Susan Orsega

Rear Admiral Susan Orsega, chief nurse officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, delivered the Connell School of Nursing's Spring 2018 Pinnacle Lecture. (Lee Pellegrini)

“Nurse leaders are compassionate and innovative, and we’re thought-provocative leaders in health care,” said Rear Admiral Susan Orsega, chief nurse officer of the U.S. Public Health Service, speaking at the Connell School of Nursing’s Spring Pinnacle Lecture. “It’s our time now to make a transformative contribution. We can be the linchpin for improving health in populations across the nation and across the world.”

Orsega, whose career in the U.S. Public Health Service spans more than 25 years, talked about the agency’s mission to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of the nation. She leads the USPHS’s nurse officers whose assignments are predicated on public health. Their work is in clinical practice, policy, and programs, focusing on vulnerable populations and health inequities.

Orsega said it is critical for nurses to look at social, economic, and environmental factors that can impact their patients’ health, specifically how and where patients live, play, work, and learn. “Nurses can, and do, play a pivotal role in impacting those spaces that are outside the health sector. We can lead the way.

“We have to be nimble engineers,” she added. “We are positioned—because we are solution-driven—to work as leaders in all different sectors.”

She challenged the nurses in the audience—including faculty, students, alumni and preceptors—to think innovatively about ways to address health disparities and to help their patients improve their health, whether it is helping a community have better food options at their local market or seeing patients for walking meetings.

“Nurses have an opportunity to influence change, but we have to raise our voices,” she said.

 “I do believe that our [USPHS] goal is to create a culture in a world where good health is in the reach of every person. We are there to rebuild the communities in our day-to-day assignments and also to rebuild the communities in times of disasters.”

USPHS nurse officers are deployed at times of federal and international disasters —about 360 times over the past decade, according to Orsega, whose disaster care experience includes deployment on an elite medical team after 9/11 as well as 13 other national and international disaster/humanitarian missions.

“Nurses have capability—which is capacity and ability,” she said. “The capacity is the tools, technology, and knowledge, and the ability is the talent and teamwork. The common thread that binds all of us is advancing the health.”

Each semester, the Connell School of Nursing hosts a Pinnacle Lecture which brings a widely recognized nurse leader to campus to speak on an issue at the forefront of health care. The spring lecture was held on April 30; the next event, on Oct. 16, will feature Lorna Finnegan, president of the board of directors at the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and executive associate dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing.


—Kathleen Sullivan | University Communications | May 2018