1. Brandt, Doug
  2. Osterlund, Hob MS, RN, CHTP

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When Jeanette Wrona Klemczak was a girl, she dreamed of being a jet pilot with thoughts of cruising through the air, having the ability to "be out there and be free, take what comes and do what you can with it." But a personal tragedy, the loss of her best friend at the age of 10 to a brain tumor, made her realize that such a solitary enterprise was not for her.


"Soaring is more enjoyable when others come along for the ride," she says. "After the experience with Joanne's life and death, there was never a moment's doubt that nursing was the profession for me."


The entire state of Michigan now has reason to be grateful that her dream changed; in 2004 she became the state's first chief nursing executive, overseeing the recruitment and retention of nurses throughout the state, spearheading the formulation of policy and legislation, and providing a nursing perspective on all aspects of health care.


"The state needs an outstanding and experienced nurse like Klemczak working to attract, train, and retain dedicated health care professionals," says Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, who appointed her to the position. When nursing issues arise, Granholm says, "Jeanette will be the expert we turn to."


Klemczak's transition from aspiring pilot to aspiring nurse was supported by both of her parents. Her father, an engineer, researched the field and insisted that she receive her education at an academic institution rather than a hospital school of nursing, and Klemczak found her way to Mercy College of Detroit, where she earned her BSN in 1965, and eventually to Wayne State, also in Detroit, where she got an MSN in 1972. And for at least three and a half decades, she has also enjoyed the support and encouragement of her husband, who also happens to be an engineer.


Once a pilot . . . The mettle that would have made the pilot really never vanished. She was a natural leader, serving in various capacities at the state's Department of Community Health. In 1995 she became the director of faculty clinical practice at the Michigan State University (MSU) College of Nursing.


One of her first priorities in her new position has been to develop a strategic plan to deal with Michigan's nursing and health care issues. To accomplish this, she brought more than 30 nursing organizations together, using roundtable discussions and conference calls, to help nurses throughout the state establish common goals. Klemczak says she has been profoundly impressed with the collaborative spirit she's found. "They stayed at the table even if their pet issues didn't make it. They were willing to put their own interests on hold in favor of a larger agenda."


One of her most important challenges, of course, is dealing with the nursing shortage. "We'll be 7,000 RNs short by 2010. And that's after replacing those who have left and retired," she says. As in other states, one focus will be on preparing more teachers of nursing and keeping those posts filled. Given that nearly half of the nursing faculty in many schools are already eligible to retire, the state has needed to find creative ways to work with Michigan's hospitals. "We funded pilot projects to enable staff nurses to work as clinical faculty half-time and stay as staff half-time."


Under her leadership, Michigan allocated $20 million for Medicaid matching funds to expand or start 22 nursing programs. The Medicaid-funded projects also supported nine new or expanded second-degree programs, designed for those who have baccalaureates in nonnursing fields and want a nursing degree. "This has helped us increase the number of men in nursing," she says.


These efforts seem promising. "We're anticipating 300 new clinical faculty in the next six months and 1,200 new staff nurses in the next 12. If each teacher has 10 students, we'll have another 3,000 nursing students who can complete their clinical education requirements. It's a very good return on our investment."


Another critical issue in Michigan is long-term care. Klemczak is frank about the challenges. "Professional nursing has abandoned long-term care. We've lost our way. I don't know all the reasons for it, so we're focusing on major initiatives to find the right combination of services for our elderly." She envisions nursing faculty who encourage caring for the elderly and help find new delivery models. She's also focusing on the use of NPs to provide primary care and achieving greater prescriptive authority for those nurses in the near future.


An old pilot never dies. . . "I see myself as a work in progress," says Klemczak. "At this point in my development, I enjoy hearing many perspectives on an issue, teasing out the best of each, and working to find common ground."


Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Klemczak's son, RJ, wanted to fly planes, too. "At age three, he could name dozens of types of military planes. He so impressed the members of the Civil Air Patrol that they wanted to sign him up. I had to remind them he was only three." And maybe it should come as no surprise that RJ inherited his mother's ability to develop relationships and work with people. He's now an economist with the U.S. Department of Labor.


A National Nurse?

Why not, says a new grassroots movement.

Shortly after Nurses Week last May, an Op-Ed piece appeared in the May 20 New York Times calling for the appointment of a "national nurse" who would be a highly visible spokesperson, promoting health, highlighting the nurse's role in health care, and educating the public on prevention. Now the author of the piece, Teri Mills, an NP and teacher in Portland, Oregon, along with colleagues Terri Polick and Alisa Schneider are spearheading a campaign to promote the idea. For more information go to

FIGURE. Michigan gov... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, left, and Jeanette Wrona Klemczak, the state's first chief nursing executive, review the state's nursing agenda, a strategic plan for the nursing workforce in Michigan. Governor Granholm appointed Klemczak to the position in 2004, fulfilling a promise she'd made to constituents during her 2002 election campaign.