Nursing Shift: My Transition from Practice to Leadership


W. Richard Cowling III, PhD, RN, APRN-BC, AHN-BC, FAAN Vice President of Academic Affairs Chamberlain College of Nursing

As a bored 16-year-old one evening in 1964, I reluctantly agreed, after much prodding from my sister, to go to the local hospital to work as a volunteer. It was a cold December night during the holiday season break from school. I soon became a frequent visitor and volunteer, which eventually caught the eye of the hospital’s director of nursing, who offered me a paid position as a nursing assistant. This experience was the spark that ignited a joyous nursing career spanning more than four decades.

And it feels like I’m just getting started.

Much of what I learned in those early days as a volunteer and nursing assistant has shaped the way I think about nursing education and leadership. There is no other profession that requires the type of intimate relationship – the bond – that we form with those in our care. I developed a passion for the work that nurses do and their relationships to the patient and families.

This strong connection to the people we serve is what inspired me to look beyond my role as a clinician. I felt a natural connection to people because of nursing, and that easily translated to forming positive relationships with students and colleagues. In particular, the appeal of influencing the education for the next generation of nurses was more than intriguing; it felt like what I was meant to do. I felt that contributing to the education of nurses would fulfill the responsibility and accountability to society that has since shaped every choice in my career.

I know this appreciation of the critical nature of education isn’t unique to me. As nurses, we are positioned to be there for people in intimate and meaningful ways. No other professional group is positioned to influence the lives of people – infants, children, adults and the elderly – in quite the same way. The potential impact we as nurses can make on one life is astonishing. When you multiply this by the minutes, hours, days and years any one of us will be in nursing, the result is enormously profound.

“ Nurses have the power to change the course of the human condition, and nurse leaders have the responsibility to impact change through decisions that ripple throughout the profession.”

Turning Extraordinary Nurses Into Extraordinary Leaders

I found that becoming a leader in our profession takes someone who cares deeply for the well-being of people and values the power of collaboration that stimulates the most significant and powerful changes. I appreciate the opportunity to pay it forward and give back to a role that has given me so much fulfillment. Leadership roles maximize our clinical expertise to educate, lead and impact the policies that will guide the next generation of nurses entering the field. As leaders, we have the opportunity to play a critical role in advancing the profession and influencing the quality of healthcare in communities around the world.

Flexible scheduling, interprofessional collaboration and a stimulating work environment are only a few of the factors that make education and leadership attractive career paths. In fact, nurse educators report the second-highest level of job satisfaction among all nursing roles, behind school nurses. Despite these benefits, a severe shortage of nurse educators exists. We need more nurses to hear that call, like I did, to expand their horizons to nursing education.

To help meet the demands of today’s rapidly evolving healthcare environment, Chamberlain College of Nursing offers specialty tracks tailored to the ambitions of nurse leadership. This includes a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program with an Executive Specialty Track that is designed to prepare nurses with the skills and knowledge essential for nurse leaders. The program can be completed in as few as two years of continuous enrollment through online courses and local practicum experiences.

Chamberlain’s MSN Educator Specialty Track also prepares nurses to teach in academic and clinical-practice settings, as well as continue on for further graduate study. Upon graduation, nurse educators serve in a variety of capacities, ranging from part-time faculty member to academic leadership roles, and have the opportunity to work with students with diverse backgrounds and goals. 
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For over 125 years, Chamberlain University has been preparing extraordinary nursing graduates.