Watkins Sally Wsna Final Optimized

In the months since Sally Watkins, PhD, RN, took over as WSNA’s execu­tive director, you have had some great oppor­tu­ni­ties to get to know her and her prior­i­ties for WSNA. Sally presented at the Washington State Nurses Conven­tion in May about the big-picture challenges facing nursing in Washington state and the summer issue of The Washington Nurse, shared with you the six strategic areas WSNA is focusing on: Health access, safe staffing, nursing practice and patient safety, occupa­tional and environ­mental health, member­ship growth and engage­ment and associ­a­tion vitality.

We wanted you to get to know Sally better as a person and as a nurse, so we asked her some questions about how she got into the profes­sion and where her nursing career has taken her.

Q: How long have you been a nurse and how did you begin your nursing career?

I have been in the nursing profes­sion for over 40 years. To some extent my nursing career began when I was in junior high and volun­teered at a hospital in Dallas, Texas. I was given assign­ments not only to deliver mail and flowers, but also to work in central supply folding drapes and gowns for the operating room. I learned a great deal, including how hospi­tals worked from the view of the mini-city” in the basement!

After my sopho­more year in college I decided to test” myself to make sure nursing was what I really wanted to do as career. I volun­teered for a summer at a mission hospital in Haiti, outside of Port-au-Prince. As a student nurse, I was permitted to provide direct care to patients of all ages, circu­late during surgery, admin­ister medica­tions, change dress­ings, etc. I worked with a very diverse team and experi­enced deliv­ering health care in a very under­served environ­ment. When I returned from Haiti I knew nursing was for me.

I completed my BSN at the Univer­sity of Texas System School of Nursing, Houston, and thought I wanted to become a nurse midwife. I looked at different graduate programs and found the Univer­sity of Utah. The univer­sity required you work for at least a year prior to starting graduate school, so I started working as a new graduate in a high-risk obstet­rical unit. I enjoyed this high-risk popula­tion and eventu­ally became a trans­port team member. We did both air and ground trans­port of pregnant women to the univer­sity from across seven states. That was where I really devel­oped solid clinical expertise.

Q: How did you get involved in the various nursing leader­ship roles you have had, including being a nurse execu­tive and adjunct faculty in various universities?

As a staff nurse I think I was always asking the why” questions and frequently ended up being the one to re-write a policy or proce­dure, revise job descrip­tions, develop a clinical ladder program for staff and get other assign­ments outside of bedside care. I wanted to make a differ­ence beyond my individual patient assign­ments for a shift. I had a mentor once who, when asked which graduate program I should focus on, told me at that time we had hundreds of strong clini­cally based nurses but were lacking in strong nurse leaders. She encour­aged me to pursue a degree in nursing administration.

At the same time, I began to take on various leader­ship positions with more and more respon­si­bil­i­ties. My exper­tise grew beyond having super­vi­sion for obstet­rical and women’s services to include pediatrics, inpatient psychi­atry, preop­er­a­tive services, imaging and other areas. I enjoyed having a seat at the table” where strategic decisions were being made and have contin­u­ally wanted to have a voice speaking for patients and their families as well as those providing direct patient care. I was invited to share those experi­ences as a guest speaker in many programs, then eventu­ally was asked to help teach several different courses in leader­ship and health policy.

Q: Why did you decide to take the position of Execu­tive Director for WSNA?

Having formerly worked at WSNA for a little over six years, I felt I knew what WSNA repre­sented and was familiar with the work of the associ­a­tion at both a state and national level. I felt that every experi­ence I have had as a nurse helped to prepare me for this role. I have worked in hospi­tals, health systems, academia, as a Pro Tem for the Nursing Care Quality Assur­ance Commis­sion, and I have been involved with other profes­sional organi­za­tions, including ANA, as either a board member or advisor.

Also, I wanted to return to the associ­a­tion now in my career to continue to build on the legacy that Judy Huntington left and take WSNA to the next level.” By that I mean ensure we are advancing our practice as needed for the delivery of health care in the future. We need to contin­u­ally assess the environ­ments where care is being provided and make sure we are addressing today’s challenges, oppor­tu­ni­ties and poten­tial threats to deliv­ering quality patient care.

Q: What advice would you give those entering the nursing profes­sion today?

Find the area where you have passion and continue to develop exper­tise in that area. Look for oppor­tu­ni­ties for further growth and seek good mentors along the way. Be willing to try new things. Nursing is a profes­sion where you should never be bored – there are MANY areas where nurses can practice, use their skills and always feel challenged. It is indeed a career for a lifetime.

Name: Sally Watkins

Hometown: Born in Roswell, New Mexico; primarily grew up in Dallas, Texas; have lived in Gig Harbor, WA, since 2000.

Educa­tion: Ph.D. from the Union Insti­tute and Univer­sity in Cincin­nati, Ohio, in organi­za­tional behavior with a focus in women and leader­ship; MS from Univer­sity of Utah School of Nursing; BSN from Univer­sity of Texas System School of Nursing, Houston Campus. 

One thing most people don’t know about me: I have five grand­kids with whom I love to spend time and who, fortu­nately, live close by. 

One thing I want to learn: I grew up playing classical piano and played better in high school than I do now. I want to relearn” my favorite music.