(March 2020) – When Dana Bledsoe moved to Central Florida four years ago to take on a new job, invitations kept coming in from local women who wanted the hospital president to have coffee, join them for lunch or become their mentor. There was no way she’d be able to meet all of their individual requests. So she asked a member of her team to help her plan a meeting.
The thing that continues to surprise me is how grateful people are for genuine connection and the investment of time. Seems like such a small thing, and yet it has big impact and it is something we are all capable of doing.
“I said, ‘Let’s have a breakfast and invite these women, and we’ll have a conversation.’ We thought that would be the end of it,” Bledsoe said. “We had a great turnout, and I was like, ‘OK, well, good luck.’ But they wanted to know how we could do it again.”
Bledsoe and her team member, Lauren Nelson of Nemours Children’s Hospital in Lake Nona Medical City, began conducting the meetings quarterly at 7:30 a.m. on a Friday. The continued attendance and on-going feedback has shown how serious the women are about the sessions. The group, now called Mentoring Matters, has used different formats over time: round-robin discussions, topic-specific focus on a general topic, book club-type dialogue, workshops and others. Even though Bledsoe moved on from Nemours in January 2020 and is now a consultant, she is continuing the meetings.
“These women are making a personal commitment,” Bledsoe said. “Most of them aren’t at their jobs at 7:30 in the morning. They are making life adjustments for this time. And we’ve just kept going.”
The women have shared their experiences in addressing conflict, gaining confidence, standing up for a promotion at work, joining a board of directors and other parts of personal and professional growth. “We talk through scenarios and we talk through life,” Bledsoe said. “We’ve had babies and marriages. We’re all walking through that, although we’re all at different stages. It’s a diverse group, and not in a single industry. It has been so fulfilling to see the achievements and successes and confidence of these women. It has been so gratifying and such a privilege to be able to spend time with them.”
Bledsoe praises the Central Florida community for showing a warm welcome to someone who grew up on her family’s Angus cattle ranch in Montana and didn’t see her first city until she traveled to Denver in high school.
She can remember the exact moment in college when she was studying to be an operating room nurse and decided instead to focus on helping children. She was a nursing student in Denver, doing her pediatric rotation, when she met a young patient. The girl was about 4 years old and had been in the hospital for three days, much of that time without her mother.
“She was so happy and playful,” Bledsoe said. “Here she was, ill and by herself, and she still had the world by the tail. I spent a lot of time with her, and it was so fun. She was getting ready to go home, and I was walking her out with her mom. We got to the elevator, and she had her stuffed animal, and she said, ‘I named my baby. Do you know her name? It’s Dana.’
“And I said, ‘That’s it. I can make a difference. I can help these children, and I can help families. This is where I’m going to spend my time.’”
Bledsoe also recalls how she got into hospital administration. A woman who was in leadership at The Children’s Hospital in Denver, now known as Children’s Hospital Colorado, started mentoring her and offering her career advice: Go back to school for a master’s degree. Volunteer for this project. “She started identifying opportunities for me,” Bledsoe said. “She believed I could have a bigger impact than what I was having.”
The new phase of her career was stressful at first, she said. “Oh my gosh, I felt like I had the weight of the world on me. … At the same time, it was such an honor to think I could work with people to build teams and change our processes and drive the patient outcomes and experiences at a larger system level.”
She has since gone on to earn a doctorate of executive health administration and has held several leadership roles, including president of Children’s and Women’s Hospital, part of the Ascension Sacred Heart Health System, in Pensacola; and vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California.
Wherever she goes, Bledsoe continues to pull other women along with her. “I feel strongly that the further up you go, the more responsibility you have to be looking out for others.”