Virginia's "40 Under 40" Initiative Recognizes Young Nursing Leaders

The Virginia Nurses Association (VNA) had a vision for seeking and developing young leaders. Former VNA CEO Susan Motley (now executive director of the Virginia Medical Society Foundation) felt that the idea of the younger generation not being involved or not wanting to be involved was not true.  She had seen recognition of young leaders at other venues and decided it should be the “centerpiece” of the VNA’s foundation annual Excellence in Nursing gala in fall 2011. The VNA leadership had recently help launch the Virginia Action Coalition as a co-lead, and the focus was on the future of nursing. It seemed to be the right time to recognize future leaders. VNA’s leadership quickly embraced the idea. Thus, the start of what VA now refers to as “40 Under 40.” 

The VNA soon developed a nominations workgroup, which developed a selection and approval process. Logos and collateral material were designed and developed. This award is designed to recognize nurses in Virginia in the following areas: 

  • Visionary Transformational Leadership
  • Innovation/New Knowledge/Research
  • Exemplary Professional Practice
  • Professional Development
  • Policy Development
  • Community Engagement

The VNA pushed the nomination applications out to all Virginia health care organizations and received a large number of nominations through the VNA website. Nominations had to be supported by the nurse leader's employer. The chosen 40 young leaders were invited and recognized (along with their supervisors) at the annual VNA Gala. These identified leaders are a diverse group, working in a variety of settings and with a variety of interests. 

The Virginia (VA) Action Coalition (AC) leadership workgroup continues to engage the 40 Under 40.  In May 2012, they held a luncheon on nursing leadership, inviting all of the recognized 40 Under 40 nurse leaders and their supervisors.  This half-day event included:

  • An introduction to the work of VNA and VONEL
  • An update on AC leadership work and invitation to get involved by VA AC Leadership Team
  • A continuing education session entitled “Cultivating Nurse Leaders”, presented by Terri Gaffney from ANA

The VA AC Leadership Workgroup plans to continue to engage this group of young leaders in the Action Coalition’s leadership work and considers them a think tank to help brainstorm ideas on how to promote nurses to serve as board leaders. They also are assessing who of the 40 would like to serve as mentors and who would like to be mentored and hope to set up an online profiles of the young leaders to make these connections (similar to idea). The process has been a win-win for the VNA and the Virginia Action Coalition, as it has increased participation in both.

Lessons Learned:

  • The beauty of this group is that it has been an organic, evolving process.  It began with honoring them and now they are working to determine the best way for them to be involved in this work. 
  • The process helped organizations throughout the state recognize who their emerging leaders are.
  • Plan prior to the selection of the 40 leaders on how you will engage them quickly in the Action Coalition's work. 
  • Adequate time to judge and score the nominations is needed.  You may get more than you think!
  • Never underestimate how overwhelmingly meaningful this recognition is to nominees.

Visit this website for more information on the program.                                      

Contact the Virginia Action Coalition Leadership Workgroup Co-Lead, Loressa Cole, at

by Jennifer Cooper | September 7, 2012

Tags: leadership, virginia

Victoria Vinton

Decided to do a 40 Under 40 last June, 2012. Found Virginias example along with a multitude of business examples. Thank you Virginia! Pulled it off with team effort on Sept 13, 2012. Followed it with a Leadership Conference/Summit the following day. Plan was to celebrate and engage honorees right away. Take aways from events: Created lots of good energy, increased donations from nurses, LPNs were included in nominating process (one honored), planto use 2 honorees to join Executive Committee in a succession plan for a 3 year term during which they will be mentored by a current committee member & then allow that member to step off, involvement in seeking board positions, honorees encouraged to push information out about the coalition through their social media connections. Example of our nomination form attached.
Posted on: October 26, 2012, 2:03 pm

Jennifer Cooper

Vicki, thank you so much for sharing about your work in recognizing young leaders in Nebraska. It is good to hear that there are plans to engage honorees immediately and that 2 are joining your executive team. Please encourage them to join our community to discuss their experience. We need to find more like them to help lead in their states!
Posted on: November 8, 2012, 10:01 am

Gail McGuill

The Utah Organization of Nurse Leaders has provided a Nursing Excellence Award for a nurse leader in the state for many years. This year we added an award for an Emerging Nurse Leader. Our criteria focused on Organizational Effectiveness, Innovative Programs and Community Service. We certainly can share more details with any organization interested.
Posted on: December 3, 2012, 11:02 am

Jennifer Cooper

Can anyone share how these young leaders are now leading in your action coalitions or if they have assumed private or public board positions in your state?
Posted on: December 7, 2012, 11:45 am


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