Cockroft Leadership Program fulfills founder's vision

Amy V. Cockcroft was a leader in nursing, always pushing for better-educated and better-prepared nurses and then for nurses who were ready to take on leadership positions. 

It’s why she established the College of Nursing’s Nursing Leadership Development program more than 20 years ago, to provide nurses with the skills, strategies, knowledge and techniques in becoming successful health care leaders within a generation of rapid change.

“We must continue to develop strong nursing leaders who are not afraid to make a difference … who have a voice, and understand that they play an important role in our culture, communities, legislation and the financial arenas in our workplaces,” Cockcroft said during the program’s early years. 

A native of Italy who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Cockcroft was the College of Nursing’s first dean from 1957 to 1969. She remained active in the leadership program she created until her death in 2007. 

The Amy V. Cockroft Leadership Development Program took a brief hiatus during the recession several years ago but has returned with a class of 16 fellows who graduated in March 2016. 

“Dean Cockroft knew that nurses would be called upon even more in the future to take the lead in health care,” says center director Lydia Zager, a graduate of the program herself. “And she was right. Nurse leaders are at the forefront, leading changes in health care delivery and policy.”

The leadership group meets five times a year for three-day intensive sessions. They complete a project presented at graduation that supports the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine’s Report on the Future of Nursing.

“What we hear most about the program is not just what the fellows learned, but the value of a yearlong fellowship and lifelong relationships with their peer group,” Zager says. 

In addition to the bond with other fellows, the key takeaway for participants is learning their own leadership style — learning how to lead with their strengths and build teams to meet challenges.

“I had a number of ‘Aha!’ moments,” says Jan Bellack, who was in that first class of 12 fellows in 1995. President of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute of Health Professions and editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed “Journal of Nursing Education,” Bellack also has held many leadership roles in nursing education both in and out of South Carolina. 

Nurse leaders are at the forefront, leading changes in health care delivery and policy.

Lydia Zager, director of the Nursing Leadership Development program

Her first epiphany came when watching videotape of herself interacting with a businessman who was talking with the group about leadership. “I learned that I would hesitate in relating to male authority figures,” Bellack says. “It was very helpful to become aware of that. It was part of my upbringing. You never let go of those things, but you learn how to manage around them.”

Another moment of realization for Bellack came when the session leaders pointed out a strength. “She said to me, ‘You have a remarkable ability to reframe issues so that others can understand them,’” Bellack recalled. “Knowing that helps me leverage it in certain situations.”

Bellack says the skill is essential for nurses helping overwhelmed families understand what is going on during a health crisis so they can make good decisions.

“We are getting away from the idea of the physician as the captain of the team,” Bellack says. “Nurses are the linchpin in health care teams.”

For Ruth Mustard, associate director for nursing/patient services at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, the program was the key to her transition from nurse manager to chief nursing officer. “It was a real turning point for me,” Mustard says. “It was the best program that focused on me as a nursing leader.”

The only thing missing from the leadership program curriculum, Bellack says, is Amy Cockcroft herself.

“One of the treats for our classes was that Amy Cockcroft was there,” Bellack says. “She was just such a wonderful role model.”

Learn more

To apply for the Amy V. Cockcroft Leadership Program, email director Lydia Zager or program assistant Cristina Corbett. For more information, visit the Amy V. Cockcroft website.

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