The memories remain clearly etched in Linda Fanning’s mind and heart.
Sometimes they visit her like an old friend – the warm smile of a nurse … a gentle touch … the compassion to suggest it’s all right to cry once the needle pricked her tiny arm. This is how Fanning remembers the nurses of her childhood, when she battled asthma by taking clinical trial steroid shots.
“Those nurses always treated me with compassionate care,” said Fanning, now Mercy Health Center’s chief nursing officer. “They inspired me, and I always knew I’d grow to do something in the medical field.”
Fanning isn’t finished.
This week, she begins a two-year term as Oklahoma Nurses Association (ONA) president. Fanning officially stepped into the role at the organization’s recent annual convention in Tulsa, where nursing delegates gathered from across the state to discuss the pressing issues of their profession.
The organization has thrived since its founding in 1908.
“There’s always a need for nursing,” Fanning said. “It’s booming. There’s a need for advanced practice nurses, direct care, intensive care … the whole scope. This is an exciting time to be a nurse.”
Fanning promises a greater emphasis on education during her tenure. In doing so, she hopes more nurses pursue a four-year degree to raise nursing standards statewide.
Fanning freely acknowledges the issue is not without its detractors, but those who know her best professionally aren’t surprised by her ambitious stance.
“Linda is fearless,” said Melissa Hackney, an attorney for Mercy and former RN who worked with Fanning a decade ago at Deaconess Hospital in Oklahoma City. “She doesn’t balk at challenges, and is always willing to try new things. What makes Linda so unique is that she connects with all nurses, whether it’s an LPN, a new nurse or a nurse with 25 years of experience.
“She can relate to what they are going through because she has walked in so many different shoes.”
Fanning, one of five children to Mary and Werner Hohenberger of Ponca City, first received a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1980 at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. She began her career at Mercy Health Center before later obtaining a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma.
She also served Deaconess Hospital for 16 years in a variety of managerial roles before returning to her roots at Mercy.
“Daily, I see tremendous work being done in all areas of care by our nursing staff,” Fanning said. “I see it in the hospital and throughout the community. It makes me proud to be a nurse. What’s nice about being ONA’s new president is that it isn’t just about Mercy, but about nursing in Oklahoma.
“I feel truly privileged and honored to be in this position.”
Support for Fanning is widespread.
“Linda has always been an excellent communicator, and that will serve her well in her new role,” said Andy Wachtel, the Ponca City Health Center CEO who worked with Fanning at Deaconess Hospital. “She has always had the ability to gather a consensus among people and to understand different situations, primarily because she juggled so many different jobs. I know she handled quite a few different jobs at Deaconess – often simultaneously – and we were truly sorry to see her leave.
“She was a valuable member of our staff.”
Avilla Williams, Integris Edmond president, also saw Fanning shine when the two worked together at Deaconess.
“Linda is a gatherer,” Williams said. “She gathers people. She’s actually more of a builder than a leader. She builds a team of talented people around her, and let’s them draw on their talents. That’s how she leads.”
At Mercy, news of Fanning’s selection as ONA president was received with great joy.
“Linda’s leadership at Mercy has been very pronounced,” said Jim Gebhart, Mercy Health Center president. “I am certain she will have a very similar impact as the Oklahoma Nurses Association’s newest president. She is a natural leader.”
A leader who still remembers what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a nurse’s care.
“Being a nurse is a privilege,” Fanning said. “People never forget a good nurse.”