To Dr. Linda Burnes Bolton, the profession of nursing is about accountability.
“We’re accountable to the patient, first and foremost,” Burnes Bolton says. “And we keep that in mind in everything that we do.”
Burnes Bolton, chief nursing officer emeritus at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, dedicated her life and career to the nursing industry, having joined the healthcare organization in 1971 and retiring at age 72 in 2022.
She was recently applauded for that dedication by the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), which chose her as the winner of its 2022 Lifetime Legacy Award for her leadership and contributions to nursing and healthcare. Burnes Bolton, a former AAN president, says she was appreciative of the honor bestowed on her, despite not being able to accept the award in person due to illness.
Throughout her more than 50-year career, Burnes Bolton has served Cedars-Sinai and its patients in multiple capacities, including senior vice president and chief health equity officer.
Outside of Cedars-Sinai, Burnes Bolton spent time as president of the American Organization of Nurse Executives (now American Organization for Nursing Leadership); president of the National Black Nurses Association; trustee for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); chair of the RWJF National Advisory Committee for Transforming Care at the Bedside and Veteran Affairs Commission on Nursing; and vice-chair of the RWJF Initiative on the Future of Nursing at the Institute of Medicine.
Burnes Bolton says that one of the feats she was most proud of accomplishing during her tenure was being able to increase the number of staff with baccalaureate degrees at Cedars-Sinai.
“We were the first institution in Los Angeles County to go with all bachelor’s degrees,” Burnes Bolton notes.
And yet, the nursing industry veteran expressed frustration with issues plaguing the field, one of which was that nurses were leaving the profession altogether.
“Some institutions still have registered nurses — that’s the top of the field — caring for more than four or five patients at a time, as many as nine or 10 patients at a time,” Burnes Bolton says. “That way, they cannot possibly, without assistance, be of use to the patient.”
She later adds, “So many people are leaving the profession because of their misguided use in terms of how they are being utilized as registered nurses.”
Because ultimately, the goal of a nurse is to effectively care for and be of use to others, she says.
“One of the things that my career has been about is making sure that everyone has the authority to call out when they believe that they don’t have the support they need to deliver the best possible care,” she says. “It’s very important that everyone who is in the human caring business – whether they’re physician, nurse, or pediatrist ... whatever their title is – understands the value of what they’re doing is caring for other humans.”
It’s a lesson she holds close to her and imparts on those interested in coming into the field. Because those who don’t understand what it means to be a nurse shouldn’t join at all, she says.
“I hope that they maintain their responsibility and accountability for caring for human beings,” Burnes Bolton says. “Some nurses don’t recognize the value of caring for another human being unfortunately. And they need to get out of nursing if they don’t recognize that.”