As a nursing student at Elmhurst College, Christina Ryan ’82 did not earn perfect grades. In fact, she failed a class in microbiology.
But Ryan didn’t give up on nursing as a result of that setback. Instead, she used the experience as a valuable lesson in overcoming adversity.
“I was not a straight-A student, but I had passion and drive. I believed I was made to be a nurse,” Ryan says. “That setback helped to teach me that if I was truly passionate about something, I had to continue to strive to achieve even if I was faced with failure.
“It made me realize you can have a bump in the road and still come out of it and blossom.”
Ryan, now CEO of The Women’s Hospital in Newburgh, Indiana, spoke to Elmhurst College nursing students at the College’s first-ever nursing convocation at the beginning of Fall Term. In her speech, she talked about her professional path and about the strong foundation she found at Elmhurst.
After graduating from Elmhurst, Ryan started her career as a pediatric nurse, never imagining that she would one day become chief executive of a hospital. But she discovered that she enjoyed initiating change, and found that she could achieve results by developing visionary ideas, taking leadership roles and asking the right questions.
Ryan was named CEO of The Women’s Hospital in 1999, when the future hospital was nothing but a construction site in a cornfield. Today, The Women’s Hospital is a renowned institution that wins awards for patient service and ranks as one of Modern Healthcare Magazine’s Best Places to Work.
Early in Ryan’s career, she discovered that effective leaders need to foster teamwork and communication. “I got to where I am today because of one thing: I knew I couldn’t do it by myself, that I needed the help of everyone around me in order to succeed,” Ryan told students at the convocation.
Held at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ near the Elmhurst campus, the nursing convocation also focused on teamwork. Seniors wore T-shirts bearing the slogan “We > I” to underscore the importance of building relationships with colleagues and patients in a nursing career.
Following Ryan’s speech, students split into groups and attended breakout sessions on teamwork, civility and communication.
Julie Hoff, director of the nursing program, said those sessions were designed to help students develop the “soft skills to prepare for the high-stakes, high-stress workplace environment of health care.”
In an interview, Hoff said, “It’s important for them to learn to build community, camaraderie, teamwork and communication as students so they can function more effectively as nurses.”
The nursing program, which admits students in the second semester of their sophomore year, has 123 majors. Hoff said job prospects are extremely bright for registered nurses.
“Because of the Affordable Care Act, many more people are entering the health care system with insurance, aging Baby Boomers are expected to live longer with chronic diseases, and there is an aging nursing workforce. This is creating a perfect storm for the need for nurses,” she said.
About 95 percent of Elmhurst nursing graduates pass their licensing exam on the first try, a testament to the high standards the faculty set forth for students, Hoff added.