My Specialty

Magnet Program Director, Gena Welch, Adventist Health Glendale

Providing leadership during the pandemic and beyond

Gena Welch smiling in scrubs and a white coat with a yellow wall in the background

Gena Welch, RN, BSN, PHN, CPN, CEN
Director of Magnet Program / Director of Clinical Practice & Education
Adventist Health Glendale

Your childhood had a big impact on your choice to become a nurse. Tell us about that.

I grew up on a farm in very rural Wisconsin. I had eight brothers and sisters — we were very impoverished and I don’t remember seeing a doctor until I was 12. Several of my aunts were nurses, and they were the ones who were called when someone was sick. I admired their knowledge and was inspired by their ability to help.

My brother was shot in a hunting accident. He lived, but he was badly injured. He was taken to a nearby house, where they incorrectly applied a tourniquet to his arm, causing further harm. When I heard the adults talking about it, I wanted to understand what should have been done instead.

Describe your nursing career trajectory.

I’ve been a nurse for 15 years. I began in pediatrics — general pediatrics, hematology-oncology, and med-surg. I then moved to the emergency department, where I learned what I had always wanted to learn: how to help in the most dire of situations.

After I had my son, I wanted to work closer to my home. My husband works in the professional skateboarding world and has had to travel a lot over the years, so I chose to take a position at the nearby Adventist hospital so I could accommodate his travel schedule.

I found that this community hospital truly recognizes talent and works with their staff to develop them professionally. My director in the ED at Adventist Health Glendale helped me identify and develop my abilities, so when advancement opportunities came along, I was ready.

What’s it like to be the director of the Magnet program?

Adventist Glendale is currently on our initial journey to Magnet designation. Our gap analysis was done in late 2019. At that time, we said, “We’re ready for this,” so we set an ambitious timeline and decided to move forward. I transitioned out of a previous role into being a first-time director. For better or worse, just after I accepted the position, the pandemic hit us hard. The Glendale area was one of the regional epicenters.

As the pandemic took off all around us, we assessed our PPE situation, performed fit testing and adapted to rapid changes as we learned more about caring for patients with COVID-19. I immediately began to develop a team nursing model for the hospital, in order to stretch our ICU capacity in anticipation of the coming surge.

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At first, I felt like I had conflicting priorities, but then I realized I had to look at embarking on the Magnet designation journey as a means to guide me through this challenging time. I used the Magnet manual as a strategic plan to get us through the pandemic by working to align all of the units and staff towards a common goal. It truly helped to bring everyone together.

It was a reminder that becoming a Magnet facility isn’t just some distant reward in the sky — it’s a way to transform how we do our work. As we made accommodations for this raging pandemic, that pivot fit perfectly with the Magnet process of pulling the facility into full cohesion.

Clinical nurses emerged as leaders who were responsible for teams and took care of each other as well as our patients. This inspired hope and pride in the work we were doing. Our nurses embraced the breadth of the crisis and demonstrated that they understood that it was their time to lean in and care for our community and each other.

You did all of this on top of being director of clinical practice and education?

Yes. Serving as director of clinical practice and education means that I’ve also been responsible for house-wide onboarding requirements, BLS [basic life support], ACLS [advanced cardiovascular life support] and everything else related to staff development and education. The Clinical Practice & Education department has been impacted in many ways. We’re constantly updating and educating on new practices, cross-training RNs, implementing team nursing and orienting travel nurses.

Was it hard to guide, educate and inspire nurses at such a fraught and difficult time?

For me, being a leader has more to do with inspiration than telling people how to do what they need to do. Part of transformational leadership is to find the intrinsic motivation in others and bring it out.

2020 was like giving a long series of TED Talks. I needed to provide the why behind what we were doing, captivate my “audience” of nurses, make it as fun and entertaining as I could, and hold it all together.

I love inspiring others to do that little bit more, to achieve, excel and provide motivation. I love the Adventist mission of living God’s love by inspiring health, wholeness and hope. That’s what I strive to do every day.

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What makes a leader able to pivot the way you did when the pandemic came crashing in?

Being curious! Instead of rushing to judgement of the situation, I try to assess what’s unfolding in front of me. I consider how people are responding, how I’m going to do certain things and how it’s going to impact our patients and our organization. I ask myself what will come from this situation and what opportunities and possibilities I might not have even thought of yet.

Many leaders think the onus is on them to figure it all out, but to do that, we have to check our assumptions at the door and seek the perspectives of key stakeholders. We need feedback and shared decision-making to open the door to those conversations.

What do nurses need to know in order to step into leadership?

Nurses can begin to step into leadership by volunteering to precept and mentor others. It’s also important to pay attention to outcomes, which are truly the endpoint of all nursing practice.

Nurses can also get familiar with their unit’s nursing-sensitive indicators, like patient experience, fall rates and hospital acquired conditions. Participate in activities that help the unit innovate ways to better protect patients.

Let your desire for advancement be known to those above you; being known and visible to your manager is important. Make the time to learn how the facility is run. Know the various key departments that clinical nurses don’t always pay much attention to, such as risk management, quality assurance, accreditation, research, policy and professional development.

Become involved in your unit-based council and learn how to govern the unit alongside your manager. These are all crucial to knowing what leadership is all about.

Mindset, character and personal integrity are central to becoming a strong leader, as is taking responsibility for your daily practice. Leaders can be both formal and informal, and embracing professionalism also means conducting oneself appropriately and considering how we affect others. It could be your tone of voice or how approachable you are to your patients. That’s where you can start. I like to remind nurses that we are scientists.

We assess, diagnose, plan, implement, evaluate and seek to build on what came before. We can also apply this to our career growth. Ask to attend a conference, create a poster, get involved in research and contribute your voice and talents to the ongoing institutional and professional conversation.

What are your career goals?

My goal is to earn a Ph.D. in nursing leadership. I hope to generate nursing evidence to demonstrate that nurses are an essential voice in science and public policy. I want to give back, serve as a CNO and inspire others as a nursing professor someday. However, being here at Adventist Glendale, doing what I’m doing, is the most fun and rewarding role I’ve ever had.

KEITH CARLSON, RN, BSN, CPC, NC-BC, has worked as a nurse since 1996 and has hosted the popular nursing blog Digital Doorway since 2005. He offers expert professional coaching for nurses and nursing students at

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