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CU College of Nursing faculty: Shelly Fischer, PhD, RN, CNE Associate Professor and Specialty Director of i-LEAD Nursing Leadership and Health Systems Program

Full Circle in the Front Range

CU Nursing i-LEAD Specialty Director shares thoughts on leadership, education

Written by Bob Mook on December 1, 2022

Shelly Fischer, PhD, RN, CNE may be a newcomer to her role, but she’s no stranger to the Front Range, healthcare leadership, and the University of Colorado College of Nursing.

Born in Greeley, Fischer (PhD Nursing ’14, MS Nursing ’95) grew up in the Midwest. Her father taught educational psychology and secondary education at Northern Illinois University.

“He was really an amazing teacher, and I learned a lot from him about the philosophy of teaching,” she says. “Even though we teach the masses, it’s really about one-to-one engagement: Learning who the student is, what’s important to them, and what inspires them, is what truly makes a difference.”

After earning her BSN from the University of Iowa in 1982, Fischer moved back to Colorado in 1983 and found her career. She earned an MS in 1995 and a PhD in 2014 – both from CU Nursing. With more than 35 years of experience as a nurse executive and leader, she is uniquely qualified for her role as associate professor and specialty director of the i-LEAD Nursing Leadership and Health Systems Program at CU Nursing.

Starting the position in January earlier this year, Fischer came to CU Nursing after serving as faculty at the University of Wyoming and Front Range Community College.

“I have the lens of both the student and faculty at CU Nursing,” she says. “It’s really great to be back.”

Recently, Fischer talked about her career, her teaching philosophy, and her life outside of the classroom.

“I believe that learning happens during times of discomfort – when we are facing dilemmas and we are struggling. It doesn’t happen in those sit-back-and-relax moments.”
– CU Nursing Associate Professor and Specialty Director the i-LEAD Program, Shelly Fischer, PhD, RN, CNE

Q&A Header

How did you gravitate to nursing?

I think I was born a servant, and it was a calling for me to serve and care for others. One great advantage of nursing as a career is that you can take it in so many different directions. You can remake your career many times over once you have your basic nursing education. Beyond direct care roles, nurses can pursue sales, research and development, education, and any number of entrepreneurial opportunities. That appealed to me. After I graduated with my bachelor’s, I worked in the neurosciences and started in leadership very early because I graduated at the outset of the last great nursing shortage. Then, I took those skills in many different directions in nursing for a very full and satisfying practice career. Now I hope to help other nurses find that same type of satisfaction and success in their leadership careers.

Where did you have leadership roles?

Most recently, I was a regional director for professional practice for a large healthcare system. I was also with UC Health in the past and worked at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins. I have nursing leadership experience in acute care, acute rehab, and long-term care.

How did you end up in academia and specifically with CU Nursing?

I went into academia right after I got my doctorate because I wanted to integrate my experience in leadership and my education at the PhD level. I love nursing research. It pulls together everything I’ve done in my career thus far. My goal is to make the greatest contribution that I can – especially on patient safety. Leadership has a profound influence on healthcare outcomes and I want to teach current and future nurse leaders how to optimize safety in patient care.

What do you like about the i-LEAD program in particular?

I love to teach post-licensure nurses because the students come with a base of experience and most of them are working, so they can readily apply the content. It makes for such rich learning opportunities, engagement, discussion, and problem-solving. I get to see the “ah-ha moments” of students applying content to their day-to-day management roles. Application of the theoretical content helps them connect all the dots and become a more effective leader. It is such a fun thing to witness that learning in real-time.

How would you characterize your teaching style?

I embrace transformative learning theory. I believe that learning happens during times of discomfort – when we are facing dilemmas and we are struggling. It doesn’t happen in those sit-back-and-relax moments. I remind my students that it’s a good thing when they feel they are struggling. That’s when they are really getting the learning benefit from their investment.

Where do you live now and what do you do in your spare time?

I live in Fort Collins. I have a small acreage where I do what I call “urban farming.” I have chickens and ducks and a very large garden. I ski whenever I can and train for triathlons for fun and fitness.

Topics: Faculty