Minnesota Nursing magazine

Nurse leader shines in top spot

Sahra Noor says she uses nursing education skills daily as CEO
Brett Stursa

Sahra NoorSahra Noor’s rapid rise in health care leadership hasn’t gone unnoticed. After being named CEO of People’s Center Health Services, a federally qualified health center in South Minneapolis, she was honored with awards, including the 40 under 40 Award from the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal. Earlier this year she was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to the Task Force on Health Care Finance and elected co-chair. While the praise is appreciated, she says her work keeps her grounded. We asked her about the lasting impact of living in Kenyan refugee camps, what it takes to lead a clinic and how her nursing background helps her as a CEO.

How did spending your teenage years in Kenyan refugee camps impact your decision to pursue a career in health care?

During my years in the refugee camps, I realized that the ones in the camp who were making a difference and saving lives were people in health care. Most of the care was delivered by nurses and nurse-midwives. I remember watching a young midwife manage the care of multiple women in various stages of labor with limited supplies and medications. She was calm and in full control of the situation that was chaotic and desperate. It was then that I made a mental note to myself that if I ever escaped the camp and got an education, I wanted to be a nurse.

You earned a master’s degree in nursing and health systems administration from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Why did you seek out that degree?

“We rely on our colleagues in public health, economic development, housing and social services to collaborate with us so, together, we can keep our patients and our communities healthy.”

I wanted to get a broader perspective of the issues I was facing as a bedside nurse. I liked that the program was interdisciplinary, offering advanced training in nursing, public health and health systems administration. Enrolling in the program was one of the best decisions I made. The course work was challenging but also flexible. I met wonderful colleagues, friends and mentors through the program.

How does your nursing background impact your current position as CEO of People’s Center Health Services?

I think the biggest challenge as a leader is establishing credibility and building trust with staff, patients and stakeholders. I think nursing education emphasizes interdisciplinary team work, patient-centered approach to decision making and critical thinking. These are the skills I learned in nursing school and I still use daily in my role. My goal as a leader is to be thoughtful and deliberate in my decision making. I have to keep the patients, staff and communities’ best interests at heart.

What are the top three characteristics that make an effective leader in health care? Why?

Communication, integrity and trust. The health care industry is changing rapidly and leaders have to effectively communicate to keep everyone informed about what these changes mean and how they affect our care delivery model, employees and communities we serve. Integrity is a very important characteristic. A leader has to walk the talk and keep his or her promises. Building trust with people is critical to health care leadership. Establishing closer proximity to the people you lead, forming healthy relationships and setting expectations all help in establishing trust. I personally view leadership as a journey, not a destination. The key to success is self awareness. Humility goes a long way. We make mistakes. We stumble. People are more forgiving of a leader who admits faults than one who projects an image of perfection.

What is the most pressing challenge in providing quality health care at the People’s Center Health Services?

The most pressing challenge is overcoming traumatic life experiences and socioeconomic needs of our patients, which directly impact their overall health and quality of life. The majority of patients and families we serve are resilient but they have limited access to basic necessities in life such as food, transportation, employment and affordable housing. People’s Center and its providers have a 45-year history of providing compassionate care to low income communities, but they are limited in their ability to address these complex issues in a 15 or 30-minute clinic visit. We rely on our colleagues in public health, economic development, housing and social services to collaborate with us so, together, we can keep our patients and our communities healthy.

How are you tackling that challenge?

We provide care coordination, health education, housing advocacy, legal services and navigation services but the demand for services continues to grow. We are continuing to seek collaborative partnerships with nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups and government agencies. We also do a fair amount of advocacy work with legislators and elected officials both locally and nationally.