I recently had the opportunity to interview an incredible nurse leader Kathleen Brender. In her latest role, she was in a dual leadership role as an Executive Director and Health and Wellness Coordinator for a memory care community. I had the privilege to work with Kathy and see her passion for caring for residents with some of toughest cases of dementia. Kathy trained her team to work with Frontal Temporal Lobe Dementia and the most challenging of behaviors. Her community ran 100%, and she was known as the one to go to when no one else could care for their loved one.
Kathleen has been a nurse for over forty-six years. In this time, she has done everything from surgical nursing, geriatrics, to management, in fact in speaking with her there are few areas she has not touched on at some point or another. Kathy decided on becoming a nurse at the age of 10. Her father was in a very a severe car accident resulting in massive head injury and ended up in a coma for months. When he eventually came out of the coma, the hospital staff did everything to relate to him and illicit a positive response. It wasn’t until they showed him a picture of Kathy that he lit up and responded. Kathy was taken to the hospital every morning after that and spent the day working with him one on one. From that day forward she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
I am so excited Kathy agreed to allow me to interview her and learn from her lifetime of dedication to the nursing field.
Derek Di Camillo: Thank you, Kathy, for doing this interview with me. There is so much we can learn from you and I appreciate your time.
Derek Di Camillo: Was there anything you specifically did with the sole purpose of growing your career?
Kathleen Brender: I sought out the best in the industry and positioned myself to learn from them.
Derek Di Camillo: You had worked in so many fields when did you decide to move into nurse management?
Kathleen Brender: I was 24 when I took my first leadership role.
Derek Di Camillo: In a world where skilled is king what made you decide to move into management and leadership?
Kathleen Brender: I didn’t like what I saw in management. I thought maybe I could make a difference and change things. My heart was with the geriatric population.
Derek Di Camillo: What influenced your leadership style at such a young age?
Kathleen Brender: I watched what others did and learned what made them successful. I was always learning and seeking out the best education I could for myself.
Derek Di Camillo: At 24 I am sure you made some mistakes. What mistakes did you make that changed the way you lead?
Kathleen Brender: I was always very trusting, and unfortunately I put trust in someone I shouldn’t have. I learned the hard way that you can’t always do that.
Derek Di Camillo: I think in many cases it is the little things that add up, forming the foundation of leadership success. What do you feel contributed to your success as a nurse leader?
Kathleen Brender: I learned early on you have to learn to work with others. I also never asked anyone to do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself. Also, I focused my time and energy on doing a thorough interview and finding the right professionals to work with and learn from and listened to them. I learned to think before I responded and not react in anger.
Derek Di Camillo: How did you find the right professionals?
Kathleen Brender: I found people willing to work hard and learn. I showed them how important they are and showed them I was always there for them. I also found, if you show them support and make them feel valued they will always be at their best for you.
Derek Di Camillo: Is there anything you would do differently in your career?
Kathleen Brender: No, every failure was a learning experience, I learned from them and never made the same mistake twice. I have no regrets.
Derek Di Camillo: Often I see new nurse new leaders struggle with work-life balance. What advice would you give them?
Kathleen Brender: That is a tough one. You have to take care of yourself before you can help others. I found that you have to give a lot of yourself to your career, your staff, and your patients. Finding the balance can be tough. I think it comes down to the individual and is something different for each person.
Derek Di Camillo: What is one of the biggest challenges you faced in your career?
Kathleen Brender: Working for corporations. They come in and talk the talk but don’t always walk the walk. Often it feels like they are all about control. I think they often need to learn that If you take care of what is under your roof everything else will fall into place.
Derek Di Camillo: What was the most rewarding moment of your career?
Kathleen Brender: I have lots of these! I guess the best is seeing the smile on the staff and families face when they see, working together, we can make a difference in someone’s life. Also, with the love and kindness of an incredible team, providing a quality of life for whatever time the resident has left.
Derek DiCamillo: Are there any tools or recourses you found helpful?
Kathleen Brender: One of the best things I ever did was take my team through a reality training. They learned how it felt to be one of the residents. I found this training made all the difference in the world in the way they cared for the residents.
Derek Di Camillo: Thank you. Is there anything you would like to share with the readers?
Kathleen Brender: Be true to yourself, never compromise on your beliefs, support those you work with, always have an open mind, listen, and never stop learning, and you will succeed.
A special thank you to Kathy for not only taking the time to do this interview with me but, more importantly, devoting her life to the nursing industry and taking care of our aging population. You are appreciated for your contributions and passionate care you provided.