members really do value the relationship they have with their manager. That’s why I try to cultivate personal relationships with my staff,” explained Phillips. “I make it a point to learn more about them as a person, outside of the workplace, what’s important to them and how I can help them balance these priorities. I feel a strong sense of appreciation from the staff when I make the effort to understand them and care about what’s important to them and not just the issues here at work.”

One of the most important things for nurses at UCSD is the scheduling. Having flexibility means having more free time to spend with their families and doing what matters to them. Phillips knows that a nurse who has a balanced, richer home life will transfer ease, attitude and satisfaction to the workplace. He also knows that while work is important, so is having a full life.

“I think one of the best examples of how I try to show my staff that what’s important to them is important to me is the flexible self-scheduling. Based on the priorities in their lives, my nurses change their schedules quite often,” admitted Phillips. “I’m not so rigid in that I don’t allow that to happen. On any given 4-week schedule, I can have 25-30 changes. I allow my nurses to do that so they can better balance their work life and home life.”

Phillips is well aware that any relationship takes work. It needs to be nurtured and grown. He’s found one of the best ways to bring out the best in people is to put everyone on a level playing field.

“I tell my staff they are my peers. If you treat your staff as colleagues, it builds a productive, commonality. It’s so important to work at strong relationships,” Phillips emphasized. “If you look at the divorce rates in the country and the amount of time after which someone leaves a job, it’s about the same, 1-2 years. It shows us that relationships skills are important, no matter what the arena is. It takes the same kind of skills. You have to work at it.”

Involvement & Ideas

Phillips understands the best way to work at peer relationships is to build trust. He has found that by keeping his nurses constantly involved in the decision-making process and actively listening to their ideas, they feel a sense of empowerment and inclusion. He regularly brings staff members to the many committees he serves on so their voice can be heard.

For example, when it came time to choose a specific skincare product line for the 6 East med/surg infectious disease unit, Phillips made sure his nurses were involved in the decisions that affected their patients. One year ago, he convened a panel of his own nurses to evaluate how the unit’s vision complemented the mission of UCSD. What resulted was a staff-created “blue print” for care that integrated holistic and individualized treatment plans for their patients. It’s in his blood to be involved with the staff right down to the grassroots level.

“It’s not unusual to see him on one of the med/surg floors, responding to a code blue,” shared Saria, “or putting on gloves to assist with a bariatric patient who has fallen from bed.”

Balancing Act

While it may not be possible to please everyone all the time, Phillips realizes the most effective managers find ways to please most of the people most of the time. That takes a talent for balancing loyalties, which can be a challenge.

“The biggest challenge for me is walking the line between being an advocate for your staff as well as one for your organization,” Phillips pointed out. “You have to learn how to be a translator for both camps. Being a good communicator is very important so both parties understand each other’s concerns.”

Phillips finds that volunteering his time with the administration and staff helps him keep his ear to the ground for the upcoming issues that will be important to each group. Even though serving on so many committees can be hectic, he’s found a way to make it work.

“What I find works best to accomplish this is getting involved in a lot of organization-wide committees. This helps me keep a clear perspective on where we’re going as an organization,” Phillips offered. “I can share that information with my staff so they understand the facility’s objectives while at the same time, taking their concerns and voices back to the committees. I also hold informal meetings with my staff or may stop someone on the floor and have a chat about what’s going on that day and how it applies to the organization.”

Setting the Bar

Having a manager who is such a high achiever might intimidate some nurses. Instead, Phillips’ enthusiasm for taking nursing involvement at UCSD to the next level seems to have energized his staff. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“His achievements have set the standard high for this unit without any added pressure or losing staff satisfaction,” observed Saria. “His example is what drives us. Every goal he sets, he meets his expectations for the unit and that positive energy fuels us. In fact, his staff satisfaction rate is among the highest at UCSD.”

“I try to create a working environment where we’re always looking at ways to evolve not just patient care, but nursing practice,” added Phillips. “When we make accomplishments, I’m always challenging my staff to reach even higher. They can do that if you empower them to make unit-based staffing decisions. When the staff is happy, they are eager to participate and it helps us keep the performance bar high.”

His strategy for re-setting the bar seems to be working. Phillips is proud to boast that his unit vacancy rate stands at zero and his turnover rate is extremely low.

Education, the Best Medicine

Phillips made it clear that continuing education for nurses is and will continue to be a top priority for him. He’s willing to do whatever it takes, whether it be flexible scheduling or researching educational opportunities himself, to keep his nurses at the best conferences and classes so their skills stay sharp. He sees benefits in it for everyone, not just nurses.

“Nurses furthering themselves in their profession has always been one of my pet projects because it doesn’t just improve their individual skills, but it improves the larger body of nursing, as well,” Phillips stated. “I do my best to transfer my love of learning to my staff and make it as easy as possible to get out and attend national conferences and workshops. It’s important to me to find out where my staff wants to go professionally and to be an active part in getting them there.”

What It Takes

As anyone who’s ever managed or been managed knows, it takes a special set of skills to be an effective manager. It’s so much more than telling people what to do. Top skills on Phillips’ list are caring, delegation, financial savvy and being a role model. Still, it goes back to that individual connection when it comes to the skill at the top of his list.

“I really believe interpersonal skills are what make someone an effective leader,” Phillips stressed. “Things like listening attentively, considering other people’s concerns and ideas and establishing trust with your staff. It all comes down to being as self-aware as possible. It takes courage to come face to face with your strengths and weaknesses. If you have a weakness in an interpersonal area, then you need to be very honest with yourself and get coaching or mentoring to build up those skills.”

It’s clear Phillips has what it takes to be great leader. If actions speak louder than words, one only has to look at the actions of his staff. They’re taking their cue from him. Still, if Phillips was a fly on the wall, he’s very confident about what they are actually saying about him.

“What comes to my mind is a friend with high integrity who cares about them a great deal,” said Phillips.

We don’t doubt that at all. Congratulations!

Luke Cowles is regional editor at ADVANCE.

Raising the Bar

Three runners-up in ADVANCE’s Best Nurse Leader Contest prove greatness comes in many forms

When returning her evaluation form, one of the judges for our first annual Best Nurse Leader contest expressed difficulty in rating the entries because they were all excellent. She added that the nursing profession has some exceptional leaders of which to be proud. We agree! We also noticed that each leader stands out in a unique way.

Below you’ll find three nurse leaders who followed closely behind our overall winner. They are categorized based on the trait most evident in their nominating essays. All entries were judged on how the manager made a difference in patient outcomes, interpersonal relationships, professional development, effectiveness and efficiency of the unit, making a difference in the overall work environment and many other qualities.

Congratulations go out to these winners and everyone who was nominated!


Jay Westbrook, MS, RN, CHPN
Valley Presbyterian Hospital, Van Nuys

Jay Westbrook, MS, RN, CHPN, clinical director of palliative care and bereavement services at Valley Presbyterian Hospital, Van Nuys, is not the type of leader who dictates practices simply because he is an expert in his field. While there is no doubt he has a knack for what he does, it’s facilitating discussion and problem-solving with staff that makes him an admirable leader.

Naz Omar, who nominated Westbrook, said he is “able to role model and teach others how to compassionately care for patients and families.”

But, according to Westbrook, his team doesn’t need any coaching. “I may role model for them, but they have an amazing level of compassion,” he told ADVANCE.

Westbrook defines compassion as a call to action, even if that action is passive, such as sitting with a grieving family or dying patient. “You’re either compassionate or you’re not,” Westbrook expressed. “I have been given a gift in a sense that I know [how to] make a death more tender and gentle, [to] guide a family into actions that will make the experience less dramatic.”

When staff from various departments have trouble communicating with patients and/or families during the difficult time of death, Westbrook finds the source of the problem and goes to great lengths to solve it. Omar related a situation where Westbrook conducted inservices for staff to train them in palliative care approaches to use with grieving parents. After acknowledging staff’s questions, he asked them to provide some solutions.

“When they presented solutions, he championed them. When they were unable, he explored the techniques he had actually used. The entire experience was very well-received, and he has been asked to do more,” Omar said.

While in the process of providing his own solutions to the problem, he never discounts the professionalism of the staff, effectively assuring them of their expertise and capability of mastering this difficult situation.

“While supporting the parents of a dying or [deceased] child is never easy, Jay’s leadership greatly empowered the entire clinical staff to be better able to offer that support in an appropriate, meaningful, merciful and compassionate manner,” Omar noted in her nomination essay.

Westbrook said he never tells the staff that his way is the right way; although he learned his teaching tools with the best at seminars sponsored by Harvard Medical School’s palliative care department. He makes sure to tell staff they are amazing, because he knows with each person’s contribution, he also has learned.

Role Model

Jan Decker, MEd, MA, RN, CNOR
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles

As director of OR services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, Jan Decker, MEd, MA, RN, CNOR, has a lot on her plate, but you wouldn’t know it if you were one of her many employees. Jeri Mays, BSN, RN, CNOR, who co-nominated Decker, admitted that Decker is the “best boss she has ever had.” Kyung Jun, MSN, RN, CNOR, also co-nominator, said in the nomination essay, “I learned a lot from her professionalism and managerial style. I saw the way she role models and followed suit.”

“Being a role model starts with self-awareness and a willingness to view change as a challenge,” Decker told ADVANCE. “It requires passion, courage, optimism and control of emotions. You have to recognize the importance of what each individual brings to the workplace.”

Decker is committed to delivering evidence-based care. She oversees the OR Practice Committee, which discusses practice issues and brainstorms to implement best practices.

Her management style is worth noting. Both Mays and Jun worked for Decker, left for some time, but returned because her management style appealed to them.

“For me, it’s not really about identifying a style type. It’s about the concept of openness, having integrity, being a good listener and communicating in a non-threatening manner,” Decker noted. “I think my style is appealing because staff feel comfortable enough to have an open dialogue and express their differences. A leader is someone who leads by example, models positive behavior to staff, is honest, accepts constructive feedback and is able to admit when they are wrong.”

Decker has been acknowledged by the hospital with the President’s Award, which symbolizes excellence in both community and medical service.

“One of the best ways to be successful is to build the right team,” Decker said. “Mentor people you want to be in leadership positions. Help them find the right resources and tools to effectively make decisions; support them even through failures; and give them room to grow. Treat people fairly and stay focused on outcomes you want to achieve. Have a vision and share it with people!”

Team Player

Marie Jeannis, BSN, RN, CCM
CalOptima, Orange

To be a leader, one needs to have followers – a team of people to mentor, guide and teach. Marie Jeannis, BSN, RN, CCM, is not only a leader, but what makes her special is she considers herself part of the team. In her position as supervisor of the Care Coordination Department at CalOptima, Orange, you’ll see her get her hands dirty with her staff, and she personally is involved with patients.

“When I meet with staff, I draw a line and ask, ‘Where do you think your responsibilities end and someone else’s begin?'” Jeannis explained. “Then, I draw a zig-zagged line. If you are a team, there are no barriers. We are all responsible for each other.”

Michelle Gladden, RN, who nominated Jeannis, wrote, “Marie Jeannis is unmistakably one of the strongest leaders in the field of nursing. É Her dedication and compassion are unyielding. She is highly knowledgeable and resourceful and is always available to guide and direct her staff.”

Her accessibility and generosity rally the staff to focus on patient needs. More importantly, she leads by example.

“One of the things I want to let them know is that I am accountable and they can trust me,” Jeannis expressed.

She takes on additional responsibilities also holding the transplant case manager role for CalOptima. In this position, she works with the health network case managers and transplant facilities to facilitate the transplant process for members. She checks in with patients at home prior to procedures to answer questions and ease concerns.

“It is easy to be a team player, foster this attitude and show compassion when [your] agency practices it on a daily basis,” Jeannis said modestly. “This agency is such a great team. We are member- and team-oriented. And I want to thank Michelle. [This shows that your] staff does appreciate what you do.”

Stephanie M. Adamow is assistant editor at ADVANCE.

Special Thanks to Our Judges

ADVANCE’s Best Nurse Leader contest would not be complete without its distinguished panel of judges to pour through the plethora of entries, rate each and pull the best candidates to the top of the pile. To ensure there was no conflict of interest between a judge and a nurse leader entry, ADVANCE for Nurses asked judges from outside the region to judge the contest. Notable nurses from Northern California and Pennsylvania judged this year’s entries. ADVANCE thanks them for their time and support.

The judges for the 2005 Best Nurse Leader contest were:

Kay Bensing, MA, RN, senior staff nurse consultant at ADVANCE for Nurses, has 35 years of nursing experience; most in nursing education and psychiatric nursing. She has master’s degrees in education and journalism. Her column, Career Beat, related to contemporary nursing issues, appears regularly in ADVANCE.

Bensing has extensive experience in curriculum development for continuing education, and has developed, contributed and authored a number of nurse review courses and books. In addition to her editorial and consulting responsibilities, she administers ADVANCE’s nursing continuing education program.

Julie Clayton, MSN, RN, CNO of Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, is an experienced nursing executive with more than 13 years of leadership experience in a unionized environment and multi-hospital systems. Clayton joined Good Samaritan in 1983. She became CNO in 1999 and successfully implemented employee and patient satisfaction programs in the nursing division, and expanded volume growth and market share, as well as developed new services to address community healthcare needs.

Clayton received her MSN from the University of Phoenix, a BA in psychology with a minor in women’s studies from San Jose State University and an associate degree of science, nursing, from Pima Community College.

Linda Kresge, MPA, BSN, RN, is chief nurse executive and vice president of patient care at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, and clinical director for the Sequoia Hospital San Francisco State Nursing Program. Prior to these positions, Kresge worked as CNO at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose.

Kresge earned her master’s degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco, then completed a fellowship at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. She recently completed a fellowship at the University of Michigan in global healthcare leadership.

Kresge also is a member of several boards and committees, including the Coalition for Nursing Careers in California and Pathways Home Health, Hospice & Private Duty. Additionally, she is the leader of Catholic Healthcare West’s Chief Nurse Executive Council.

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