Get to know nurse Lynn Erdman. She is Vice President of Community Health for Susan G. Komen Global Headquarters and I got the chance recently to chat with Lynn about how she got started in her nursing career and what she sees as the reasons nursing and philanthropy go hand in hand.
MP3 Audio Podcast
Jamie: I’m here with Lynn Erdman, our Get-to-Know Nurse this month and, Lynn, thank you so much for being on Nursing Notes Live.
Lynn Erdman: Well, thank you for inviting me.
Jamie: So why don’t you take a few minutes and tell us, first of all, what encouraged you to become a nurse?
Lynn Erdman: My encouragement started during my college years. I actually served as an intern at a local hospital and wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I thought I would enjoy the health field like the sciences and my college education. By doing that, ended up working as a nursing aide or nursing assistant and really, really enjoyed and was in awe of what the nurses did with patients on the floor and how they interacted. That’s really what piqued my interest and caused me really to move in that direction.
Jamie: So where did you go to nursing school? Did you start off in a diploma program or did you move right in to a BSN program?
Lynn Erdman: I was in a BSN program. The first two years, obviously, I was looking – “What do I wish to do?” And so the way it was set up is the – you apply during your second year, your sophomore year, to be in the BSN program starting in your junior year. So that’s what I did. Taking all the preparatory courses. So I finished with a BSN the first time out.
Jamie: And then after you got your nursing degree and passed your boards, what was your career path from then on out? I know you’re an oncology nurse by profession now but did you start out in oncology care?
Lynn Erdman: I did not. I thought I wanted to be a NICU nurse or a Neonatal Intensive Care nurse and started in that area with working on the night shift as many young nurses do and actually really liked working with the small babies and working with their parents. But about six months into my stint there in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I got a call from the chief nursing officer, the Director of Nursing there at the large hospital where I was working and got a call to her office and I thought, “What have I done wrong?” As a novice nurse I thought it has to be – it can’t be something good.
But anyway I showed up in her office and she said, “I’m getting ready to start an Adult Oncology Unit at the hospital and I need a few energetic bright young nurses to help me start that area because there’s a lot of learning to do. If you will go work on that unit for six months, then you can choose anywhere in the hospital and any shift you wish to work. So being the young, naïve nurse that I was I thought, “Well, I can do anything for six months.” So I actually took the offer. I always credit her believing that she was wiser than I was and thought that I would have a passion for that area. I never looked back and I have continued in oncology since that time. So it’s been an amazing career and I really thank her for seeing the path more clearly than I could at that point in time.
Jamie: It’s amazing how the nursing leaders in our lives have really influenced our paths and that wisdom become so important as we look back and see where we are today.
Lynn Erdman: Oh, it is. It is. And I’m so grateful for them and try to share some of what I learned from many mentors in my life with the nurses that I encounter. Anytime a nurse calls me and says, “Can I come and spend some time with you? I want to see what it is you do.” That’s been in varying parts of my career. I’m always eager to say, “Oh, yes, absolutely. Come spend some time with me and let’s talk and let’s look at what options might be out there for you and how you could even grow what it is that you’re doing.”
Jamie: Now we talked before we got started recording that this month we’re focusing on Philanthropy and Nurse Volunteerism. I know that you became very active through, I guess, your processes as oncology nurse and learning about these things. There are a lot of opportunities for volunteering associated with fund-raising for cancer projects and things. Tell us a little bit about how you got steered in that direction.
Lynn Erdman: Sure. I was fortunate enough to be the founding director of Presbyterian Cancer Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was one of the first nurses in the country that had ever been given the opportunity to create a cancer center from the ground up. So that started me looking outside the walls of the hospital to see what organizations could we tap into and could we utilize or what volunteer groups could we utilize to help us not only in the fundraising and building that cancer center but also in putting the pieces together from everything from psychosocial support for the patient to support for the family and everything in-between.
So as I started reaching out, I realized that not only where there lots of groups willing to help but there were lots of places I could make a difference as well. And so that really started early on my volunteer opportunities. And so I volunteered with numerous organizations: the American Cancer Society, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the American Lung Association – just numerous different organizations that were related to cancer. I also found out that there were lots of opportunities that nurses really had not taken a role in with many of those. I was able to move in and actually encourage other nurses to come onboard and volunteer for many of the organizations.
I then ended up being able to, in a volunteer role, serve on many of the boards at the national level including the Oncology Nursing Society but also many cancer-related boards such as the American Cancer Society and the Association of Community Cancer Centers and that type of thing. And as I was doing a lot of that. Again, I did not see a lot of nurses in those same role so began encouraging nurses to put their toe in the water and really volunteer and then step up and offer to be on committees and to take positions that needed leadership in a particular way that nurses really could fill that niche.
Jamie: What is it about nurses that makes it vital for them to become involved at these organizational levels rather than just as an individual volunteer
Lynn Erdman: I think it’s our desire to give back or certainly that was the crux for me developing that interest. I certainly think nursing has a huge component of that giving back and wanting to help others as part of the make-up of what a nurse really is. This enabled me to take that beyond the nursing profession and out into the community as well.
Jamie: And it has given you opportunities to advance professionally because you are now the vice-president of Community Health for the Susan G. Komen Global headquarters. Tell us a little bit about how you led in that direction.
Lynn Erdman: Certainly. Well, I worked in a hospital setting and I work as a clinical nurse specialist and then as a hospital administrator and a hospital senior-level vice-president but then during my volunteer work with, actually, several organizations, I was recruited to the American Cancer Society about seven years ago and to actually start a new position that they had created there. And so I went to the American Cancer Society first and was able to use lots of my skill sets and a broader population of patients.
So that really intrigued what I was doing and then was recruited about – within the last, a little over a year, to Susan G. Komen. What that’s allowed me to do is really take my interests in working with women with cancer and really specialize and hone my skills and my expertise in the area of breast cancer in particular. So allowing me to work at Susan G. Komen, I get to oversee all of our community grants that are given out and around the country. So those are the grants that impact patients directly.
We have about 2,000 of them that are given out and it’s close to $100 million. So to be able to have a nursing impact on that and therefore a patient impact has really been one of the greatest gift that I’ve been given. It’s remarkable to see the difference that we’re able to make from a particular standpoint of being in a voluntary organization that has large-scale impact not only in this country but really around the world.
Jamie: And you really even though you’ve moved away from bedside direct care, you still have a very real impact on patient outcomes.
Lynn Erdman: Correct. I do. I have a measurable input and outcome for what happen to patients because everything is measured and evidence-based and that makes me truly excited. But the other thing that is extremely interesting within this is I’m also responsible for all the educational materials that are created at Susan G. Komen as well as our Breast Helpline. So if patients call in to our helpline, if there are really challenging situations on the other end of the phone, a lot of times I’ll get call. We talk to this patient and I have to admit that brightens my day every time that happens. And it happens pretty routinely and I love the connection with tying in with the patient and just helping them in a crisis situation really think through what their options are. Not telling them what to do but really helping them realize they’re in control of what happens and here are several things that they can think through and ask their physician or their nurse practitioner or whoever maybe caring for them as they go back. So it’s helping put them in the driver’s seat and I like that aspect of it too.
Jamie: Yes, still applying these core tenets of basic nursing care even in a tele-health setting like that. It must be very gratifying.
Lynn Erdman: Correct. It is extremely gratifying.
Jamie: So tell us a little bit about how you see nurses in the future becoming more involved as more volunteer opportunities present themselves. I see nurses involved in everything from their local churches as parish nurses volunteering their time with their communities there. All the way up through organizing large fundraising efforts for things like Susan G. Komen. What is it that you see are opportunities that nurses should be on the lookout for moving forward?
Lynn Erdman: I think that our healthcare system is going to be burgeoning in the future. We know that baby boomers are certainly hitting that age when indeed not only are they aging but more diseases are going to hit that population. And I’m not sure we’re even going to have enough of a healthcare system, nurses included, to be able to take care of what’s getting ready to be kind of avalanche in healthcare in the next 20 to 25 years.
And so what I see is nurses have a real opportunity to help not only volunteer in certain areas that are needed within the community but even creating new opportunities for volunteerism that might be needed, that nobody can see yet. But the nurse that’s at the bedside or that’s in the healthcare clinic sees with her lens or his lens – “Oh, my goodness, I can see the train wreck ahead of us.” And if we start this now in the community, then we’ll be prepared by the time it hits. So I think that nurses have a unique ability to see what’s happening often before others do because of the place and the role they hold in healthcare. So if they use that to the proper ability, then we can help make a change for what’s happening in this country going forward.
Jamie: As we wrap up here, Lynn, just tell us a little bit about what you’d like your volunteer efforts to leave as a legacy. Because volunteerism often is about going above and beyond and doing that little bit extra. Do you see yourself as leaving that kind of footsteps behind you that others can follow in?
Lynn Erdman: I would love to leave footsteps that others can follow in. I think that would be a great, indeed, a great legacy and I do think that nurses have the ability to do that whether you do it outside of your time that you are working or whether it’s part of even the philanthropy work that you do for your profession. You have the opportunity to do that. And, yes, I think that creating something that truly allows us in the volunteer area to be not only evidence-based which is a new world for the volunteer community but also have the ability to track and trend what is done so that we know the impact that’s being made also makes a huge difference.
I encourage nurses to volunteer any and everywhere they can whether it’s their church or – I’m a volunteer at my church as the nurse once a month. So I run kind of health/sick room and that’s a simple way to give back. But then I also volunteer with the Charlotte Rescue Mission in Charlotte, North Carolina that helps both men and women get a new start in life when they’ve had problems with drug and alcohol abuse which is totally outside of the realm of oncology but it’s an incredible way to be able to give back and to make an impact in people’s lives that are truly struggling and also use our healthcare system as well.
Jamie: So really volunteering can even be an opportunity for you to explore other passions in nursing and healthcare.
Lynn Erdman: Actually, it can, and it may turn nurses on to something that they didn’t realize they had a passion for or even a skill set for. I have found that everything that I have done in my volunteer career throughout my professional career has led to opportunities for me to grow in certain areas and to add new skills and to really quench that hunger and thirst for learning that I think all nurses share.
Jamie: Well, Lynn, I want to thank you again for taking these few minutes to sit down with me and talk about your experiences as a volunteer and share those experiences with our audience here on Nursing Notes Live.
Lynn Erdman: You are very welcome and I certainly wish you the best and thank you for having me as a guest.