Meet Mary Bylone: Every Conversation About Patient Care Should Include A Bedside Nurse

How long have you been a nurse and what was your path that brought you to become a Chief Nursing Officer?  I have been a nurse over 30 years.  I started my journey as a teacher, but I had a motorcycle accident while I was a freshman in college and several nurses really made an impression on during my recovery.  Upon graduation, I could not find a teaching job so it was easy to decide to choose healthcare as a possible career.  I started in the OR as a scrub tech and one thing led to another – and I eventually became a nurse.

The turning point for me leaving the bedside and moving into management really came about because I was tired of decisions involving nursing practice being made without a nurse’s voice at the table.  I thought by becoming a formal nurse leader, I could ensure that every conversation about patient care included a bedside nurse.

What do you love most about nursing?  I love the fact that you can be a nurse and completely change careers and still be a nurse.  The fundamental knowledge we gather along the way is applicable to any one of the many careers as a nurse, whether it be at the bedside in an acute care hospital, a school setting, homecare or working as a nurse in an industrial setting – all of these roles pull from the same skill set.  How many other professions do you know where you can have this type of mobility and still be able to do what you love.

Tell me your biggest concerns or pet peeves about nursing.  I have spent a good portion of my career encouraging nurses to speak up, to use their bold voice.  It has been discouraging sometimes to see the apathy.  I know there are nurses who feel they have stepped forward and no one has listened.  That brings me to my other concern, which is the challenge to find authentic leaders in decision-making positions.  There are many, but they are overshadowed by some who are not so great.  It saddens me to hear stories where nurse leaders do not “walk the talk.”

What throws you off balance and how do you know you are out of balance?  I am a pretty grounded person.  I have spent a lot of time in self-reflection and getting to really understand myself.  This provides me with a solid framework for dealing with challenges and opportunities.  I really know my core values and my strengths.  I also know and admit my weaknesses.  I find when I get off balance; it is because I have agreed to do something without completely thinking about whether it fits into my vision.

What brings you back into balance?  I journal using art, which I learned from Brene Brown and it has helped me to be able to sort things out quickly.  I also have four Newfoundland dogs and I always find comfort in their unconditional love.  And if those strategies do not work, I keep a file of wonderful notes people have sent me throughout my career and I pull it out and read a few.  Allowing you to accept meaningful recognition from people who matter is a very good feeling and brings me back to my center almost instantly.

Tell me about your most favorite nursing job and why.  My favorite “job” isn’t a position, rather it is the many opportunities I have been given to mentor and develop nurse leaders.  I have been blessed with many rising stars over the years and seeing them grow and lead – well, there is not greater reward.  I recently left a position confident the team in place would exceed what I had accomplished. 

You’ve spoken about the dangers of staying silent and the impact that has on patient safety. What advice do you have for nurses to speak out, particularly when they fear retaliation?  I cannot personally get my head around the fear of retaliation for speaking out.  But that is me.  And anyone who knows me understands that statement.  However, I know the fear is real.  I have traveled the country and heard first hand stories of just how ugly it can be.  I want nurses to take a moment to think about what is really important to them and when they find something that does not align with that picture, I want them to make the promise I made in 2003 when Connie Barden, then president of AACN asked an audience of thousands of nurses to sign her Bold Voice pledge.  In that pledge, she asked us to commit to three things:

Find something that is not working in the workplace

Engage others in conversation to find a solution

And not to give up until it was fixed.

These are my words, not Connie’s, but the content matches her speech.  We must engage in demanding excellence or we cannot really say we care about our patients.  And if retaliation occurs, report it.  If you have reported it all the way to the top, and by the top I mean the Board of Directors, and no one seems to care – then move onto to a place that does. 

What advice would you give to new grads starting out?  Embrace change and find acceptance that some of your older colleagues may like the merry-go-round and not the upside down, looping roller coaster.  But do not allow them to change who you are and work to help them understand it is okay to stop doing it the way we have always done it!  We need each other.  Everyone has talents.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Know your “value added” and bring it to every conversation about patient care.

Mary Bylone is a no-nonsense, inspiring and dynamic speaker and has an important message for all nurses to hear. To contact Mary or learn more about her, check out her website here.