Aug. 17, 2020

'We don't need to compromise between quality care versus the business of health care' says clinical nurse educator

2020 Year of the Nurse and the Midwife: Winnie Tam, BComm’05, BN’09

In January of 2019, the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) designated 2020 as the first ever “Year of the Nurse and the Midwife,” in honour of the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

UCalgary Nursing will be celebrating the year with a variety of activities including a monthly series of reflections on the past and future of nursing and health care from our nursing community.


Nurses are a force to be reckoned with, says Winnie Tam, BComm’05, BN’09.

“We have such a large collective voice working towards one goal,” she says, “to change the status quo and improve the lives of those around us and those we care for.

“Nurses have a unique vision and understanding of health-care delivery and patient care best practices.”

An RN of 11 years with a business education and a freshly minted master’s degree in health leadership and policy from UBC, Tam has a unique perspective on the potential of nurses and a definitive outlook on their role at the policy table.

What is the legacy of Florence Nightingale to the next generation of nurses?
“As Florence Nightingale, affectionately known as ‘the lady of the lamp,’ lit the way forward for the nursing profession, I believe that all nurses have the capacity to light new paths to actualize the ideal vision we all have for health care. Yet many of us face complex challenges, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles overwhelm us, discourage us and play into our fears and insecurities about a status quo that will never budge.

I know this struggle personally, but I encourage nurses to not let these challenges dim their spark and lose sight of what’s at stake. Health care relies on us to shine upon it with our talents and strengths when darkness shrouds.”

We hold the power to inspire and make changes even in the face of adversity each and every patient expects this of us. We as nurses need to light the way toward health-care transformation into the future just as Florence Nightingale did for us.

What’s one thing you’d like to see happen in 2020 to advance the profile of nursing?
“Nurses are well-positioned to be leaders, but oftentimes we don't feel we have a voice at the table because we don't realize that health care is a business. To truly have a voice, we need to encourage nurses to learn the business side of health care; they need to understand finance, strategy, and operations. We are in such a unique position to understand how all of these factors affect the delivery of quality care.

Nurses need to build these skills in order to effectively have that voice at the leadership table. As a nurse educator, my vision is to see business and strategy concepts laced into nursing curriculum and training programs.”

Boosting leadership and influence is one key message from the WHO. What leadership qualities do you think you bring to the profession?
“Having a business degree definitely brought a refreshing perspective when I went into nursing. At the time, I don't think anyone in health care was ready for this. There seems to be an outdated belief that there is no room for 'business' in a caring profession and that business and nursing's values are divergent. Being a nursing leader is about being brave enough to bring new ideas to the table even when people are not ready to hear it — I tend to be a squeaky wheel like this.”

It took me years to establish my clinical experience, but it has taken years more to promote the idea that we don't need to compromise between quality care versus the business of health care.

What is nursing’s next big idea?
“Nursing innovation and entrepreneurship, this is the future of nursing! How can nurses from all areas and walks of life come together to brainstorm ideas to solve everyday issues in health care? There is a forum for that: it’s called a hackathon! I recently attended a nursing hackathon hosted by Johnson & Johnson and worked with my modern nursing hero Rebecca Love, a renowned nurse innovator and entrepreneur. (I highly recommend watching her TEDTalk.)

Imagine, 300 nurses in one room over a weekend. We brainstormed, we formed teams, and then we pitched ideas to mentors and entrepreneurs who were willing to help scale these ideas into viable health-care solutions. That was not the end of it, though; I loved the idea so much that a University of British Columbia classmate and I ran our own Health-care Hackathon within our faculty during our master’s program. It was such a hit and the ideas were incredible.”

What’s one thing most people don’t know about nurses or one stereotype you’re often correcting?
I am always correcting nurses when they say ‘I’m just a nurse’ or ‘I’m only a nurse.’ We need to change the conversation around how we view ourselves.

It’s time to redefine what it means to be a nurse on our own terms. ‘I am a nurse,’ unapologetically and unequivocally.

Describe a career highlight.
Finally being able to consolidate my business and nursing experience when I completed the Master of Health Leadership and Policy program at the University of British Columbia this year!