Finding his nursing niche

Zach Taylor

Zach Taylor thrives when he’s able to engage in both hands-on work and strategic thinking. A career in nursing that straddles both worlds is one of the primary things that drew him to enroll in the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program in the adult/gerontological clinical nurse specialist (CNS) specialty. 

The new graduate is now balancing direct patient care and systems-thinking leadership to promote change in his field.

Having recently started a new position as a diabetes clinical program coordinator at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, his nursing career is already taking off in exciting new ways. What makes Taylor’s career especially interesting, though, is that his path to arrive at this point has been nonlinear, requiring him to refine his expertise and occupational identity over the years.

“My journey toward nursing was a long and winding road,” Taylor says. 

As an undergrad at the U of M, he majored in fine arts with a painting focus and minored in French studies. After graduation he worked in graphic design and finance, then spent a year in France teaching English. Upon returning to the U.S., he began exploring health care, taking the prerequisite courses necessary to attend medical school. It was while shadowing a friend in a hospital progressive care unit that Taylor fully realized nursing was the career he’d been searching for.

“What I remember liking about that experience was how well they got to know their patients, identifying their needs and partnering with them to reach their goals,” Taylor says. “Nursing also draws heavily on cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skills—a combination that was exciting to me.”

After earning a master’s degree in nursing, he began serving in general medicine at the M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center. Following three years as a full-time RN, he chose to deepen his expertise by enrolling in the DNP program to become a CNS. 

“What attracted me to the CNS role was the flexibility. As a CNS you can work similarly to a nurse practitioner seeing patients, but also in a clinical strategizing space, engaging in quality and process improvement, project management, and leadership,” he says. 

His doctoral courses helped to augment his skills and interests. Taylor was especially engaged in his translation-to-practice and quality improvement courses, as well as a course in health policy leadership. “I think policy is an uncomfortable area for a lot of nurses,” Taylor says. “It's not traditionally an area where nurses have felt like they have a lot of power or much of a voice. So I’ve enjoyed learning how to better engage and figure out strategies for being an effective policy agent, by communicating with legislators or being on committees.”

As a descendant of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, he’s also been involved in the Doctoral Education Pathway Program for American Indian/Alaska Native nurses, which seeks to grow the number of Indigenous advanced practice nurses and create community among them. For Taylor, who didn’t grow up on a reservation but was taught to value and appreciate his Indigenous heritage, the chance to embrace the intersection of his Native heritage with his profession as a nurse has been meaningful.

“There’s a representation problem in health care right now,” Taylor says. “People of color and folks who identify as LGBTQ are underrepresented in the nursing profession. Here in Minnesota, we serve a fairly large Indigenous population, but Indigenous nurses make up an exceedingly low proportion of the total workforce. The Pathway Program helps address this issue by increasing mentorship and support, and hopefully increases the number of practicing Indigenous nurses.”

In the realm of health equity, Taylor is driven to increase access to high quality health care for all populations, addressing head-on the health disparities that exist today. And when it comes to planetary health, he’s equally passionate about making sustainability improvements to support a healthier planet that, in turn, supports healthier populations. 

Taylor is eager to make an impact in the areas he’s passionate about, and poised to lean into causes and projects where he can be a catalyst for positive change.