The Hub ICN welcomes Dr. Michelle Acorn as inaugural chief nurse

ICN welcomes Dr. Michelle Acorn as inaugural chief nurse

This year, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) will usher in its first Chief Nurse: Dr. Michelle Acorn. Acorn is a Doctor of Nursing Practice and instructor in the Faculty of Health Disciplines at Athabasca University.

She has also previously served as the Provincial Chief Nursing Officer in Ontario and co-chaired the national Principal Nursing Advisors Task Force. Recently, AU caught up with Acorn to discuss the significance of this new role, and what she hopes to accomplish in it.

How it all began

Acorn credits the nurse who helped deliver her—whom she shares a name with—for inspiring her nursing career.

“When I was younger, I did a placement in a care home,” she said. “I was caring and compassionate and enjoyed health and science. It just seemed natural and a privilege to care for people and populations.”

She graduated as a registered nurse (RN) at the age of 20 and later transitioned from a nursing diploma to a post-doctorate scholarship. She worked as a full-time RN while continuing her professional development, starting in the emergency department, becoming a clinical educator leader, then a nurse practitioner (NP), and finally a professional practice leader.

Acorn joined AU in 2020 as an instructor, with the focus of her research being on NP-led models of care as the most responsible provider.

What it means

With her local, regional, and national experience to draw from, being appointed to the position of ICN Chief Nurse is an opportunity for Acorn to influence change from a strategic and transformational leadership lens on the world stage.

“I’m looking forward to getting down into the micro-macro-meso lens of understanding and truly contextualizing realities,” she said. “More importantly,  I’m looking forward to embedding a nursing and health lens, and using levers for population and professional health moving forward.”

“I am a nurse practitioner and think it is highly important to uphold your advanced practice dimensions, including clinical. It keeps you relatable, relevant, credible and fosters confidence ‘on the ground’. Strategy, decision making, and working with people, families, teams, communities inform exemplars, stories, and influences policy.”

“Early career nurses can realize their career path trajectories can include leadership as a manager and clinician. I’ve been very deliberate and purposeful to make sure that I ground myself in all the advanced practice domains,” she said.

Her new role as ICN’s Chief Nurse makes her responsible for their nursing and health policy work, but Acorn has her own goals as well.

“I want to influence global impact for the nursing and health workforce for investment, full integration, and system sustainability. I am envisioning nurses who are fully enabled, empowered, and ensuring quality care and safety as a driver. Professional pride, global respect, and professional contributions are paramount for recruitment, retention, recognition, and resilience in the workforce,” she said.

“Decent working conditions, safety, professional wellness, nurse-led models of care, and leadership formally and informally are key. Tailoring supports for novice to expert, to suit students, early- mid- and mature/late careers can delay nurses from leaving the profession prematurely. Nurses who are thought leaders and influencers to build capacity and recovery momentum from the COVID impact are essential.”

The path forward

To Acorn, one role in nursing doesn’t have greater value over another.

“Your career trajectory should be whatever suits your needs, your communities, and populations,” she said. “When you start your career as a clinician, you focus on the clinical realm and may not devote time for leadership development.”

However, she also believes nurses can, and should, be flexible based on need.

“I would advise nurses to go out of their normal sector or setting to meet different people outside of nursing and sit on committees, councils and get involved in associations. You can be introduced to different ways of thinking and mentorship that you have not contemplated. Positional power and authority may not align with having the competence, confidence, conviction, and connections for change.”

As a final note, Acorn feels that nurses must establish a brand for themselves. They must show they are individuals and professionals contributing to legacies and providing added value. Knowledge translation and showcasing what and how nurses contribute is paramount.

““This is a wonderful opportunity for us, let’s make a difference together.””

To learn more about Acorn’s research or the Nurse Practitioner program at AU, visit the faculty website.

  • June 22, 2021