There are 4.8 million nurses in the United States today with a mean yearly wage of $81,000 –the nation’s largest healthcare profession. The Fed projects that more than 200,000 new registered nurse positions will be created each year for the next 5 years. And the woman who leads them all never dreamed of having a career, let alone to represent all of nurses in the United States as CEO and President for the National League for Nursing. Growing up in a segregated Kentucky community, although her girlhood ambitions included higher education, Dr. Beverly Malone had a more attainable goal in mind: “When I was younger I wanted nothing but to graduate from college, and to be able to have a washer and dryer,” Malone laughed.
In those early days, Dr, Malone didn’t think so big. Nursing was not her dream or expectation for her future. As the eldest of seven kids, caring for others came naturally, instilled by her grandmother’s unofficial role as a healer and health care worker in the black community. Her modest ambitions were to follow in those footsteps. Yet her journey took her to the very highest level of nursing.
She never anticipated serving her country in the Federal Government (as deputy assistant secretary for health under President Bill Clinton) providing public health advice to a nation, yet from her position as president of the American Nurses Association to her experience overseas as general secretary for the UK’s Royal College of Nursing, Malone has certainly achieved milestones beyond most people’s wildest dreams.
Given all of her success, her humility is astonishing. While being a “first” is exciting, her
priority as a pioneer is ensuring that she is not the last. “My obligation is to make sure the door remains open, that I don’t close it behind another person, another woman, another nurse,” says Malone, “That I make sure I say to them, there’s plenty of room here. I don’t have to be the only one. Come on in.”
Dr. Malone is one of those rare people who was impacted by everybody she met. “ I was fortunate to cross paths with so many people who saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself, who saw leadership in me as well as advocacy, and I was always amazed because, although I had good grades, I love to study, I enjoyed it. It was not like a hardship, it was something that I totally, totally enjoyed, so I never quite understood why people were so interested in me. My fourth grade teacher told me unequivocally that I was smart like my mother and like my grandmother, and she had taught both of them. And, you know, in my rural black community, I was in a segregated school. And so the teacher I had went to church with me, I saw her every Sunday and she reinforced my confidence in my intelligence because I saw that my mom was smart. I knew my grandmother was smart. So the fact that she said I was like them—I never questioned that. And I was blessed in that I have had a mentor for every step in my career. I’ve had female mentors I’ve had male mentors. I’m a psychiatric mental health nurse, so I have those who are psychiatric mental health nurses; I’m a clinical psychologist so I have mentors who are clinical psychologists; I have mentors for every part of who I am and what I want to be, When you receive so much, how can you dare not give back?!! My dissertation was on mentoring and I have been playing that forward all of my life…it’s in my blood.”
“To have mentors with X-ray vision, who can see things in you that you would never even think about for yourself, and to find some ways to give it back has been a lifelong privilege.
While many view climbing the career ladder as a race to the top, Malone has a bigger view–the importance of women helping women—instilled in her from childhood by the mentors in her life. Yes, by her grandmother but also by the 6th grade teacher who made a tremendous impression upon her. “Up to the sixth grade, all of my teachers were black, and then at the sixth grade we integrated the schools in Kentucky. So I went into a school that had mostly white teachers, and one of my white teachers taught me English. She saw something in me, she anticipated that I could have a big career. And so, even when I graduated from my elementary program and went to high school, She would meet me in the city courtyard around that courthouse in Kentucky, and she would look at my report card, and she would give me money rewards: 50 cents for every A that I got. I mean this is a my sixth grade teacher who nurtured a relationship for five years and in the 11th grade was still looking at my report card, and evaluating how well I was doing. How lucky I was to have had those wonderful kinds of people interested in and caring about me.
Their examples taught Dr. Malone the impact a good leader could make and gave her a mantra: Malone’s key to success–the three Ps.
Purpose, power, and passion.
“You need a purpose,” Malone explains. “You need a focus, you need a Northstar, you need a sense of where you’re going. And you need to lead.”
The power aspect, he says, is the one women seem to struggle with the most. “Female executives are often caught in a balancing act between being too amenable and too assertive, something that men don’t have to take into account.” Malone defines Power as being able to move an object from point A to point B, or to implement the actions that turn this goal into reality. Part of this power, Malone says, is realizing that you don’t need to be a one-woman show. Transitioning from clinician to healthcare executive, Dr. Malone went from caring for patients herself to educating other nurses to do the same. Though her experience may have become less hands-on, she knew that accomplishing her overall goal of providing quality care was worth far more than any individual feat.
“My job is to help [patients] move out of that hospital system to a healthy place,” Malone said. “ Is Bev Malone the only one to do it? Absolutely not. I can do it through others, and that’s the true meaning of leadership. My focus needs to be how can I transform what I do and share it with as many people as possible. If you’re any kind of leader worth your salt, you will work through other people.”
And finally, Passion: the inner inspiration that springs from the core. “The people that we serve, they know when you really care–caring promotes health healing and hope in response to the human condition, and so it’s not just inspiring the nurses, it’s inspiring the people we serve,” Malone says.
Yet despite her vast success she knows that the climb wasn’t easy. Attending the University of Cincinnati, Malone was often plagued with feelings of self-doubt, Sitting in class and reflecting on her performance, she felt at times as though she didn’t belong, as if she was an imposter.
“I kept thinking, I wonder if somebody is going to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, I don’t know how you got in, but you’re not supposed to be here,’ Malone said.
Yet as time went on, she gained confidence in herself. She internalized the ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ mentality, and used this to validate her high standings. “I don’t know when [self doubt] left me,but at some point it must be like some kind of little bug that decided to jump off and say ‘you have done so many different things with your life that you didn’t even know were possible… that this thing is bigger than you,” Malone said. “Understand that you’re here for a bigger purpose than you even understand.”
Two weeks into her doctoral program, Malone was faced with yet another obstacle: juggling her education while caring for a two-year old and a two-week old. While she describes that chaos as one of the most difficult periods of her life, she feared that if she withdrew from school, she would never re-enter. She laughs as she recalls nursing her son, merely three months old at the time, in her psychology class. “As women, we are so good at taking care of business, and that’s what I love about being a woman.” Malone said. “We conquer things that nobody else will even try to tackle.”
Though she admits that it can be difficult to maintain this optimism, especially during a global pandemic, Dr. Malone stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people that want to see you succeed, and an end goal that you believe in.
As she reflects on her past obstacles, obstacles that would have been roadblocks to most, her positivity and warmth radiates even through a small, pixelated Zoom screen. “You can never be defeated,” Malone says “You can be delayed, but you can’t be defeated.”
If you’d like to read the actual transcript of Jamie Fischer’s and Elaine Taylor-Gordon’s up close and personal interview with Dr Beverly Malone, just click here!
“The National League for Nursing boasts a remarkable past, an exceptional present, and a shared, transformative future. With purpose, power, and passion, we bring the League’s mission and core values to life.”
Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN
President & CEO, National League for Nursing
Dedicated to excellence in nursing, the National League for Nursing is the premier organization for nurse faculty and leaders in nursing education. The NLN offers professional development, networking opportunities, testing services, nursing research grants, and public policy initiatives to its 40,000 individual and 1,200 institutional members. NLN members represent nursing education programs across the spectrum of higher education, health care organizations, and agencies.