1. Section Editor(s): Rust, Jo Ellen MSN, RN, Column Editor

Article Content

NAME: Mary Fran Tracy, PhD, RN, CCRN, CCNS, FAAN


CURRENT POSITION: Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist, University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, Minneapolis, Minn; Adjunct Faculty, University of Minnesota School of Nursing, Minneapolis, Minn




PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION: BSN, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa; MS and PhD, Major in Nursing, Minor in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn



Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

Mary Fran Tracy, PhD, RN, CCRN, CCNS, FAAN, is President of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) Board of Directors for 2006-2007. AACN, the world's largest specialty nursing organization, has been serving the needs of nurses caring for acutely and critically ill patients since 1969. Representing the interests of more than 400,000 nurses who care for acutely and critically ill patients, AACN is dedicated to creating a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients and their families, where acute and critical care nurses make their optimal contribution. AACN defines acute and critical care nursing as that specialty within nursing that deals with human responses to life-threatening health problems. AACN also has a large membership contingent of Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialists.


Tracy is a Critical Care Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview in Minneapolis and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota's School of Nursing. A member of AACN since 1990, she was a member of the AACN Board of Directors from 2001 to 2004, serving as secretary from 2002 to 2004. She is also a past member of the AACN Certification Corporation Board of Directors, as well as a member and past president of the Greater Twin Cities Chapter.


What first motivated you to become a CNS?

My older sister, Elizabeth Schacht, is a psychiatric CNS and I admired her. In her CNS role, she not only worked with patients in a different way, but also with nursing staff to improve care on a broader level. From the time I entered nursing school I knew I wanted to follow in her path to become a CNS. I did take a slightly different turn, though, into medical and critical care!


What, if any, professional or career issues did you face early in your career as a CNS?

The most prominent thing I remember was the feeling of being an "imposter." I think all new CNSs wonder whether they have the skills needed and fear they may be lacking when it comes to leading others. Thankfully, I had great colleagues and supervisors who guided me and helped me gain the confidence with the realization that no one knows it all. Resources and colleagues are our best friends!


What are the current professional concerns or needs of CNSs and Critical Care CNSs in particular?

I think Acute and Critical Care CNSs have some unique concerns as well as concerns that are similar to members of all professional organizations. CNSs in all specialties are working to articulate our unique contributions to patient outcomes and to make our practice more visible in healthcare systems.


Like all healthcare providers, Acute and Critical Care CNSs are experiencing change fatigue. There are multiple complex issues and initiatives are being implemented at a rapid pace, with CNSs frequently providing the leadership for these new initiatives. It is a challenge to keep focused on priorities that will improve patient care. In addition, the acute and critical care environment has CNSs constantly working to stay ahead of rapidly evolving technology and the impact it has on patient outcomes and nursing care delivery.


What motivated you to be an active participant in the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and what helped you to reach the position president?

I first became an active member of AACN when a colleague asked me if I would consider running for the position of secretary of our local AACN chapter. I was honored to be asked to serve and when I was elected, I discovered the wonderful opportunity of meeting and networking with fellow critical care nurses. A colleague, Sue Sendelbach, now the president-elect of National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, nominated me for a national AACN board position. After being elected to the board, I served in multiple capacities-director for 3 years, secretary for 2 years, and director on the AACN Certification Corporation Board for 2 years. I was grateful for the wonderful professional development opportunities and believed I could offer my skills as president to continue to serve and give back to the organization.


Serving as a national leader in a professional organization, what competencies or experiences as a clinical nurse specialist help you in fulfilling your responsibilities as president of AACN? Which CNS competencies benefit you most in serving in this capacity?

I believe there are many CNS competencies that are helpful in professional organization leadership, but a few that are especially important. CNSs are skilled at systems thinking-looking at the overall picture and exploring all aspects of an issue while using data to analyze and focus on specific elements. Another essential skill is collaboration. CNSs are committed to working with and facilitating teams of people with diverse perspectives to find common ground and build consensus. In addition, I believe CNSs are skilled communicators in various ways-verbally, in written communication, and in active listening. This skill is essential in a healthcare environment where it is easy to have misunderstandings and miscommunication. This skill set supports a CNS in a leadership role in professional organization where the goal is usually to move the membership to new, innovative ways of thinking.


What do you see as opportunities for AACN and NACNS to collaboratively meet the needs of our respective members?

AACN and NACNS have been and will continue to collaborate on issues that are of significant importance to the community of CNSs, including several initiatives involving advanced nursing education, certification, and regulation. What guides this work is the goal of improved patient safety and evidence-based nursing practice.


To date, what do you perceive as your greatest accomplishments as a CNS?

I would hope that others would agree that my ability to collaborate and role model expert nursing practice is my greatest accomplishment. I believe that there are always ways to build bridges and collaborate, working through differences respectfully.


What advice would you give a new clinical nurse specialist starting out in the role?

I have been fortunate to be the recipient of great mentoring throughout my career-people who have guided and counseled me and encouraged me to do more than I ever thought I was capable of. I would encourage new CNSs to find a mentor-in your institution, your community, or even a virtual mentor outside your region. Look for someone you connect with and who can give you honest feedback and encouragement. Then, as you progress in your career, I would encourage you to pay it back by mentoring another. As you can see by how I got started on my path in AACN, personal connections can be enormously helpful in maximizing your potential and being the best CNS you can be for your patients.