My Nursing Specialty: Nurse Consultant

As a nurse consultant, Afenya Montgomery, MSN, MBA, RN, works at the crossroads of nursing and business.
Afenya currently serves as a patient engagement coach at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Her background includes a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from Chamberlain University’s Addison, Illinois, campus and a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from Chamberlain.
“Chamberlain gave me confidence in myself as a nurse and a desire to always do more in my career,” she said. “The excellent teachers, mentors, and connections I made as a student continue to impact my progress as a professional.”
We recently caught up with Afenya to learn more about her specialty and the advice she would give to others who might be interested in the field.
How did you get to where you are today?
I started out in business – I have a marketing degree from the University of Illinois, and I worked for several years in different management roles. 
Then, in 2009, I was laid off. I started to think about what I really wanted to do, and nursing came to mind. My mom and dad are both nurses, and my mom always suggested nursing for me. My husband also encouraged me to consider nursing.
So I did. I started off by getting a certified nursing assistant (CNA) license, to see if I would like it, and I fell in love with healthcare.
A few months later, I enrolled at Chamberlain. I earned my BSN and worked in med-surg/telemetry for several years.
While I was working at the bedside, I started to feel a calling to go back to management. I decided to get my master’s at Chamberlain in the MSN Executive specialty track. I also earned an MBA. I took on a new role as a nurse manager, and from there, I made the jump to my current role as a patient engagement coach.
In addition to my work at the hospital, I also run AM Advisory, a healthcare consulting firm that focuses on employee engagement, patient experience and organizational culture, and the iCAN Collective – a business incubator that provides tools to entrepreneurs and career professionals to help them get to the next level
What’s a typical day like for you?
As a patient engagement coach, I work with nursing managers, directors, executives, or frontline staff to offer tips, tools and other resources to improve processes and impact the patient and employee experience.
I’m one of eight patient engagement coaches at my hospital. We are each assigned to different departments, and measure against a set of standards developed by our hospital’s Patient Engagement department.
We start by doing a lot of observation and shadowing to get to know the staff and the processes of that unit. Then, we put it all into a report and work out an action plan with the leader of the unit. This action plan can include anything from group presentations to one-on-one coaching, depending on their needs.
We do what’s called appreciative coaching – playing up people’s strengths, giving a lot of positive feedback and developing a relationship before we start to talk about different opportunities for improvement.
A common opportunity for improvement that we observe is communication among the team. We also work with staff to remind them to commit to sitting with their patient, even if it’s just for two minutes, to listen to what they’re going through and show that empathy.
What’s your favorite thing about your specialty?
I went into nursing because I was passionate about pursuing a career where I could help people. I wanted to impact the lives of others while giving my own life more meaning.
Now, as a patient engagement coach, I am able to impact nursing and healthcare in a different way. I loved working directly with patients but now I am able to look at the process of patient care in a holistic way and help improve the process at each stage.
What are some challenges?
The biggest challenge is that you have to be persistent and really dig into the culture of the organization that you're working with. Every organization or department is different and you can't apply cookie cutter approaches and expect results.
A common misconception is that a coach or consultant is there to be “the bad guy” – that we are not invested in the process because we aren't a part of the team. I look at it differently. I take time to shadow different areas, get to know staff and familiarize myself with the work that they do. Once people understand you’re really there to support, rather than reprimand, you get a really good relationship and can address barriers together.
What would make someone a good fit for your specialty?
To succeed in my type of role, you have to be a leader and passionate about the patient, employee and physician engagement. It's important that you are a good researcher and stay current on data, white papers, and reports that highlight trends, best practices and new technology.
Any advice?
I would start by obtaining a BSN and working directly with patients. You will become more familiar with work flows and processes within the hospital or whatever facility that you choose. When you have hands on experience, it is much easier to offer your expertise to help find solutions to issues.
Learn as much as you can during each step. Soak up all of the experiences and information that nursing school has to offer. Find opportunities that allow you to gain more experience, such as internships, volunteering, and mission trips. Also, look for a great mentor. Mentors are so valuable because they can connect you with opportunities that you may not have access to on your own.

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