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.