Mentoring management style fosters teamwork

Teach employees what is expected, allow mistakes

As director of educational services at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, WA, Dorothy Ruzicki, PhD, RN, oversees a staff of 17 employees. Most are nurse educators who handle nursing and general orientation and work with staff on unit-specific education.

For example, the nurse educators are working to develop staff resource nurses for diabetes education. They would identify available resources for teaching patients and help staff follow protocols to teach how to control blood glucose levels. It is one example of how staff in educational services interface with patient education.

Other positions within the Educational Services Department include people who run the staff library, which is accessible to patients, a person who oversees television production and audio visual support, a respiratory clinical educator, a receptionist, and an office manager.

While the educational services department mainly focuses on staff development, the scope of work is varied. Sometimes department staff assists with educational design and they develop television programs and video clips for electronic learning. The department also manages the on-demand TV system for patient education programming.

Ruzicki has been in her management position since 1989 and reports to the vice president of human resources at Sacred Heart Medical Center, which is a 625-bed tertiary care facility. It is part of a large health care system called Providence Health and Services.

She was hired by the hospital in 1980 as a nurse educator in the obstetrics area and began the first formal patient education program at the health care facility in 1982. She received her PhD in 1983 and wrote her dissertation on patient compliance and patient participation and care in diabetes.

"In the 1980s I published a lot on patient education in journals," said Ruzicki. She also conducted numerous workshops on teaching the need to know information to patients so they could be safely discharged and then arranging for them to return for additional education. This focus was important because the length of time people remained in the hospital for treatment was becoming shorter and shorter, she says.

Ruzicki graduated from a nursing baccalaureate program in 1968 and worked as a staff nurse and nursing educator in clinical settings until 1980.

In a recent interview, Ruzicki , who also sits on the editorial board for Patient Education Management, discussed her job, her philosophy on education, the challenges she has met, strategies on management, and the skills she has developed that help her to do her job well. Following are the answers to the questions posed:

Q: What is your best success story?

A: "Something I will treasure forever as a manager is helping my staff learn and grow, giving them responsibility and seeing them take it and move with it. Right now I have a department where there is a lot of teamwork.

"For nine years before I became the director, I worked closely with the director of the department who had a staff-focused management style and I learned so much from her. I think I have been able to follow in her footsteps.

"To be this type of manager, you have to be a mentor to your staff and be available. They must feel comfortable coming to your office to ask questions and talk over their situations. My staff share their problems with me and I help them think them through. I set parameters in which they function but I trust them. If they make mistakes we look at it as a learning experience."

Q: What is your area of strength?

A: "One of the things I learned in doing my doctorate was to think critically and analytically and that is how I help my staff look at a situation and think about alternative ways of handling it. I really push them to think outside the box and not to be afraid to try new things. I am a big-picture thinker and look at how we can align ourselves with the goals of the organization.

"Another strength I have is my honesty. I am very straightforward and I don't hold things back; if there is something to be taken care of I discuss it with staff in a respectful way. I am not afraid to deal with conflicts."

Q: What is your weakest link or greatest challenge?

A: "Getting staff to think in terms of outcomes and measurement when educating staff or patients. In order to justify what we do, we have to show outcomes and performance improvement so I really think that continues to be our weakest link even though I constantly focus on evidence-based practice.

"For example, when someone teaches a class, the objectives for the class must be identified as well as the outcomes. Instructors must ask what staff were able to do after they attended the class, what they implemented in practice. Did staff use correct body mechanics when lifting equipment to decrease back injuries?

"Once diabetes resource nurses were taught were they able to use the diabetes resources more than they did before? Did the patients get the consultations they needed to have and leave the hospital knowing how to take care of themselves?"

Q: What is your vision for patient education for the future?

A: "We have to treat patients as partners and provide incentives for them to take care of themselves, particularly with chronic illness. We have to help them take an active interest in caring for themselves. It is helping them determine what they will be able to do to take care of themselves and commit to that. Patient education is so much more than giving patients a program and telling them what to do. It is really getting inside their mind and helping them figure out how they can do it or even if they want to."

Q: When trying to create and implement a new form, patient education materials, or program, where do you go to get information/ideas from which to work?

A: "If we were going to create a new form or program I would go to the literature, like Patient Education Management, and see what was there. I would also survey hospitals asking people what they are doing in this area."


For more information, contact:

  • Dorothy Ruzicki, PhD, RN, director, education services/Communications, Sacred Heart Medical Center, 101 West Eighth Ave., P.O. Box 2555, Spokane, WA 99220-4045. Telephone: (509) 474-3390. E-mail: