Chief Nursing Officer at Upstate Oversees Staff of 3,000

Scott Jessie became the first male chief nursing officer for SUNY Upstate Medical University in September

By Mary Beth Roach

Scott Jessie became the first male chief nursing officer for SUNY Upstate Medical University in September of 2021. As such, he oversees about 3,000 healthcare staff at Upstate’s Community and downtown campuses. He has worked in a variety of nursing roles since first coming to the hospital in 1999.

Q: What are your responsibilities as the chief nursing officer?
A: I think the biggest one is ensuring that the staff has what it needs to provide patient care across the system, from supplies and equipment to technology to actual workforce, trying to regroup and make sure we have enough staff, which is clearly our biggest challenge currently.

Q: Have you always worked at Upstate?
A: I worked one year in Auburn in the coronary care unit. I had experience and exposure to Upstate as an EMS provider and an EMS student and was always amazed whenever we brought a patient here. It was always the plan I was going to end up here, and thankfully I did.

Q: What was it that impressed you about Upstate?
A: The skill of the people, the high-tech approach to care, the ability of this organization to take care of the sickest of the sick across the region, and the fact that the sickest of the sickest patients came to this facility intrigued me a lot because you have to know so much to be able to care for those types of patients. The academic difference in being a part of the college really to me was very attractive. I like that constant approach to education. I like working with physician partners and trainees and people across all specialties.

Q: When you say that Upstate treats “the sickest of the sick,” is there a reason for that?
A: We are a specialty center for a lot of things. We are the level one adult and pediatric trauma center for the entire region. We cover about two million people. We are the burn center for a large portion of New York state; actually from about halfway to Rochester all the way down the Westchester County because Albany several years back closed their burn center. We’re the only children’s hospital in the entire region. We are a designated stroke center. We have multiple specialties across the board in terms of care that are not available in a lot of smaller hospitals. By the type of hospital that we are, we have resources other places tend not to have, so we are a regional referral center for a lot of patients.

Q: What do you see as your accomplishments in this profession?
A: I’m definitely proud, over the years, to have grown more leaders. I think that is a very important part of the leader job at any level. Certainly day to day, I’m just tremendously proud of our staff and the work that they do. It is very hard work and they provide incredible care. They are amazing people and to be able to be a part of that is a privilege.

Q: What are some of the best aspects of the job?
A: In my job, I do truly like the complexity and the challenge. I love the team that I work with. The officer team here is fantastic. We are a tight-knit group and we are really collaborative. We support each other. That’s a great environment to be in when you do a job that’s very hard. I love nursing, love Upstate. The things I do to help the team take care of patients is rewarding to me.

Q: What are some of the more challenging aspects of the job?
A: The pace of the job is very fast. Every day is different. You have to be able to pivot on a dime, address the issues that come up, support and build a strong team that can handle that type of environment.

Q: According to some national reports, the current percentage of males in the nursing workforce is about 12% and that appears to be an increase from the 9% in 2017. Do you see that percentage increasing in the future? Why or why not?
A: I think it will continue to slowly increase. Nursing is a tremendous profession for anybody. The opportunities are very wide-ranging. There’s a lot of opportunity for jobs in all avenues. You go back even further, like in 1960, ‘65, there was like 2% male. I do think, over time, there will continue to be more, just because of the strength of the career and what it offers people. There’s a lot of options and it’s not just bedside nursing. You can get a lot of advanced education to become nurse practitioners and multiple other different advanced practice opportunities. I think that attracts all sorts of people and will continue to do so.

Q: What do you see for the future of the nursing profession overall and how has the pandemic impacted that?
A: There’s going to remain tremendous need for nurses, for all sorts of healthcare workers actually. The pandemic has definitely impacted it. Obviously with bedside nursing, they can’t work from home, but there are other kinds of nursing they can. That may pull some of the workforce in a different role. Staffing in the hospitals is a challenge nationwide right now. Travel nursing has become a very popular option across the country, due to tremendous spikes in needs across the country. They get paid very well. The rates have gone up tremendously during the pandemic, so it has become quite appealing for some segment of our workforce. Travelers have been around for a very long time. The pandemic really caused an explosion in their utilization and a need across the country and the rates have gone up. It’s very stressful and challenging for the hospital systems to pay for them and to find staff. I think over time you will see hospital systems do everything they can to attract and retain people and look at compensation and different strategies to encourage them to stay with them throughout their careers.

Q: With May being National Nurses Month, is there anything that you would to add?
A: Nursing remains the most trusted profession in the country, according to national research. It has been that way for many years. Nurses—all healthcare workers—have stepped up beyond belief during this pandemic. It was very hard during the peak of the pandemic for our staff who had to take care of patients who ultimately did not survive and to help their families cope with that when they really couldn’t be here or very few could be here. The emotional toll of that was significant. But day to day, nurses and other healthcare workers keep coming to work. They keep caring for communities they live in. That’s our job and we take that very seriously.