by Matthew N. Skoufalos
“When I was developing my choice of careers, there weren’t a lot of choices for women,” says AORN Executive Director and CEO Linda Groah.
They boiled down to “be a teacher, be a nurse, be a secretary,” she says. Instead of regarding those options as confining, however, Groah accumulated a list of professional credentials in the years that followed—MSN, RN, CNOR, NEA-BC, FAAN—that has almost twice as many characters as her own name. Her secret?
Groah always focused on what she could bring to the table that made the profession better for having her in it. “That’s always been a goal for me: to help other people grow and develop, and to improve patient care in whatever way I could have an impact,” she says.
Groah’s mother, who worked full-time as a bookkeeper from the time Groah was 8 months old, showed by example how to be a leader. Active in her children’s lives as a Girl Scout leader and in the PTA, “she was my role model for how to combine a career and a family and do both well. She was a strong supporter of me and my activities all the time I was growing up.”
Groah took the first step toward leadership when she applied for a head nurse position in the OR at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago after just two years on the job. “After that the rest is history,” Groah says. “I had my first supervisor position in the OR when I was 26, got active in my professional associations – ANA and AORN – and the doors just kept opening, and I kept walking through them.
“Each step along the way, that [leadership] journey has continued to try to make the OR environment better.”
Today’s nursing professionals have so much more available to them in what Groah called “the most exciting time for nursing and nurses in patient care.” The 2011 Institute of Medicine study entitled “The Future of Nursing: Focus on Education” opened up a lot of doors for nurses, she says, the most important of which was the opportunity to practice to the full extent of their license.
“[We’re] looking at an equal place at the table for nurses in patient care,” Groah says. “That’s great for associations like ours because we have an opportunity to lead the association in a different direction and move it forward.”
Groah sees AORN as “the guidepost for regulatory agencies and facilities” on the subject of patient care. As such, she says, the organization is called upon to refine best practices in the field, to develop training standards for the next generation of nurses, and to establish itself as a mirror for the various ways in which they will be employed at present and in the future.
“There are so many different ways that nurses are being used now,” Groah says. “Some of the insurance companies are using nurses as their quality checks when somebody files a request for payment. They’re safety officers. They’re educators in academia in schools of nursing and hospitals, in grade school nursing. There’s a plethora of opportunities.”
Today’s nurses are going to school at a younger age, Groah says, so that they can establish a foundation for their skills as they raise families. In the future, she says, many choose to work part-time and can set their own hours for a “work-life blend” that many other professions do not necessarily offer.
And that’s not a lifestyle choice limited to women, either, she says.
“We are increasing the percentages of men in small percentages,” Groah says, “but it is increasing. Many are in second careers. They bring a different perspective to the table if they’re in a leadership position or on a staff, and we need that diversity.”
Leadership diversity is important, Groah says, because leadership in general is important for nursing professionals. The role of a nurse leader is “absolutely essential” in setting the tone for a facility, she says. Institutions should be looking for “someone who is knowledgeable
about health systems, and supports a system of inquiry so they’re not afraid to ask questions.
“I always looked at who I was reporting to,” she says.
But Groah also knows that as the head of AORN, nursing professionals will be looking to her as well. So she has established several BHAGs for the agency—that’s “Big Hairy Audacious Goals”—one of our which is to be “the Amazon.com of nursing education,” Groah says.
That starts with making the AORN journal available in a format that can be accessed on an iPad, she said, as well as creating several other 21st-century e-learning tools and games that help nurses engage.
“All the social media and apps that are available; the younger generation is asking ‘give me some games so that I can learn,’” Groah says; it’s the concept of flashcards on an iPad or a mobile phone.
“We have something called ‘what’s wrong with this picture,’ and one of our staff nurses puts together this cartoon with all kinds of technique breaks in them, and it’s sort of a game.”
The digital approach to education-as-game even influences the way face-to-face meetings are conducted, Groah says.
“Nobody wants to go see talking heads,” she says. “This has also put pressure on educators. It’s challenging when maybe you’re talking to a group of 2,000 nurses, how do you get that group involved. We have webinars and speakers who are going to be presenting at our national meeting. Part of that is how to instruct them.”
High-end engagement is already being adopted in more sophisticated nurse education simulations as well, Groah says. Now hospitals have patient models that can produce fluids for laboratory analysis, for example. It all speaks to the necessity to produce better-trained healthcare professionals who can deliver higher-quality results, she says. And there’s a very good reason for it.
“Insurance agencies have picked up that Medicare is looking to pay for quality over quantity,” Groah said. “So if you’re readmitted for an infection related to a surgical site procedure, insurance companies are not paying for that. That value-based purchasing has shifted some of the attention to where it should have been all along.
“There are a lot of things we do in medicine because ‘we’ve always done it that way,’ and there hasn’t been a real focus on the evidence behind what’s being done,” Groah says.
“So in 2012, we made the decision that our recommended practices, which were based on successful practices, would become evidence-based,” she says. “That means that we do thorough literature review and look at the research that’s been done to support the evidence we have. CMS as well as other regulatory agencies looks to the evidence behind which they set their regulatory standards and their CMS reimbursement policies.”
If there’s a bigger, hairier, more audacious goal than discovering how to maximize reimbursement rates in any medical field these days, then it has yet to be discovered.
FOOD: French, California-style
MUSIC: Classical, jazz
FAMILY: Husband Patrick, one daughter, three stepchildren and seven grandchildren
OFF THE CLOCK: “My youngest grandson is 7 and very involved in sports, so I love to watch him develop his skills as he grows.”
TRAVEL: Groah was on the road 81 days last year, logging 125,000 air miles to get to speaking engagements and board and committee meetings.
HOBBIES: Reading, scrapbooking, working out (in a series of hotel gyms), yoga