Women's History Month with Tracy Bonney-Corson on Women in Leadership
We are honoring women leaders in healthcare as part of Women’s History Month
. Today, we’re sharing a conversation with Tracy Bonney-Corson, RN, PhD, MBA-H
, vice president of Nursing and Patient Care Services at Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield.
Tracy grew up in rural Woodstock, Maine, where old-fashioned values were instilled in her and have influenced her all her life. She was a nurse at CA Dean Hospital in the 1990’s before it became part of Northern Light Health and joined Sebasticook Valley Hospital in 2014. Along the way, she spent time working with the Maine and Texas Departments of Corrections as a Health Services Administrator.
Tracy is a respected leader within Northern Light Health, managing many nursing and other projects that improve patient care and staff satisfaction. Get to know Tracy and read more about her thoughts on women in leadership.
1. Is there someone who inspired you to be a leader?
Margaret Chase Smith was the woman who became my inspiration as a leader. Given the time in history and her historic role as the first woman to serve in both houses of the United States Congress, and the first woman to represent Maine in either, she went about her work with her own values as the guiding light, even when they were unpopular. She spoke with conviction and passion, with her most eloquent example being her “Declaration of Conscience Speech”. I had the great honor of caring for Margaret in her elder years. She encouraged the younger me, as well as many other young women, to “stick to your convictions, say and do what is right regardless of the consequences, history and reflection will prove you correct”.
2. When you started your career, did you know you wanted to be a leader?
No. Actually I sort of fell into leadership. I believe my personal values of always speaking the truth and speaking up, even when I was the minority opinion, or it was unpopular, had something to do with becoming a leader. I learned that my approach gained respect from both leadership and peers. I was asked to fill various leadership roles throughout my career, most without actively seeking them out.
3. What do you enjoy most about leading others?
I enjoy developing and mentoring others in leadership the most. I love watching new leaders grow and develop and finding their own voices for advocacy whether it be for patients or their profession.
4. Have you seen any barriers to female leadership?
Coming from a different generation, in my career I found most young women were quiet and a bit passive. In classrooms, it was the boys more often raising hands, getting attention and praise for academic excellence. Girls tended to be quiet and reserved. I started in this direction as I was painfully shy, and I remember being bullied. However, as a dairy farmer’s daughter, my father would have none of that for his daughter and with guidance, I found my voice and began to speak up and push back.
5. How did you change as a new leader to one who has more experience?
Early in my career, I would say I questioned the value of my opinion. Looking back on it, I did not lend my voice to discussions and decisions when I should have. Through these situations, I came to learn that I have valuable knowledge, experience, and insights to contribute and by not sharing, that I was impacted the resulting decision. Over time, I became more comfortable speaking up when something being said was inaccurate, or differing insight needed to be heard. This is one of those skills that the more you do it, the easier it gets. I refined these skills working in Corrections, where I had to connect and influence people at all levels, from inmates, corrections officers, prison administration, and state government officials.
6. How have you built confidence over the course of your career?
Building confidence and resiliency takes introspection, practice, and letting go. You must be introspective to identify what is the source for lack of self-confidence and actively take steps to address them. It takes a conscious decision that you are going to change and learn to embrace your worth and contributions, making decisions to participate and gain experience at every opportunity. Finally, letting go. You must accept that you are not perfect, will make mistakes, will look foolish on occasion so learn to make light of these occasions, embrace failure as a learning opportunity, and stop caring what others think of you. Personally, I think self-deprecating humor is a wonderful leadership trait.
7. What are the ways you stay grounded and take care of yourself?
I stay grounded in my style of living and being close to my family and friends. One of my two sons and both daughters-in-law are nurses at Northern Light hospitals. I’m very proud of them, and I enjoy that we “get each other” as nurses! As I have developed my professional career, I have continued to live in the same town and modest house in rural Piscataquis County. My family and I are traditional Mainers. I remember funny things my father would say about how people are the same regardless of where they live or how much money they have. I am connected to my generational heritage, and this provides me great peace.
I take care of myself by having strong boundaries between work and home. I value my solitude, but I love to have my two canine kids (West Highland White Terriers) by my side. They are small with a tenacious, headstrong attitude - so they are the perfect breed for me. I also enjoy sitting outside in the quiet and enjoying nature, whether on a hot summer day or on a frozen lake. I spend most of my free time with family and dogs, we enjoy the great North woods in every capacity - from ice fishing, ATVing, camping, jeeping, and exploring.
8. What advice would you give to the next generation of female healthcare leaders?
Identify and stay true to your values, use these to guide your decision making. Find your voice and use it for positive change. Set goals, break them down into tasks and subtasks, don’t get overwhelmed, take it one step at a time. Continually develop skills around emotional intelligence, communication, advocacy, confidence, and resiliency! Trust your gut instincts. When leading others, trust but verify and know that it’s ok to admit you are wrong. Everyone makes mistakes.
9. What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
Women’s History Month
is a time to reflect on the women leaders before us who paved the way to allow for the successes of today’s women leaders. I appreciate the challenges they faced to demonstrate that women are effective and successful in any leadership role.