NINDS BEACON Program Holds Inaugural Event
Radm. Susan Orsega, senior advisor to the assistant secretary for health and surgeon general in the Public Health Service, recently shared her experience and career highlights during a career forum hosted by NINDS’s BEACON (Building Engagement and Community for Nurses) program.
The conversation—which was held on Zoom and moderated by Capt. Antoinette Jones, a registered nurse and patient representative at the Clinical Center—was the inaugural event for the BEACON program.
A new career consortium sponsored by the NINDS clinical director, BEACON provides strategies to improve support and enhance inclusion for NINDS nurses in professional development, communication, collaboration and mentorship.
The program is the brainchild of Dr. Maureen Gormley, a senior advisor to the NINDS Executive Leadership Team.
Gormley—who retired as NINDS’s deputy director for management in 2020—conceptualized the BEACON program and has played a key role in its development.
“We are very glad to sponsor this program for our hardworking nurses who not only help with our clinical research program but also provide outstanding care to our patients,” said NINDS clinical director Dr. Avindra Nath.
The forum featured career advice and highlights from Orsega, who serves as a remarkable example of the expanded role of nurses in health care, research and global public health. Her long and distinguished career as a nurse includes contributions to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Ebola, Covid-19 and other emerging infectious disease outbreaks.
Orsega earned her bachelor of science degree in nursing from Towson University and her master of science degree from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Nurse Practitioner program.
Although she officially began her NIH career in 1989 in the PHS Commissioned Corps, she previously worked at NIH in the summer between her junior and senior years of college.
“I came into nursing because I had a real love of science,” recalled Orsega. She said the summer she spent working at NIH “was a pivotal part for me because it cemented why I wanted to go into nursing. NIH gave me a forum to collaborate. One of the unique components of NIH is our ability to collaborate—to have a seat at the table.”
In fact, NIH’s community of collaboration led her to become a nurse practitioner.
During the forum, Orsega shared the principles that help guide her career—the hardiness resilience gauge and VUCA.
“Resilience requires a leader to be disciplined,” she emphasized. “The hardiness resilience gauge is comprised of three qualities—challenge, control and commitment. It allows me to frame my thinking to be more purposeful. Challenge is about taking that risk and putting yourself out there. Control is your belief and your ability to influence outcomes and commitment is about the purpose—believing that you are spending time on what matters most.”
VUCA—which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity—was first used by the U.S. Army War College to describe conditions resulting from the Cold War. The concept has since been used in business and other organizations to guide leadership and now exemplifies the ability to shift and respond to changes.
“As you go through your career, you will pick principles that will guide you as a person and as a leader in and out of your work life,” Orsega said. “The principles of the hardiness resilience gauge and VUCA drive who I am and my approach as a leader.”
Orsega also shared ways in which nurses can collaborate and make significant contributions at decision-making tables and how they can grow their careers by pursuing new opportunities.
“So many of us came into the workforce when there was a great need for nurses. And, we are in the same challenge now,” she said. “What’s exciting now is that you can take nursing and use it as a launching pad to determine where you can make inroads.”
After a brief question and answer session, the event closed with remarks from NINDS director Dr. Walter Koroshetz and NINR director Dr. Shannon Zenk.
“What we’ve learned is that each of us has opportunities to contribute to the greater good, but these opportunities change, and they change unpredictably,” said Koroshetz. “I think it’s important that trying new things is always on your plate. Opportunities will arise. You don’t know where you will end up. You could end up as an admiral.”
Zenk concluded, “I want to commend my colleagues for launching the BEACON program. Building engagement and community for nurses is vital to the research missions of NIH. As we continue to take on important roles, please take note of the ingenuity, creativity and originality with which Rear Admiral Orsega practices nursing and let her career path inspire your own.”