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AORN Blog - The Periop Life

3 OR Leadership Connections to Get Ahead

OR Leadership 
June 27, 2021

When Missi Merlino, MHA, RN-BC, CNOR, CSSM(E), had reached the pinnacle of her leadership options in her small-town periop practice setting, she remained eager for greater challenges along with opportunities to support the profession on a larger scale.

She began pursuing volunteer leadership opportunities through her local AORN chapter and connected nationally by serving on committees and task forces. This work, along with writing for AORN Journal, eventually propelled her to the national ballot when she was elected to serve on the board of directors and, in 2019, as president of AORN. These experiences led her to become a mentor as well.  

OR Leaders 
Left: Lisa Bailey, BSN, BS, RN, CNOR; Right: Missi Merlino, MHA, RN-BC, CNOR, CSSM(E)

“Servant leadership is in the very fabric of who a nurse is, and we can find creative ways to connect with mentors and foster our own leadership growth through volunteering with our professional association,” she suggests.

Her colleague, Lisa Bailey, BSN, BS, RN, CNOR, found similar leadership development support through AORN volunteer opportunities that also led to national volunteer work with AORN, including her role on AORN’s Nominating Committee and now as a member of the Board of Directors. “A mentor really sparks your interest in advancement and encourages work toward leadership opportunities,” Bailey says.

Drive Your Leadership Development

To step beyond your clinical role to become a leader of influence, Merlino and Bailey recommend focusing on building the right connections, starting with the leaders you admire and who will support your ambition. To do this, it’s important to understand these different leadership connections.

Preceptor— If you are a novice nurse, start with your preceptor. While not every preceptor will be the right fit for a long-term connection, the key is to be open to clinical wisdom you can gain that will help you advance professionally.

Coach—Coaching takes the concept of a preceptor to a deeper level beyond clinical knowledge transfer to a focus on performance improvement.

Mentor—Being mentored helps to focus on broader career advancement and more practical leadership skills.

Bailey and Merlino agree that finding a mentor is an important way for perioperative nurses to advance into leadership roles. On the flip side, being a mentor ensures succession planning for the next generation of nurse leaders.

Find Your Leadership Champion

Your clinical setting is the first place to look for a mentor to help you grow. This can start with your preceptor; however, don’t limit yourself to your practice setting.

“The key to finding a good mentor is connecting both professionally and philosophically,” Bailey suggests. To find a coach or mentor beyond your practice setting, she says to look for volunteer opportunities that offer these benefits:

  • leadership growth
  • professional support
  • education
  • peer involvement

Merlino found a mentor in her Perioperative Director who paved the way to expand her AORN volunteer leadership journey. “In our combined work to advance our professional association, I found a like-minded nurse colleague working at a more advanced professional level who I built a trusted relationship with that remains today.”

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