Johnson & Johnson Notes on NursingNurses Leading Innovation

Nurse Leader Mary Jo Jerde Challenges Clinicians to Ask, “What If?”

At UnitedHealth Group’s Center for Clinician Advancement, nurse leader Mary Jo Jerde, MBA, BSN, RN, FAAN, and her team are energizing clinicians to innovate in new areas of healthcare and become leaders in their profession through programs that encourage nurses to challenge the status quo.

In 2008, UnitedHealth Group faced a concerning and escalating issue. Its nursing workforce was suffering from a high turnover rate of their newly hired nurses and low nurse engagement. Realizing that its nurses needed more resources to develop their skills and better understand the business of healthcare, UnitedHealth Group launched the Center for Nursing Advancement to help develop, retain and engage its nursing workforce.

From initially serving only 6,000 UnitedHealth Group nurses in 2008 to uniting over 23,000 nurses today, the Center for Nursing Advancement evolved to become the Center for Clinician Advancement , a team designed to support a workforce of over 42,000 nurses, pharmacists, social workers, behavioral health clinicians, advanced practice clinicians and physicians through developmental initiatives that help them navigate their professions.

The Johnson & Johnson Notes on Nursing team recently spoke with Mary Jo Jerde, MBA, BSN, RN, FAAN, senior vice president and leader of the Center for Clinician Advancement at UnitedHealth Group, to learn more about how she and her team are taking an innovative approach to clinician advancement through programs and resources that are constantly adapting to the needs of their workforce and inspiring them to take on some of healthcare’s greatest challenges.

J&J:
Can you tell us more about your position as the leader of the Center for Clinician Advancement?
Mary Jo:
In my role, I serve as an executive champion, advocate and coach for nurses and other clinicians who want to advance their careers. We’re a large organization, and sometimes it’s easy for our nurses to get lost in the conversation. I see myself as the bridge between our frontline healthcare workers and the larger, organizational business needs. Together with my multi-disciplinary team, some who are also nurses, we’re working to reduce clinician turnover and improve engagement by keeping a pulse on the needs of our clinicians and deploying professional programs that help them develop into healthcare leaders. Our work is changing the trajectory for nurses as clinicians and leaders, and I sometimes have to pinch myself because I feel like I’m living the dream.
J&J:
How does your nursing background influence how you lead the Center for Clinician Advancement?
Mary Jo:
I feel blessed that my experience as a nurse has given me a holistic education in problem solving and creative thinking, which definitely influences how I lead the Center for Clinician Advancement. A nurse looks at a situation and immediately puts together a plan on how to address and monitor it. And just like a nurse is always ready to adapt the plan to the needs of their patient, my team and I constantly listen to our clinicians to evolve our offerings to better serve their needs. Also, we apply the nurse’s mindset of putting the patient at the center to all of our work at UnitedHealth Group.
J&J:
How does the Center for Clinician Advancement help clinicians become innovators and leaders in their profession?
Mary Jo:
We’re proud of our many programs that encourage clinicians to learn more about the business of healthcare and ways they can excel in their roles. Some of our programs include our Business Exposure platform, which helps our clinicians explore the more than 130 different clinical and business roles across UnitedHealth Group, and our Inspire Mentoring Program, a clinician development program with a formal curriculum that presents the opportunity for clinicians to form mutually beneficial cross-enterprise relationships.

One outstanding program we offer in conjunction with a leading academic institution is the Clinician Leader Executive Development program. The signature element in this program is a year-long immersion learning experience in leading change, including a “Shark Tank” experience for participants to advance their project ideas. Nurses are coming to us with renewed confidence and tremendous ideas backed by data on how to improve care and provide financial value to our health system.

Many of the programs and resources that are a part of the Center for Clinician Advancement were developed in partnership with managers, who understand the importance of empowering and retaining their staff. However, they weren’t sure how best to do so. Through the Center, we’re trying to provide forums to think big and provide the right tools to develop leadership skills, empowering nurses to be able to make things happen and drive changes in healthcare. Nurses are constantly asking themselves, “What if we changed this procedure?” or “What if we approached this differently?” UnitedHealth Group is answering the “What ifs” with a “We can do that” attitude.
J&J:
How has the Center improved the status of UnitedHealth Group’s clinician workforce?
Mary Jo:
We’ve seen a significant reduction in turnover rates, and our data shows clinicians who participated in a Center program have a 20% higher promotion rate and a 4% higher engagement rate compared to other clinicians. [1] Our clinicians are seeing that we are an organization that is committed to innovation. In order to address the global epidemic of healthcare provider burnout, I believe more healthcare systems should deploy programs that aim to empower and support their clinicians.

[1] Center for Clinician Advancement. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/about/clinician-advancement.html
J&J:
What makes the Center for Clinician Advancement at UnitedHealth Group unique?
Mary Jo:
Not a lot of organizations are able to bring together 42,000 clinicians and provide a series of resources designed specifically to engage them in a meaningful way. The Center has served as a connector and source of community for many of our nurses who are on the road and might feel alone in a large organization. To best serve them, we take a strategic rather than a programmatic approach, emphasizing community and making our programs scalable, on demand and appealing to younger clinicians.

Also, the Center is always adapting and evolving. Every year we update our program offerings based on the needs of our clinicians, adding offerings that explore things such as change management, discussion groups with nurses in other businesses and navigating national healthcare topics. We believe that in order to innovate you have to listen. Therefore, we emphasize open communication and apply those learnings to our programs and resources.
J&J:
Why do you think nurses are key to leading change, advancing health and transforming the health system?
Mary Jo:
I think nurses are able to think about problems differently because they are the closest to the patient. Nurses are best suited to solve healthcare challenges because they have the heart to put the patient at the forefront, and the critical thinking mindset to think through the solution. The Center for Clinician Advancement shows that by uniting resources within our health system, nurses can drive unbelievable innovation.
J&J:
Do you have any advice for nurses looking to advance in their careers, especially in leadership and innovation roles?
Mary Jo:
I would love for nurses to be more curious, take more risks and get out of their comfort zones. We cannot keep reliving the healthcare system that we have today; the status quo cannot stay as it is. We’re accepting of failure at UnitedHealth Group, but we want you to fail fast and build on it. If you’re presented with a big idea or opportunity, don’t say ‘This is outside my scope’ or ‘This is too big for me,’ ask yourself ‘What if?’ and just go for it.

(Pictured above are Patrick Borowicz, RN, Case Manager, Optum Population Health, Patricia OConnor, RN, MPA, CCM, Manager, Case Management, Optum Population Health, and Becky Faustgen, PharmD, Clinical Pharmacist, UnitedHealthcare Pharmacy, of UnitedHealth Group’s Center for Clinician Advancement)

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