Frankie Manning, MSN, RN

WCN sat down with Frankie T. Manning, MSN, RN, and WCN Lifetime Impact Award recipient to learn more about her journey in nursing.

WCN: What inspired you to choose a career in nursing?

Manning: Nursing has been my career choice since I was a very young person. I grew up in a small town in Texas, and back then, the world was still very much black-and-white. I had an aunt who was a midwife. And the midwives in those days not only took care of the mothers and delivered the babies, but cared for the whole family. I also had two grandmothers who were both blind. And I noticed that my Aunt Sarah, the midwife, was always called Ms. Sarah Penny, whereas my grandmothers were called by their first names. That always bothered me. Later, I learned that part of it was because Sarah delivered most of the babies in town, and out of respect, they called her Ms. Sarah Penny. So I grew up with the idea that you could do a lot to help people, and people would value that in you as you grew threw life. All my life, I wanted to be a nurse. I had other incidents along the way, but that was the beginning of what I saw as an important part of caring for others. It was a great experience learning about my aunt’s journey and being able to experience that because, in those days, babies were born at home.

WCN: You served 22 years in the military, including a deployment to Saudi Arabia. How did your service prepare you for nursing leadership?

Manning: I was older when I went into the military. I was in the Army Reserves. I was already an Assistant Chief Nurse when I joined. I joined because I wanted to maintain my clinical skills. Direct care of people has always been my first choice in nursing, which made my journey into nursing administration a bit of a challenge. But I learned you could care for patients in an administrative job just as well as you could if you were at the bedside. People told me I was too old to join the military, but I thought, you know, I’m going to talk to these people because there was a shortage of nurses, as always. So I went, and this young recruiter said, oh, yes, ma’am, we would love to have you. He gave me all the paperwork, and I filled it out. And once people in the military find out about your nursing background, they look to put you in an administrative position. I started out in a clinical role, but soon grew into an administrative one. I also held several Chief Nurse positions.

When deployed to Saudi Arabia, I was the Chief Nurse at the 50th, but we were transitioning to a new Chief Nurse so I went with the unit not as the Chief Nurse, but as the Special Assistant to the Commander. Saudi Arabia was an interesting experience. What I learned, and I had experienced this before, is when you are in another country, you are always a part of that culture, which is quite different than your own, but you learn to adapt. And the value of women being seen and not heard in Saudi Arabia was very different than what most Americans were used to. But it was okay with me because we had a prescribed length of time and location there. My goal was to help people from my unit return home safely. I told many spouses as we were leaving, “I plan to come back home to my children, and I will be bringing your spouse back home with me, so don’t worry.” It was a tough time. I was blessed my children were young adults. Many of the other soldiers had young children. It is particularly hard when soldiers deploy and have young families. But, you know, that is what we sign up for.

I also learned a lot about living with things. Because in the military, you have all this stuff, then you pack up your whole life to go live out of a duffel bag, not knowing for how long. You figure out what is important in life, and that’s what you take with you, and you know you can live without all the other stuff—a great lesson to learn. Saudi Arabia was a great experience.

WCN: You have seen a lot of changes in the nursing workforce over the last 50 years. What changes do you find encouraging? Where is there still work to do?

Manning: I find it encouraging that many young people are interested in nursing. I want to keep that momentum going. I also find that more people are discussing the issue of diversity. I’m not sure they fully understand what diversity means, but at least there is more discussion around it. I think that is important. If that can translate to patients, I think it will be powerful for all of us.

We also have a long way to go in preparing nurses to understand that it is okay to question things. And to value the diverse opinions that are there in nursing. In the last week alone, I have been helping three different young people in nursing programs who have been penalized because they have stood up for themselves. At least, that is the perception. And it troubles me that we still struggle with allowing people to have a conversation. When I was still working, it was not always comfortable for me when staff questioned a decision I had made. But I learned to listen to them. And I learned that from my children. When I was growing up, children didn’t question their parents. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that adults weren’t always correct. And so, I wanted my children to learn how to question. It was hard sometimes. I tell people my youngest child was the most challenging. But I learned it was okay and that I wasn’t going to die from it, that I could answer her questions, and it was fine. It helped me in my work life because when staff would ask me questions or challenge a decision I had made, it wasn’t always because they had some nefarious thinking around it; it was because they didn’t understand where the decision came from. And I didn’t always understand how it was impacting them and their work life either. By us having a conversation, we could have a better understanding. But, more importantly, sometimes I could revise my decision and improve it. And we all came out okay. It wasn’t the end of the world. I also learned that when I could question people in authority over me, I made things better for patients. But, if I failed to ask questions, then not only did the nurses suffer, but the patients suffered too. I think it is important we do better about that in nursing. And it seems to start in nursing education.

I have learned to question a lot of things, and sometimes it was not because I was not fearful but because I learned early on that it was not worth staying in a position or a job where I could not be honest with myself and the people that I work with. And if they didn’t want that, then it was probably not a good place for me to be. I also learned early on that if I didn’t question physician’s orders sometimes, patients would die. Asking questions and being challenged as a nurse is critical, and I hate to see students not being valued for that.

I’m trying to work with these three students to see what we can do to work through these things. And I hope, at least with one of the students, I can get an opportunity to meet with the faculty and try and help them work through their situation. That is one of the most troubling things I see in nursing today.

WCN: You have impacted so many nurses through mentorship. What does mentorship mean to you?

Manning: I have been so fortunate in my own life to have people help me in many ways. I have had all kinds of mentors in my life. I owe so much to where I have been able to go in life to many people. I feel like I owe helping nurses and people wherever I can. I’m committed to making the world a better place. I am blessed to have people in my life who have touched me, people who have given me advice that helped me grow, and people who saw me struggling and helped me. I have had guidance come from places where I least expected it. The value of helping other people be successful is what I live for. I was fortunate I saw this in my parents. My mother taught us that it is more important to give than receive. I grew up with that in my life and saw that in my own home and community. I have been the recipient of so much mentorship and growth that what I do is a small token of payback for what I received. It is important.

WCN: Who are some of your role models, and why (in nursing and/or community leadership)?

Manning: I have so many role models, and I pick them up all the time. I haven’t just had one in my life. Significant to me was my mother. I came from a large family, and my mother was a teacher. I watched her patience with people who had difficulty. Often kids in our community would be at our house because there were so many of us, another plate of food for another kid was nothing. My mother would often help other kids whose parents weren’t as interested in them with their homework. She believed strongly that every child could learn and that every person could learn and that there was good in everybody. People say to me sometimes that I’m a little pollyannish, but I’m not. I saw that as a lived experience. Throughout my life, I have tried to remember that and recall it when I’m working in difficult situations. There is good in everyone, and sometimes we have to work a little harder to find it. I can truly say that my mother was a strong role model for me.

I have had lots of others. My first supervisor in nursing was Sister O’Diela and I still remember her to this day. She taught me the value of not only caring for the patient but the value of not being a coward to the system. At the time, I had no idea that people could be fired for doing the right thing, but I learned that Sister O’Diela was there to help me. It was a very troubling situation that I won’t go into here. But looking back on the situation years later, I was struck by the fact that there was this nun who, in a very segregated world at that time, stood up for me and said, no, she was doing the right thing, and you were wrong, and that is not appropriate. And if you can’t treat her fairly, I think we can find a better place for her to work. I mean, whoa, that was my first job in nursing. And I have always tried to remember that in my work. The idea that you don’t always have to be asked for support, but that sometimes you must seek out those opportunities to give support because the person who needs it may not know they are in trouble. I had no idea that this head nurse was doing the wrong thing because I respected people in positions of authority and thought they always had the good of everybody in mind. These are some of the things you think when you are young and just starting your career. And, of course, I learned that it wasn’t a true thing. But the lesson was valuable. And when I was afraid to talk to the doctor, Sister O’Diela would say to me, “You are the professional, why would you call me? You know what is wrong with the patient. You call the doctor.” I would be shaking in my boots, but I called anyway. The first job out of school, you know, you’re scared to death. I remember Sister O’Diela and her honesty to this very day.

WCN: You are very active in the Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Association (MMPNA), which is a model for the support and community nursing associations, and, specifically, multi-cultural nursing associations, provide for BIPOC nurses. Can you share with us more about the mission, goals, work, and history of the MMPNA?

Manning: Mary Mahoney in Seattle started in 1949. It started because our founder, Ms. Baker, worked at Harborview and wanted to help other nurses who were mostly migrants from the south looking for employment and couldn’t find it. And because they couldn’t find it as nurses, they finally took work as people in the kitchen, housekeepers, and nursing assistants. Ms. Baker discovered that these people were nurses and, inviting them to her house, told them how to get licensed in the state of Washington. Then they formed a club and called it the Mary Mahoney Club.

When they first started, their goal was to help people who came here to get jobs. At the time, the only place that would hire black nurses was Harborview Medical Center. All thirteen of these women worked at Harborview. And for many years, in fact, that was the only place they could work. They then decided they wanted to help more people become nurses. One way they could do this was to raise money for scholarships and help people get into school. In those early days, prospective students could not get into the University of Washington because they were barred from being admitted. But they persisted. They had bake sales and car washes, and their whole families were involved in raising money to give scholarships to people to get into school.

Ms. Baker also firmly believed that nursing was a calling like being called to service. So, the idea that we would work hard in the community to give back to the community became the second mission of MMPNA. And it is still part of our mission today. To help not only recruit nurses into the profession, but to serve the community. And in that process, we work a lot with other nursing organizations to ensure that when we go out into the community, members of the community are represented. That has been very productive.

We had our student orientation one year, and I was struck that one of the Chinese students came, Weichao Yuwen, and brought several Chinese students. And it ended up that one of the Chinese nurses and one of our students were best friends, and they were so glad to see each other. The orientation turned out to be not just for African heritage students but for everybody there. It was a wonderful celebration to watch these young people share their experiences! Then Weichao said they were trying to start a Chinese Nurses Association. So, we had them over for lunch and talked about things they should do to get an organization started. We had a great time. And that was pretty powerful. And to watch them grow, too. We have done some outreach activities together, and that has been helpful. Because when you go out into the community, you never know who will come in, but it is helpful to have nurses who reflect the community there. We have also worked with the Hispanic nurses and miss having them because when we are out in the community, it helps. We have a group of former students from Africa. When we go out into the community, and people come in from that community who don’t speak English well, the former students can talk to them in their native language, and our outreach education goes very well. It makes a difference. You can see people’s eyes light up. We worked at this Seattle/King County clinic, and when patients came in and saw someone that spoke their language rather than using a machine, it made all the difference in the world.

Having people who understand your language and culture is huge (for example, having someone understand your food choices). I learn so much from others who are from different cultures. I’ve been fortunate to be able to have the experience of learning from a lot of people from different cultures. Along the way, I think they have learned a few things from me, too. MMPNA has been such an enriching experience.

WCN: What do you enjoy most about nursing?

Manning: I enjoy caring for people, and I think you can care for people without having them in a bed. I learned that the hard way because when people tried to get me into administration, I wouldn’t go because the people in the administration weren’t very smart (at least that was my attitude at the time), and that was the first thing. And second, they weren’t caring for patients. I think the value of nursing is you can nurse people without putting your hands on them. You can often give people helpful information that helps to make their lives better. The value of caring for others is what I truly value about nursing. I do believe that the heart of nursing is caring.

WCN: You give so much of yourself to improve the community around you. How do you refill your cup?

Manning: I am blessed to have a lot of great friends. I read a lot. I enjoy music. I enjoy my grandchildren and get a lot of enrichment from them. Family is important to me; they fill my cup. These are the things that I really enjoy. I also enjoy people like Sofia [WCN’s Executive Director]. I love watching her grow throughout her career. It has been wonderful to see that. And to see that in other young nurses. To see them be successful and watch them grow. It is wonderful! And sometimes I sit back and realize, gosh, I’ve been around a long time. I fill my cup watching others be successful and watching my family.

WCN: What advice do you have for nursing leaders of the future?

Manning: The wisdom I want to share with nurses of the future is probably the same as it is for today’s nursing leaders, which is to be willing to listen. And not just to your staff but to other people around you who may also give you advice. Additionally, to stay in tune with the population you serve, which includes the staff you supervise. And to always continue learning. Every day is a new learning experience. If you continue to be open to learning, you will always grow–and when you yourself grow, you allow others to grow too. I think this is important to do.

WCN: What else would you like to share with our audience?

Manning: I hope that people learn the value of treating other people the way they would like to be treated. And to know that every person offers us the opportunity to learn. If we can do that, we provide better care to people because patients can teach you a lot.

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