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How Loss of Identity can Create Greatness

Christine Rucci has experienced a lot in her life. From a traumatic and devastating car accident to rising up as a powerful leader in the healthcare community and now to sharing her story to the world, Christine is an inspiration to us all. We can allow things to happen to us – or we can allow things to inspire us to do more, be more, and give more. And with that, I’d love to introduce you to Christine – our latest inspiring leader.

WeInspireWe: so great to meet you Christine. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Christine Rucci: so great to meet you too! My name is Christine Rucci and I am both a registered nurse and an author. I have been a registered nurse in NJ for the past 22 years and just published my memoir Too Phased. While the bulk of my professional life and background is in nursing, my memoir has been my personal passion. It spans three decades of my life while I was healing from the psychological trauma of becoming facially disfigured in a car accident at the age of 19. At my core, I am a born caregiver and educator. I have always tried to" nurse" all those around me and because of this healing, I finally found time to be kinder to myself. I am now ready to share my message with the world.

WIW: it is so powerful to be able to turn traumatic events into life improving moments. Will you share with us a little bit about your journey to where you are today?

CR: at the age of 19, just a Freshman in college, I was in a life altering car accident. In some respects, my life felt like it was over. I was horribly disfigured and had no idea what was to come. I was in no shape to lead anyone at that point. Then, in 1994, I found my "calling" which was to enter the field of nursing. Although I was nowhere near being healed from the emotional trauma of losing my identity, I stepped boldly into nursing. Not just any field, an operating room nurse. I personally had over 30 operations to try and repair the damage to my face and jaw so I felt the OR was where I would become the most empathetic. In this job, the emotional trauma was front and center everyday but I wasn’t able to really see it yet. On the outside my life seemed perfect. I purchased a condo, I was an RN and thriving in my job, I had lots of friends. But on the inside, I cried and mourned…mourned loss of my self and my identity. Alcohol became a daily routine and my life would eventually spiral out of control.

It wasn't until I decided to stop playing victim and become the victor that I felt like a leader. I stopped drinking in 2011 and slowly rebuilt my reputation that I crushed with my drinking.

I decided to take a new direction in the field of nursing and became a nurse educator in a long-term care/skilled nursing facility that my life changed. My nursing career changed direction and so did my life once I began to value myself not from my reflection but from who I was as a person. I am intelligent and fun to be around. I became a leader in my field because I enjoyed what I was doing. I enjoyed helping new nurses and nursing assistants to be better at their jobs. I finally became the person I was supposed to be.

WIW: as you grew into the leader you are today, what have you noticed about your approach and philosophy?

CR: I don't adhere to any "one" style of leadership. I believe you must draw on many styles of leadership to be successful, especially in nursing. They say that nurses "eat their young" and it is true, unfortunately. I never wanted to be that kind of leader. I wanted to and became a leader that built up the nurses I worked with instead of knocking them down.

Another philosophy that I have adopted along the way is “don't judge a book by it's cover.” It sounds cliché' but it rings true. As a great leader, we must get to know who we are leading and educating by being hands-on with them and getting to know them individually.

Finally, I always try to lead by example. In nursing, I am and always was a hands-on leader. I don't like to tell someone they are doing things wrong and need to be re-educated, especially if I don't do these things myself. For example, how can I scold CNA's and nurses for not answering call bells in a timely fashion if I walk past them too. They see me answering the bells and doing direct patient care and therefore they see me a leader. I never ask them to do anything that I wouldn't do.

WIW: how has your style evolved and how to you see it continuing to evolve?

CR: it has been 8 years since I turned my life around and overcame the psychological trauma of my car accident. Through that time, I have become more confident – especially in front of a groups speaking and educating. Writing my memoir has only reinforced that. I am ready to start the next chapter in my life where I want to become a speaker and share my message with other women. I want to help others to build themselves up instead of them knocking themselves down which will make them better leaders.

As I continue to grow as a leader, I would like to see myself become more confident with every speech I give. I want women to take away from my story that they can do or become anything they want to be. You can't let the world tell you your worth, you have to tell the world what you are worth, walk the walk and talk the talk!

WIW: as you were growing into the dynamic leader and educator that you are today, what learning moments influenced you to become the Christine you are today.

CR: we all have moments in our life that impact us – positively or negatively. I worked with a female administrator who was just not a good leader. In fact, she was a bully. She used fear to get the managers to get their jobs done and I knew that I never wanted to be that kind of leader. Bullying is not the way to get those under you to be better at their jobs.

In nursing I have had most if not all female leaders. Of the many I have had in my 23 years as a nurse, the two leaders I admired the most were the ones that gave positive reinforcement and told you when you did a good job (vs the ones that only spoke to you when you screwed up). Positive reinforcement is so much more effective.

Because of these situations and influence of these other leaders, I realized who I want to be as a leader. I also realized that as a female leader, I am responsible for future female leaders. I am – and we all are – their role models so we must use that power for good.

WIW: what do we need to do as a collective community to help drive that responsibility for future female leaders?

CR: we need to support each other and share what works and what does not. We need to always encourage each other to use our power for good. We need to be fair, build up others’ confidence and always have their backs too. I learned a lot of this from my role model Dr. Donna Cole, PhD. She was the Director of Nursing at the first hospital I worked In as an OR nurse.

WIW: what advice would you give to a young employee beginning to develop their own leadership style?

CR: I would tell them that they must be fair. What is good for one employee is not necessarily right for all. You have to take each individual situation for what it is. Listen to all sides and make a fair decision.

You also have to build your confidence. You have to be confident with yourself and the reason you want to lead. Is it just for the bigger paycheck or do you want to lead to better your profession as a whole? Never second guess yourself, be confident.

WIW: thank you Christine for sharing your leadership story. If we want to learn more about you and your memoir, how can we find that?

CR: yes, you can go to my website, follow me on Facebook or you can find the link to the book here.

Thank you again Christine for your inspiration and for not allowing your accident to hold you back from your greatness and from shining your light to the world around you!

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