By Matt Skoufalos
Leadership and education are abstract concepts that are increasingly intertwined in conversations about nursing professional development, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who embodies them as inclusively as Linda H. Yoder.
Her credentials are impressive enough – PhD, MBA, RN, AOCN, FAAN, and Col. U.S. Army (Ret.) – in the practitioner space, but for the past several years, Yoder has pressed into academia and advocacy as the Luci Baines Johnson Fellow in Nursing at the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing and president of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN).
From an early age, the oldest of three children “was always the one in the family who sort of took care of everything,” Yoder said. “I was always the responsible one; I was always the one who was fixing the boo-boos or fixing the upset.”
Nursing might not have become a career choice had Yoder’s father not passed away unexpectedly during her teenage years. Despite high marks at school, she worried that she’d never be able to afford to attend college. But thanks to the intercession of a high-school guidance counselor, Yoder was encouraged to apply for a military scholarship, and won a seat in the last nursing class at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing. She marks it as the beginning of a transformative career experience, as she began working as a nurse and a military officer.
“I had a job right away because I owed the army six years payback for the four years of college,” Yoder said. “My job was a little bit harder than the average nursing job. In addition to being a nurse at the bedside, I had to go out in the field and work in very austere environments.”
Over the course of 28 years with the U.S. Army, Yoder rose to the rank of colonel in an ascension that paralleled her academic achievements. Even early in her career, military service brought with it the expectations of leadership that Yoder said carried through into her civilian life. She pursued a master’s degree in nursing and later realized that “nurses were not getting the resources they needed because they couldn’t speak the business language.” From there, Yoder decided to obtain a second master’s degree in business.
“That, I feel, helped me later, in other senior administrative roles, to compete with other health care professionals for the resources that nurses needed,” she said. “I moved up with my military education as well, (U.S. Army) Command And General Staff College, and later, when I was a colonel, I went to the (U.S.) Army War College, and got a master’s in strategic studies.”
Her civilian and military education shaped her growth and development as a leader as well as being someone who believes that nurses should be leaders. Being surrounded by “people who demonstrated leadership on a daily basis” inspired Yoder to model the kind of attitude toward leadership that she wanted the nurses working with her to exude.
“I’m a firm believer that nursing is not just a job,” Yoder said. “People that want to be nurses need to be committed to the profession, they need to be committed to safe and quality patient care, and they need to have compassion for the patients that we take care of.”
“That is meaningful not just to nurses who work at the bedside and take care of patients; it also applies when you’re in an administrative role,” she said. “Those nurses need nurse executives to be on their side when they’re caring for very complex patients.”
Yoder said she works to help nurses avoid minimizing their role in the larger continuum of care at a hospital or health center. She advises them to apply their education to self-advocacy, including understanding that they’re capable of performing in leadership roles. Just like in the military, Yoder said she urges her staff to step up; to volunteer to be on a committee or on a task force; to develop additional cooperative skills from working with different teams.
“I want them to broaden their horizons and take on challenges,” she said. “You may not be able to do that in the first year or two that you’re a new nurse, but after that, I want to see people stepping up, taking on some of these roles.”
“At the same time, I want them, when they’re in these roles, to not just show up at the meeting and sit there,” Yoder said. “I want them to speak up and make their voices heard; to appropriately state their opinions. It doesn’t help if you show up and there’s no voice.”
Yoder applied that same approach to her decades of volunteerism with the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. Her term as president is set to expire in the fall and as she prepares to hand over the reins of the organization to the next leader, she is working on how to best communicate the business case for nursing resources to AMSN members.
“Nurses generally don’t know how to acquire and use data to their benefit before they get a master’s degree,” Yoder said. “There’s some things that bedside nurses can do by collecting simple data.
In the business world, things revolve around data. If you want to make the case well, you have to have the data to support your argument.”
Hand in hand with that strategy, Yoder said she urges nurses to make their voices heard as long as their complaints are accompanied by constructive suggestions. She views the approach as part and parcel of leadership skills that successful nurses acquire along the path of self-advocacy and individual growth.
“Clinical nurses may not do those things as well as we need to be doing them within health care settings, not just hospitals,” she said. “The AMSN Board has been working on having a greater national presence, more collaboration with other nursing organizations. I want to see that reciprocity as far as educational opportunity for our members.”