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The Changing Face of Leadership with AORN’s president-elect Vangie Dennis

January 27, 2022


The Changing Face of Leadership with AORN’s president-elect Vangie Dennis


Vangie Dennis planned to retire in February of 2021. That would have been the easiest, and perhaps safest, path to take considering we were a year into a global pandemic.  

But Dennis was quick to admit a simple truth to herself: she was not yet ready to go. 

“I went through the biggest struggle you have ever seen,” said Dennis, Assistant VP of Perioperative Services at AnMed Health and president-elect of AORN (Association of perioperative Registered Nurses).  

What happens next illustrates that being a mentee never ends, even for those at the highest levels of perioperative leadership. Dennis called one of her mentors, Ruth Shumaker, past president of AORN, for some advice. 

“I told her I did not really feel like I wanted to retire, but everyone says when you get to this age, that’s what you do,” Dennis said. “She told me, ‘Look, it’s very obvious that you’re not ready.’ And it clicked for me. And then, lo and behold, I have this amazing opportunity at [AnMed]. I interviewed on a Monday and was offered the job that Wednesday. I told my husband we’re moving to Anderson, SC. And it’s truly the best move I’ve made in my entire career. I absolutely adore my team and my leader, the COO.” 

In an exclusive interview with Whitman Partners, Dennis discusses the importance of mentorship, the best leadership qualities, and how the younger generations are demanding a new relationship to work. 

What is the role of a mentor? 

A mentor shares information with a mentee about their own career path, provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and role modeling. They may help explore careers, set goals, develop contacts, and identify resources. An effective mentor understands that their role is to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and tuned into the mentee’s needs. 

My inspiration as an LPN, and the RN that was my mentor, was Ms. Oberdeck. I was about 24 years old, and she took me under her guidance and taught me everything. She was my inspiration to go back to nursing school. 

Explain the difference between a mentorship and a sponsorship.

Mentorship focuses on help that a mentor can directly provide, such as guidance, advice, feedback on skills, and coaching. Sponsorship entails externally facing support, such as advocacy, visibility, promotion, and connections. While mentors may help you network, sponsors will actively include you in their professional network. They’ll go out of their way to introduce you to people who could help you advance your career. I’ve sponsored many of my peers in hopes of getting them engaged in the organization, as well. As AORN Board Members, we are assigned to mentor newly elected Board members and assist in their transition.

How much should mentoring continue once someone has been promoted to leadership?

Mentoring is a continuous journey, especially in leadership. I believe there is still knowledge gap regarding the various leadership qualities that individuals think they should have. For example, transactional or authoritative leadership styles do not necessarily work in today’s management. I am not saying that we do not convert to authoritative leading at times. But it should not be the way we lead by default. I am more of a servant transformational leader. The terminology is overused, but I believe that if employees are treated as volunteers with accountability, you will see a greater engagement. That is a difficult skill to refine.

What are some long-term solutions that will help address the staffing shortage of nurses?

The nursing shortage is due to many ongoing issues, including limited training in nursing schools, the exodus of retired nurses, and a never-filled pipeline. With the impact of COVID, the shortage is now referred to as the “Great Resignation.”  

Some solutions include an onboarding plan for new nurses, incentivizing behaviors, investing in long-term training/development, converting current nurses into recruiters (with compensation for referrals), and altering schedules to accommodate personal and professional needs.

Dennis says a great leader has the following: 

  • Integrity 
  • Ability to delegate 
  • Communication
  • Self-awareness 
  • Gratitude 
  • Learning agility 
  • Influence 
  • Empathy 
  • Courage 
  • Respect

What are some of the issues you plan to tackle in your first year as AORN president?

I will be sworn in on March 23rd at the end of the AORN Expo. Membership engagement will be my main focus so they can assist with the challenges of today’s nursing issues. Our values for 2022 are innovation, communication, quality, diversity/equity/inclusion, and achievement. Future opportunities of AORN must be approached with the knowledge of the board’s values after considering past experiences and the landscape of healthcare today. We must open our minds and allow innovation and creativity to come forth.

Employees have more options than ever before, especially with the explosion of the travel nursing market. Here are some observations from Dennis: 

  • Time over Money. Employees today seek more personal time versus financial compensation. 
  • Professional versus Personal Role. Employees want to be active both at work and home, not choosing between the two. 
  • Rising Superclass of Employees. As more employees opt for less stressful work/more personal time, a subgroup of employees is carrying the load of travel, relocation, and long hours. 
  • Integration of Home and Work. Employers are increasingly offering services to reduce the stress of managing professional and personal lives. These include child and/or elder care, house cleaning, and on-site service banking. 
  • Gen X Entrepreneurs. Employees in their twenties and thirties prefer greater autonomy and less bureaucracy. Many are choosing independent work/freelancing, such as the temporary agencies in health care. 
  • Collaborative Management. People who can create environments of teamwork and creativity are the definition of solid managers. Traditional administrative structures are in flux with the flattening of hierarchies and increased team structures.