Dr. Catherine Griswold

When Dr. Catherine Griswold began her career as a medical assistant, she never imagined she’d end up in the administration department of a university. Early in her career, she enlisted in the U.S. Army, where she worked as a lab tech at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Next, she returned to the private sector to work in dialysis and honed in on what she loved most: talking to—and educating—patients.

That passion, she now realizes, follows themes that have run throughout her career: meaningful partnerships and collaboration with her colleagues and clients. These themes appeared again in her work as a patient liaison and a staff development coordinator, and later as an assistant professor at Stevenson University in Maryland. Recently, Dr. Griswold was appointed dean of the Catherine McAuley School of Nursing at Trocaire College in Buffalo, New York.

Here, the 2014 Walden University Doctor of Education (EdD) graduate shares tips to help you tap into your passions and pave a path to leadership:

Surround yourself with mentors. Dr. Griswold was in a yearlong mentorship program at Johns Hopkins University while she was finishing her EdD. Between that program and the mentorship from her doctoral advisors at Walden, she surrounded herself with people who could see her skills, abilities, and potential. “One mentor helped show me how not to be passive, but to be active, down to the language I used to ask a question,” she says. Her mentors also pushed her to research the industry and various positions and reframe how she thought about her career goals. The knowledge she gained helped her set objectives and make decisions.

Get involved and expand your network. Dr. Griswold served on internal and external committees while at Stevenson University, which helped prepare her for an administrative role. It also allowed her to put into practice what she was learning about administration in her EdD program. “Involvement outside of your organization also allows you to start building name recognition,” she explains. “It helps you compete toe-to-toe with other interview candidates.”

Publish, publish, publish. The EdD program at Walden allowed her to immerse herself in her chosen topic: student attrition and retention. “That allowed me to become a content expert about the rate of attrition for nursing students,” she says. “My program prepared me to become an expert and share my expertise.” She began publishing, she says, because “people want to see that you have done the work to back up your knowledge.”

You have to act. “It takes work to step into a leadership role,” she says. Since an administrative position wasn’t available at her current university, her mentors advised her to cast a wider net. “Pursuing a new employer puts you in a position to make choices for your own career,” she continues. “Trocaire is a teaching-learning college, which is a perfect fit for me.” The research she’d done earlier about what she wanted in her career—and why—paid off.

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