NYEE Celebrates Nurses Week by Honoring a Healthcare Leadership Trail Blazer

In honor of Nurses Week, May 6-12, 2015, New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai’s Diversity Council would like to recognize Sonja Tennaro, RN, EdD, NEA-BC, FACHE, Senior Vice President, Clinical Operations and Chief Nursing Officer, NYEE, for her long and distinguished career as a woman in healthcare leadership.

Dr. Tennaro joined NYEE in 1994 and oversees a staff of 384 FTE’s. Thanks to her leadership, NYEE has received national recognition for excellence in nursing two consecutive times from the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (ANCC) Magnet Recognition Program®. Considered the gold standard, Magnet® Recognition designation is the highest recognition for nursing excellence, with less than eight percent of hospitals in the United States having received the designation.

Dr. Tennaro’s journey to becoming a Chief Nursing Officer is a testament to her education, professionalism, and nursing experience and may serve as a useful narrative for many nurses new to the profession.

When did you first know you wanted to become a nurse?
At 13, while acting as a candy striper volunteer in a hospital and from reading Nancy Drew’s novels.

Where did you attend nursing school?
Englewood Hospital School of Nursing-a diploma program and then I went on to Boston University and attained a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. I also achieved a Master of Arts and a Master of Education and a Doctorate in Education in the Nursing Organization Executive Role from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Achieved Advanced Nursing Executive certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center and fellowship in American College of Healthcare Executives.

What/where was your first nursing job out of school?
Staff nurse on a medical-surgical unit at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.

At what point did you get into hospital leadership/administration?
After one year I became an Assistant Head Nurse on a thirty-six bed medical-surgical unit.

As a woman, did you experience any difficulties in your career?
Most doctors were men and most nurses were women. In many cases, we were expected to give ours chairs in the nurses’ station to doctors when they came in to make rounds on their patients. I had to demonstrate competency to be viewed as credible and valued in order to be a partner in a patient’s care. In leadership as a Chief Nurse, I was usually the only woman on an all-male leadership team and also led a mostly female nursing team.

In your opinion, what has been the biggest positive change in healthcare since you started your career?
Including patients in their care decisions and involving families and significant others in teaching of self-care for the patient.

In your opinion, what has been a negative change in healthcare since you started your career?
Lack of time to support a patient’s psycho-social needs as part of the overall care plan.

What advice would you give a young nursing student now on how to succeed in the field?
Never to stop learning and applying their knowledge with a respect for the patient rights.

What is your happiest memory as a nurse?
Providing support to those in need and seeing hope rekindled.

How have you seen NYEE change over the last 20+ years?
When I arrived, there were three inpatient units. Patient care because of insurance changes changed to ambulatory. Therefore, we converted inpatient units for same day use. We had to improve our patient flow processes to facilitate timely throughput. Anesthesia approaches were amended to allow same day discharge. NYEE became merged with the former Continuum Health System and now with Mount Sinai Health System. We are now a seven hospital system participant creating a new energy. We achieved Magnet Nursing Recognition in 2009 and 2013.

What is your favorite part about being in hospital administration?
Being able to assist in creating a therapeutic, caring patient environment with a quality outcome.

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