Creating strong personal connections and learning from others is hardwired into Jan Finn, RN, MSN, president and chief executive officer of Midwest Transplant Network (MWTN) and the 2023 Board Chair of the Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance (The Alliance). Finn, an experienced and revered figure in the organ donation and transplantation community, advises that same approach will be needed to navigate the changes that lie ahead for the nation’s organ donation and transplantation system, such as those emerging from the 2022 NASEM report.
“We have to reach out to each other to talk about what we’re doing that’s making us successful or if we have an area where we feel like we need some help,” says Finn. “But it will also be important to reach out to the learning opportunities that are available,” she adds. “We have to stay very well abreast of what’s happening nationally in terms of the regulatory environment to be able to speak to our elected officials and also to CMS and HRSA and those people that are not only thought leaders but also policymakers because without our input there’s no way that they can know the right direction.”
During her year as Board Chair, Finn plans to lean into The Alliance’s vision to be the catalyst that ignites bold advancements in organ donation, transplantation and patient survival through collaboration and engaged learning. “There are multiple organizations that provide education, but The Alliance has done a really good job with reaching out to NATCO (North American Transplant Coordinators Organization) and AOPO (Association of Organ Procurement Organizations) and other organizations to figure out how we can all collaborate,” says Finn. “The Alliance doesn’t see boundaries. They want to see all OPOs and transplant centers doing well and support that by providing relevant and targeted learning solutions.” Finn says she also wants to lean into and broadly share information about The Alliance’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative.
Finn says The Alliance has grown over the last couple of years due to its highly contextualized, online learning programs that range from convenient, self-directed research resources to highly interactive mentorship programs that offer partner organizations great value. The various levels of interactivity and convenience in The Alliance’s learning program portfolio provide organ donation and transplantation professionals with opportunities to increase their knowledge and skills and interact with experts in ways that work for them.
Finn, who provides executive leadership to the 250 team members of MWTN, is skilled in guiding increases in organ and tissue donation with decisions driven by data and a strong improvement focus. She has amassed an impressive record of leadership in the organ donation and transplantation community as she has served as president of both AOPO (2021-22) and NATCO (2008). Those positions allowed her to serve on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) board of directors; once as the OPO representative and once as the transplant coordinator representative.
Listening Is Key
Finn says that a focus on listening is part of the secret to success in building strong relationships with partners. ”Whenever we have a meeting with someone, the most important thing is to let them be heard,” she says “We don’t really know what might be causing great performance or being a barrier until we hear it from their own words. I’ve always found that if you listen to people and let them know that they’re being heard, whether they’re your own staff, or colleagues that you’re working within hospitals, or physicians, that it goes a lot further to listen. I think that makes a big, big difference.”
Listening is so important to Finn that she has fine-tuned a process for it at MWTN. Every other month there’s an informal listening session in the cafeteria (dubbed ‘Fun with Finn’ by her colleagues) where staff can ask her anything and propose ideas. Afterward, she gives a stoplight report to the entire organization (red, yellow, green) concerning the suggestions. Very few ideas are red for Finn. “We’ve been able to make a lot of changes and improvements in our OPO because we’ve listened to staff.” On the off months, Finn hosts a luncheon for a staff member from each of MWTN’s departments.
Influenced to Work Hard and Honor Commitments
Finn says that throughout her career she has tried to understand how people in leadership positions were thinking and influencing others. During her work as a faculty member with the federally-sponsored Organ Donation and Transplantation Breakthrough Collaboratives and later as the National Improvement Leader for HRSA, she worked with Howard Nathan, Dennis Wagner, and John Scanlon who she says were all influential in her development. “One of the things that I learned from John that I absolutely love is that when someone would stand up to speak at a meeting, he would always be very intentional about listening to them and trying to understand what they said. And he always thanked them and urged the audience to ‘give them a hand.’
“That became one thing I like to do. We have a recognition time at the beginning of every leadership meeting. I ask, ‘Who do you want to recognize?’ It can be someone in the room or someone on your team. And I make sure that if it’s someone on their team that I send them a thank you note and personally recognize the work that people are doing.”
In the past decade, Finn says that Quint Studer’s work has influenced her leadership approach. “We really jumped into the Studer philosophy of the healthcare flywheel of worthwhile work and purpose and also making sure that the staff are surrounded by people that are like-minded.”
Finn says her personal secret of success is determination and honoring commitments, something she says her mother instilled in her. The youngest of three children, she grew up in a small town in southwest Missouri. “It was an hour’s drive to go shopping and I remember those hours in the car with my mom. I think about how she used that time to influence me and my sister. She would tell stories about how she grew up, but she would also say, ‘You need to do this in your life. And don’t forget that education is important. And values.’ She was trying to make sure that we didn’t go off the beaten path too far.”
“For the most part, I was raised in an age where I knew that I had to work hard to succeed,” continues Finn. “I worked hard as a staff nurse. I took good care of patients. I was a really good critical care nurse, and I loved doing that. I worked hard and did my job and was a team player when I began as a coordinator at MWTN. And because of that, you get recognized and then you get offered promotions.”
Pathway from Nurse to CEO
One of her mother’s friends influenced her at young age to aspire to be a nurse. “I remember her saying you can do anything as a nurse, you’re not limited. And then a nurse came to one of my classes in school and said the same thing.” At a doctor’s appointment in high school, a comment by her Mother cemented Finn’s vocational aspiration. “We had a discussion that if you go into nursing, you’ll be able to take care of people. It’ll be really rewarding, and you’ll be able to help people. You won’t be doing something that just anyone can do. My mother really encouraged me.”
After high school, Finn headed to nursing school at Pittsburg State University; she received her MSN from the University of Kansas and spent eight years as an ICU nurse where she developed a passion for the organ donation process. She joined MWTN in 1990 to open the first satellite office in Southwest Missouri.
Finn’s personal life revolves around family connections. She’s the proud grandmother of five and she and her husband of 40 years raised two sons. Now in their free time, they attend their grandchildren’s sporting events, visit family at nearby lake houses, and go to the beach in the Florida Panhandle. They live with their dog, Fitzgerald Grant, named after the presidential character in the television series “Scandal,” in Lee’s Summit, MO outside Kansas City.
Finn offers a pearl of wisdom for future OPO and transplant center leaders: “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Then reach out to people that you trust and that are strong leaders and ask them about what they’re doing that’s making them successful and listen to their ideas.”