Boise State delivers high-quality nursing education to hundreds of students every year. Unsurprisingly, many go on to accept leadership roles. Some advance through their careers with leadership in mind, but for others, they discover it as an entirely new dream along the way. This is the story of two nurses equipped by Boise State and how they ended up leading at Saint Alphonsus.
Alum Lauren Smith (’03) is the Regional Chief Nursing Officer at Saint Alphonsus. Her path in nursing took a turn she didn’t intend, but looking back now, she knows she benefited from it.
While attending the on-campus bachelor’s program at Boise State, medical-surgical clinicals were not Smith’s favorite. She said it was “fixed in my head” not to go into a medical-surgical position post-graduation. Smith wanted to be a trauma nurse (“I liked being where the action was”), but the available position in Boise was offered to someone else.
Smith chose to work in the Clinical Support Unit (also known as the float pool) at St. Luke’s instead, hoping for a variety of work and – ironically – starting in med-surg.
“I think sometimes we don’t realize why things are happening around us, but this was the lesson that I learned: that everything really happens for a reason,” Smith said. “If I hadn’t gone to the float pool, there’s no way that I would have experienced all the things that I had moving down the road.”
Preparing to lead
During her years in the float pool, Smith developed skills she doubts she would have learned as efficiently if she went straight into specialized trauma nursing. Now in her CNO role, she’s witnessed critical care nurses – who specialize in complex care for one or two patients – grow extremely stressed when filling in on busy non-critical care units.
“It occurred to me that for those nurses that specialize right away, you don’t quite get enough [practice] in nursing school – in most cases – to get a good strong flavor of how to do time management, how to build that bond with your patient, and all the other things that need to happen that aren’t critical-care based,” Smith said.
Smith now recognizes that she’s equipped to do her job well – overseeing a host of different units – because she’s had experience in them herself. She’s able to identify with and understand the clinical teams she leads because she didn’t specialize right away.
“If you’ve got your foundational elements established through that acute care, med-surg based experience, I think you can go anywhere,” she said. “If you start there, the sky’s the limit.”
A new passion for impacting patients
It was also during Smith’s time in the float pool that she discovered her passion for patient safety after experiencing being a first responder to a medication error. “That’s where I realized instead of impacting patients one at a time, I could start to impact them on a grander scale.”
Over the next several years, Smith transitioned from the Clinical Support Unit to Patient Safety and then to Operations Improvement. “I wanted to impact patient care before negative events even happened,” she said, moving further from the trauma nurse role she first thought she wanted and into administrative leadership.
After serving 22 years with St. Luke’s, Smith decided that it was time to try something new. She transitioned to Saint Alphonsus and now serves as the Regional Chief Nursing Officer. “I’ve just really enjoyed it,” she said.
While nurses often focus on amplifying patients’ voices, Smith also wants to use her leadership position to hear the voices of everyone nurses interact with, including colleagues and nursing students. She aims to bring fresh perspective to her position, focusing on listening and “tapping into the knowledge of our frontline teams to drive improvement and make things better, as far as care that’s offered to people living and visiting in our community.”
Misti Leavitt (‘12) is an alum of the RN-BS Online Completion program. She’s also the Chief Nursing Officer/Vice President of Operations for Saint Alphonsus Nampa.
Her journey into nursing leadership began during her pursuit of an associate degree. She repeatedly changed her major, somewhat interested in nursing, but wary; she didn’t think she could handle being around blood.
Her stepmother – a nurse – encouraged Leavitt, telling her she’d make a great nurse, and arranged a way for Leavitt to test it out. She got consent at her workplace for Leavitt to witness a birth. “It was an amazing experience,” Leavitt said, and she knew nursing was right for her.
Leavitt went on to earn her associate degree in nursing from the College of Southern Idaho. But she also knew she wanted to progress into management during her career, and she would need a bachelor’s degree to do so.
“When the time was right for me to do that, I loved that [Boise State] had an online program that I could do to work full-time, be a mother to four children and have the flexibility to also get my [bachelor’s of science in nursing],” Leavitt said.
Earning a bachelor’s and advancing to lead
Leavitt had been on her unit at Saint Alphonsus for about ten years when her manager began discussing plans for retirement. “I knew I needed to focus on getting my bachelor’s done before she retired so I would have the opportunity to become manager on my current unit,” Leavitt said.
The timing didn’t work out exactly like Leavitt thought it would, but the extra time under transitional managers allowed her to “learn some great skills” from them until she earned her degree.
Leavitt began the online RN-BS completion program with a co-worker at Saint Alphonsus. “It was great for us to keep each other motivated to stay on track and graduate together,” she said.
“I loved that I had flexibility of getting my work done during the week on my days off and turned in by the end of the week,” Leavitt said. “I could plan ahead with what was going on between work and my personal life with my children. I also loved doing projects from the real work I was doing on the floor at that time.”
Leavitt graduated from Boise State in 2012 and became nurse manager of the medical oncology unit shortly after. “This started my path down the leadership career in nursing I have now,” she said.
“I recently moved into the CNO/VP of Operations role and it has brought on new experiences and opportunities to learn and grow,” which is what Leavitt has “always loved about nursing.”
Her advice for current nursing students?
“Be open to opportunities that come your way and don’t be set in what you think you want to do,” she said.
“Almost every RN that I have spoken to didn’t go into the area they originally thought they wanted to at the beginning of nursing school. Different opportunities or barriers were in their way that put them down different paths and shifted them to what they love. … Take the time to hone your time management and critical thinking skills, then see where nursing takes you!”