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Professional Profile: Linda Taylor

Linda Taylor, RN, MSN, PhD, president-elect of the Wisconsin Center for Nursing, is a true 21st century nurse and an excellent exemplar of the diversity and leadership qualities so crucial to the nursing profession. We spoke with Linda recently, and she generously shared her story.

Her Leadership Journey

After graduating from Triton College in Illinois in 1983 with an ADN, Linda proceeded to attain her BSN (Rockford College), MSN (Northern Illinois University), and her PhD (UWM, 2014). The newly minted Dr. Taylor recalled that she started her career as a staff nurse and “landed” in oncology – which she loved. She currently serves as adjunct clinical instructor at Bellin College and Northeast Technical College. An accomplishment of which she is clearly very proud, though, is initiating and shepherding the nursing program at the College of Menominee Nation.

As a Native American and member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Linda had been a beneficiary of the educational support the Nation provides its tribal members. Feeling it was time to pay that support forward, she contacted the College of Menominee Nation and asked if they needed any help. They responded by asking if she would like to start a nursing program, and the rest is history; she began to design the program in 2007.

This turned out to be no small task. She knew she needed to be culturally sensitive and thoughtfully integrate the ways and values of the Menominee people’s culture in the nursing curriculum. The Menominee Nation is comprised of five clans: Eagle, Moose, Crane, Wolf, and Bear. The nursing program innovatively paired and complemented each of the clans with key constructs of the curriculum. For example, the Eagle Clan, which denotes freedom and justice, corresponds to the curricular element of Transcultural Nursing Care; the Wolf Clan signifies hunting and gathering and is paired with Research Utilization (for a full diagram, please see Nursing Program Student Handbook and scroll to page 13). Linda explained that native people believe each clan contributes to the tribe as a whole and no clan is more important than another – a holistic concept that nurses readily recognize.

The nursing program was also based in part on the Wisconsin technical college system model, so Linda faced the considerable challenge of melding something that “western” with something tribal. But she felt she did achieve that goal, and was also able to create something that would continue after she left. It was not enough to just drop in a random nursing program without sensitivity to the context. The true test came when she had to go before the tribal legislature for full approval of the program. The end result was the establishment of 1 of only 8 associate degree nursing programs among 32 tribal colleges in the country.

Keys to Her Success

Linda responded immediately and enthusiastically when asked about the factors that contributed to her success. She noted that she was born of Native American heritage at a time when the Indian Adoption Act, aimed at assimilating Native Americans into the larger American society, was still in effect. She was adopted by a Puerto Rican-American family and grew up in a bilingual, multiracial household. Under those circumstances, she learned early on the not everyone thinks alike or values the same things. She described the phenomenon of “sliding between cultures” – finding herself first in one culture and then in another and having to make frequent adjustments, all the while avoiding the inclination to project her own values onto those she worked with.

She clearly parlayed this resiliency into a strength when it came time to design the College of Menominee Nation nursing program. She refused to compromise the essence of nursing and insisted on maintaining the values of nursing while not imposing them on the native people.

Linda’s sphere of influence on behalf of native peoples is not confined to Wisconsin. In April, 2009, Linda testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in support of a multi-million dollar proposal to promote health education for tribal people. She learned very fast that working with a lobbyist can be a very good thing.

Barriers to Overcome

Without hesitation, Linda stated, “The toughest barrier was ME. I had to quickly educate myself on things that weren’t written down. I did lots of investigating and learned to talk the ‘cultural language.’” She also enjoyed the support of great mentors, including at the state level from the Board of Nursing and from the Menominee tribe itself. They wanted the nursing program to be successful, so once they were assured that her motives were legitimate, paths were cleared.

Advice to Others

Linda advises others to accept that our biggest learning experiences as leaders are often our failures. How you navigate those failures will really help you as you move forward – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We probably have to mourn those losses a bit, reflect on them, see them as opportunities for growth, and learn from them as much as we can.

Thank you to Dr. Linda Taylor, visionary leader and Wisconsin nurse. We applaud you for your dedication to nursing, your service to all people, and your innovative approach to nursing education.

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