Interview: Patty Hayes

An important aspect of our Nurses Speak initiative is highlighting the careers of individuals who began as staff nurses and then turned their attention to become leaders in the fields of public policy, hospital administration, the law and the legislature. This is the second in our series.

Patty Hayes Headshot
Patty Hayes, MN, RN, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County

Patty Hayes tells a story from her childhood about that time-honored opportunity to shine or flame out, the School Talent Show. Her mother asked the young Patty what her talent was going to be. “I’m going to be the MC!” she replied. It’s an apt metaphor for Patty’s career. “I love orchestrating events,” she said. “I love helping other people shine.” That’s exactly what Patty has been doing for more than three decades in roles that include executive director of WSNA, policy director at the state Department of Health, executive director of WithinReach and, now, as director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. 

WSNA’s Legislative Affairs Director, Jennifer McCausland, sat down with Patty to talk about leadership, politics and her passion for the health and well-being of young families.

In your work today, yesterday or last year, have you used the skills you learned in your nursing education?

Yes, in my basic training and then in my master’s degree in Psychosocial Nursing, I learned a way of thinking that I use every day. The nursing process lends itself well to policy development, politics and research. Nurses are so well prepared to be epidemiologists or therapists, to work in the legislature or to work directly with families. From my master’s degree, I learned more about how to work in groups, how to listen, how to navigate issues. Nursing gives you the theory behind how to work from the other person’s perspective.

You have spent part of your career in legislature affairs representing nurses and nursing specialties such as nurse anesthetists.

Yes. Walking into the volatility of politics means you have to be able to tolerate the intensity of politics. Nurses are great at being able to achieve things behind the scenes, which is not always how politics works. I believe leading on issues that are important to the public is an essential role for nurses – issues like access to care, rural health, public health. We need more nurses in the Legislature. Representative Cody, as Chair of House Health Care Committee, has been a great champion on so many issues over the years, but we need many more people who can understand the patient perspective.

And then the shift to public health?

I found myself drawn to public health after doing broader systems work and working with families. Nursing gives you that opening to so many avenues, and I found the freedom to explore working directly with families. I have always been a gregarious external person; my Myers Briggs is a strong ENFP for those who are familiar with that. [editor’s note: Extraversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Perceiving] I find it so much more interesting to hear other people’s stories.

You said in your talent show story that you wanted to be the MC. Is that still true?

When you begin to study leadership (and I have been a student of leadership theory and practice all of my career) you learn the art of empowering the members of your team, to work in groups; you learn to create magic through partnerships. I’ll never forget when we were running the seat belt legislation and couldn’t get traction until we brought in the used car dealers. It created the magic solution for the legislators to hear support for the issue from a totally different interest group.

You have stayed active in WSNA throughout your career.

I believe in WSNA, I believe in the balance of policy and representation, and I’m proud to be part of the evolution of WSNA as it is today. Nurses still don’t have the appreciation of their value in the workplace, and WSNA is there to help encourage the advancement of nursing as well as nurses.

And your legacy?

My work for the health of families and the investment in families in the early years is my legacy. One of my passions is building the respect and vision of the essential role that public health plays every day for everyone. I want to help drive that system and continued policy changes.