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Graduate: Dr. Michelle Acorn

Dr. Michelle Acorn (Nursing ’87) Takes on Chief Nurse Position, Representing 27 Million Nurses Globally

Dr. Michelle Acorn (Nursing ’87) Takes on Chief Nurse Position, Representing 27 Million Nurses Globally

Dr. Michelle Acorn has enjoyed a successful and fulfilling career in the healthcare sector, most recently being appointed to Chief Nurse of the International Council of Nurses (ICN). The ICN is a federation of more than 138 nurses’ associations representing almost 28 million nurses worldwide. Founded in 1899, the ICN works to ensure quality nursing care for all, sound health policies globally, the advancement of nursing knowledge, and the presence worldwide of a respected nursing profession and a competent and satisfied nursing workforce. Being appointed into the position of Chief Nurse is an incredible accomplishment and follows serving three years as Provincial Chief Nurse Officer for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care.

Although Dr. Acorn’s experience at Fleming in the Nursing program was nearly 35 years ago, Fleming instilled a love of learning and need for continuing professional development that she maintains today. Michelle reflects on her time at Fleming saying, “Fleming prepared me clinically to optimize my technical competence and confidence to deliver safe quality care. Fleming also taught me that geography, sectors, and practice do not limit nursing service delivery and impact local to global.”

In October 2021, Dr. Acorn was inducted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing at the Academy’s Health Policy Conference. She had previously been inducted as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Nursing. Induction into the Academy is a significant milestone in a nurse leader’s career in which their accomplishments are honoured by their colleagues within and outside the profession. Fellows are selected through a competitive and rigorous application process based on their contributions and impact to advance the public’s health.

We asked Dr. Acorn about her recent Chief Nurse appointment and her goals for the ICN moving forward.


What initiatives will you lead as the Chief Nurse of International Council of Nurses? What are your priorities?

My leadership opportunity as the Provincial Chief Nursing Officer provided me with strategic advisory, policy capacity and partnership expertise. It is a privilege to transition roles and become the inaugural Chief Nurse of ICN, a nongovernmental organization supporting 138 national nursing associations and nearly 28 million nurses to advance nursing and health policy, sustainable development goals and universal care. The Global Strategic Directions for Nursing & Midwifery adopted at the 74th World Health Assembly in May will be a priority focus over the next four years to maximize implementation, monitor impact, and drive investments for nursing education, jobs, leadership, and service delivery. Targeting ICN’s aligned strategic priorities for global impact, membership empowerment, innovative growth and strategic leadership will also be advanced through our policy and programmes geared to nursing leadership, organizational development, and national capacity building for world health. Nursing work force considerations, health and gender equality, and safe valued work are other important issues to undertake.

In your opinion, what are some key characteristics that make a good leader?

My leadership leverages the value -add synergy of transformational authenticity. Nurses are all leaders, both informally and formally. Transforming by inspiring others to strive higher and work toward a shared vision, such as optimizing access to quality care and health equity across populations. Being authentic, genuine, connected, mission driven and transparent is also deeply inherent in me.

Change management competencies are essential as health care evolves, change is always a constant. Strengthening and sustaining communication and relationships are key to patients, the interprofessional team, and external to nursing. Partnerships and collaboration for collective ownership, recognition and showcasing others is paramount.

How has COVID-19 changed the nursing industry?

The pandemic is the catalyst and tipping iceberg point for our chronic health systems challenges. It highlighted system and service gaps, inequities, mortality and morbidity, mental health, and mass human trauma across the world. Technology utilization exploded with virtual care and innovation catapulted. COVID also enabled opportunities to empower nurses to flex, pivot, respond, challenge the status quo professionally, and lead our communities.

Do not underestimate the nursing power of the largest group of health professions as a trusted collective force. Nurses champion to address response, recovery, building a better system and sustaining nursing as a rewarding career choice.

What continues to drive you to do the work that you do?

The more I learn, the more identified opportunities are revealed for me to influence improving education, care, leadership, and impact. I am fortunate to have a lifelong career that I am still passionate about, which drives my purpose. It is less about me, and more about the greater good and health for all. Retirement is possible for me now, but not probable, as opportunity to catapult nursing reach, scope, and scale is now.

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