‘Rethinking how we deliver care’: Q&A with Julie Ishak, R.N., M.S.N., NP-BC

August 11, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,
Know your leaders: Q&A with Julie Ishak, R.N., M.S.N., NP-BC, chief nursing officer, UMMG

Last year, Julie Ishak, R.N., M.S.N., NP-BC became chief nursing officer for the U-M Medical Group. In her role, she oversees nursing strategy and operations for the medical group and ambulatory care, as well as serving as the lead nurse practitioner for the medical group.

Recently, Headlines caught up with Ishak to learn about her career — and family history at Michigan Medicine, what it has been like to lead during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead for UMMG.

Here’s what she had to say:

Q: What do you like most about nursing? Why did you choose this as a career?

JI: Nursing is an integral part of my family’s story. In 1969, my mother and father immigrated from Egypt to Ann Arbor. My mother, a nurse, began her career right here at Michigan Medicine. Having that exposure to nursing — growing up and seeing the joy her career brought her — inspired me.

She worked in the field of dialysis for most of her career and also went from working bedside to a leadership role. At times, I watched her interact with her patients and saw how invested she was in their care. It gave me firsthand knowledge about the comfort and healing she and her colleagues provided.

In the end, I viewed nursing as a combination of all my interests. The ability to pursue my love for science, as well as my desire to do meaningful work, led me to choose nursing as a career. I have never regretted that decision and feel an immense amount of gratitude to be in this role at this time.

Q: What have you learned about leading your teams during a pandemic?

JI: The pandemic clearly forced us to rethink how we deliver patient care, and our teams rose to the challenge. From consolidating our clinics during the height of the pandemic, to quickly mobilizing a work-from-home strategy, shifting to virtual care and making our clinics as safe as possible from COVID-19, our teams consistently showed creativity, resilience and dedication. 

They did this all while managing the personal toll the pandemic was having on their own lives and their families. I learned the true value of empowering the experts doing the work to co-create solutions. Looking back, we did so much in such a short amount of time and the teamwork it took to accomplish that was remarkable.

Q: What challenges do you see ahead and how are you planning for them?

JI: I think at this point in time, well-being is our biggest challenge ahead. The pandemic exacerbated what was an already exhausted workforce. I think it starts with teaching self-care and mindfulness early on in our academic and professional careers.

From a practical perspective, we have to work to streamline processes, eliminate non-value-added work, and continue to encourage feedback on how we can prioritize well-being along with patient safety and quality. We know there is a direct connection, so we must approach it as such.

Q: What are the main areas of growth for nursing at UMMG?

JI: When I transitioned from inpatient to ambulatory care, it was very clear to me how much opportunity there was for innovation and the crucial role the nurse plays in that. If we continue to maximize the role of the RN in symptom management, care coordination, in-clinic teaching and telehealth, we will continue to see improved patient outcomes. I am really excited for the future of ambulatory care nursing.

Q: What advice for nurses who are considering moving into leadership roles?

JI: I would say find a nurse leader you admire and ask them to mentor you. I was working as a nurse practitioner when I began to entertain the idea of a more formal leadership role. At the time I was really impressed with a nurse manager of one of the units I would go to for consults. We had many discussions about her role and what it meant to be a nurse leader. I also really liked the idea of caring for the caregiver, which I saw as a major aspect of her role.

Another suggestion would be to find ways in your current role to be involved in committees or groups that encourage system thinking. Finally, I would say enjoy and excel in the role you are in now!