Nurse in chief

Nikki Nissen leads with gratitude and humility

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For more than a year, thousands of Novant Health nurses and other frontline workers have fought tirelessly to protect others from COVID-19. And Nikki Nissen has been the commander behind the scenes.

Nissen is chief nursing officer and vice president of clinical operations for Novant Health Medical Group. In her role, Nissen is responsible for nurses and the clinical team in the medical group systemwide, including certified medical assistants, lab and imaging professionals. She oversees workforce development, clinical process, patient engagement and more.

Nissen has been in the nursing profession for more 25 years, beginning as a cardiac nurse in Gulfport, Mississippi. Over the last year, her role has taken on special significance in the COVID-19 pandemic response. Nissen is proud of how her team has responded to the public health crisis in varying capacities, including testing and vaccination sites.

“What I found inspiring is the way our team members show up for each other,” Nissen said. “In the early days of testing patients outside, these team members were in a different position. Many were wearing personal protective equipment in the sun and leaning into cars. It’s been remarkable to see their effort.”

When her career changed forever: As a nurse, Nissen had worked in a variety of units – cardiology, intensive care, cardiothoracic, orthopedics and neurology – when she was elevated to a leadership role. Once, she was invited to be the director of emergency services.

At first, Nissen was unsure about the role. She didn’t believe she knew enough about emergency nursing to have a lot to offer the team, but her nurse leader saw it differently.

 “He said, ‘I don’t need you be an emergency nurse,” Nissen said. “He needed me to be a leader and a connector, to connect the group with other departments and build a bridge to them. I realized in that moment, just like other nursing – where I had the opportunity to take bedside skills from one specialty to another – it was the same with my leadership abilities.”

Today, her humility is an important part of her leadership during the pandemic, when information has been constantly evolving.

“As leaders, we’ve all collectively become more comfortable saying, ‘This is what we know right now,’” Nissen said. “I think stepping into vulnerability really helps leaders connect with their teams better,”

How she makes an impact: For several years, Nissen has participated in medical mission trips with Carolina Honduras Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides medical, ophthalmic and dental care in Honduras. Nissen enjoys being able to use her gifts to help others.

“While I’m there, I get to operate as a bedside nurse and get in touch with what I love about it,” Nissen said. “That really fills my cup.”

Meanwhile, in her role with Novant Health, Nissen is grateful for the opportunity to help others make a difference, too.

When I step back and think about the impact that I’m able to have in this role, I’d like to leave a legacy of helping clinical team members, imaging, lab, medical assistants, our nurses, and the medical group and, and get them what they need, so they ultimately can help way more patients than just I could help,” Nissen said. “I can deliver on that, even, even to an extent, I feel like I’ve done something.”

Her message for Novant Health team members: “I am beyond proud of our clinical teams across the system, but, in particular, those nursing teams in Novant Health Medical Group. The entire clinical team is keeping our communities connected to care by providing a safe place for them to receive the care they need. These teams are helping us chart our course through the storm.

In nearly every meeting or interaction, I share how proud and amazed I am by our nursing teams. From the parking lot to the front desk and exam room, you have been resilient through change after change, providing remarkable care for both our community, our patients and each other.

Thank you all for your sacrifices, dedication and compassion. I want you to know that I see you and see what you are doing to care for each other. I want you all to know that I and the entire NHMG leadership team are here to support you.”

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