• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Sharing her lifetime of leadership in nursing


DIANA WEAVER and Karen Sexton, a former colleague at the University of Kentucky, shared a desire to expand the horizons of other nursing professionals. "We were all about leadership," said Weaver, pictured during an interview at her Versailles home. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Versailles resident Diana Weaver and Karen Sexton, who died of pancreatic cancer a little more than a year ago, always wanted to share what they've learned about leadership with the next generation of nurses. Because of this shared desire to expand the horizons of other nursing professionals, Weaver says she knows Sexton would have appreciated that the Sexton-Weaver Nurse Lecture Series - established to honor their leadership contributions - was open to students, faculty and nursing staff at the UK College of Nursing and UK Healthcare. Weaver and Sexton shared a belief about leadership. "You don't have to have a formal title to lead. You can lead at the bedside," says Weaver. During her career at the University of Kentucky, Weaver was both director of nursing at UK Medical Center and assistant dean of clinical affairs at the College of Nursing from 1984 to 1991. Working in administrative roles on the clinical and service sides allowed Weaver to better "prepare future practitioners" in UK's College of Nursing. To recognize her contributions to leadership, the Diana Weaver Leadership Award has been recognizing leaders who promote quality nursing care since 1994. UK's College of Nursing and UK Healthcare established the Sexton-Weaver Nurse Leadership Lecture Series in 2016 to honor both Weaver and Dr. Karen Sexton for their many contributions to leadership in nursing. The first lecturer of the series in April was Dr. Julie Sebastian, dean of nursing at the University of Nebraska. Sexton Scholarship recipients for 2015-16 were Margaret Plymale and Stephanie Kehler, nursing students at UK. 'A responsibility of leadership' Weaver and Sexton were colleagues at UK for seven years before their careers took them on different paths, but Weaver says they always remained "wonderful supporters of each other" no matter where their careers took them. Sexton succeeded Weaver as director of nursing at UK Medical Center in 1991 when Weaver left to become vice-president for nursing at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn. Sexton later moved onto the University of Texas, where she was chief nursing officer, chief operating officer and president of the hospital before returning to the University of Kentucky as senior nursing advisor - a title she shared with Weaver. In that role, Sexton and Weaver advised Dr. Colleen Swartz, now chief nurse executive at UK Healthcare. They also provided leadership support and did executive coaching. "I absolutely believe that's a responsibility of leadership," says Weaver, "to prepare others to take your place." She says most leaders can do more than they believe they can - if there's someone standing behind them. That's why she always wanted to be that person who whispers, "You can do this" into someone's ear. 'That's how I got started' Growing up in a large family - one of seven children - meant there was no money for Weaver to continue her education beyond high school. When Weaver, who grew up in Connersville, Ind., didn't get a college scholarship as she and others had anticipated, it was her oldest brother, Don, an officer in the Air Force, who came through with a $300 check - enough to get her into a nursing program. "And that's how I got started," says Weaver. She and Don became the first generation in their family to graduate from college. Their mother was a cook at the local hospital, where Weaver got her first job. "So it was kind of a natural evolution," she says of her career in nursing. Weaver earned a diploma in nursing at Ball State University while also getting practical experience at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Ind. She earned her bachelor of science in nursing degree at Indiana University in 1968, a master of science in nursing degree at Northwestern State University in 1974 and a doctorate of science at Indiana University in 1981. During those years of continuing her nursing education, Weaver also held nursing positions at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Doctors' Hospital in Shreveport, La., where she became director of nursing at age 32, before becoming UK Medical Center's director of nursing in 1984. Weaver and her husband, John Weaver, moved to Central Kentucky so he could pursue a second career in the ministry. She was employed as an associate professor of nursing at Eastern Kentucky University for seven years while her husband of 50 years finished his education at Lexington Theological Seminary and began his career in the ministry at First Christian Church in Versailles. "He was a very selfless person," says Weaver. She says John was always very supportive of her career and he often joined her on job assignments that took her away from home for a week or so at a time. During her tenure at Yale, Weaver traveled to Saudi Arabia - the only woman in a contingent of 10 - to talk with that country's royal family about the operation of a recently built hospital. Weaver also traveled to Greece where she spoke during an international nursing conference and to Moscow, where she spoke to a group of Russian nurses with a shared desire to take good care of people. During those out-of-country experiences, Weaver was reminded of the value of laughter in difficult and unexpected situations. "My sense of humor has gotten me through a lot in my career - because I do love to laugh," she says. 'A family of nurses' A willingness to learn plays a critical role in the success of any leader, according to Weaver. She says a leader must also realize they are fallible and will fail, and they can learn from their failures and from others. In her current role as an independent consultant, Weaver continues to support leaders in nursing by giving them feedback on how to connect with their staff, answering questions and listening. Weaver, who has two adult children, says, "I have a family of nurses and I'm quite proud of that." Her daughter, son-in-law, niece and granddaughter are all nurses, who "saw how happy I was in my career."

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