Shelly Buck, M.B.A, NEA-BC (B.S. ’96/N), Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow and vice-president, patient care services/chief nurse executive at Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center (SFMC), believes in making your own rules if you believe something must change, even if that means “wearing a white suit and red shoes to a board meeting.”

Buck was the guest speaker at the School of Nursing in observance of Women’s History Month in a presentation hosted by the VCU School of Nursing’s Cultural Action Committee. She presented on the topic, “The Journey from Nurse’s Aide to Hospital Executive: A Woman’s Perspective” on Wednesday, March 26.

A VCU alumna, Buck shared that when she was younger, she didn’t consider the nursing field for her career path until she observed exceptional patient care that changed her perspective. Her life took a new direction when at seventeen she witnessed a nurse, whom Buck calls “an angel of mercy,” give empathetic care to an elderly woman who was dying alone at a nursing home. Buck described feeling angry and heartbroken for the elderly woman who had been abandoned by her family.  It was in this moment that Buck realized the impact nurses could have in someone’s life.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” Buck said.

Buck said she used the skills she gained from her nursing degree at VCU to become more than task-focused in providing patient care. In her first job as a registered nurse after graduation, she developed her role in the neuroscience ICU to focus on holistic health, the type of communication she used with patients and the management of care she provided.

“I realized that I had the power to challenge the rituals and processes within the health care setting and to look for new ways to improve the system.”

Buck was then called into the administration and leadership area of practice and has remained in it for more than two decades. In her current role as chief nurse executive at Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center, Buck acknowledged that she affects the way problem solving, relationship building and communication function at her level because executive-level positions are still primarily held by males. Buck said she believes that females entering into more leadership roles within the health care sector can elicit positive changes. She encouraged nurses to assert themselves, address issues within their work environment and strive for excellence.

“Don’t be afraid to fail or make your own rules and don’t settle for what isn’t right,” Buck said.

Buck is scheduled to graduate with a DNP degree from Old Dominion University in May.

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