Robyn Sunday-Allen, Cherokee, RN, MPH, is the CEO of Oklahoma City Indian Clinic. She and her staff of 110 nurses, physicians and others provide comprehensive medical and behavioral health services to all tribal members in the Oklahoma County area. When the following interview was published, she was the clinic's director of nursing. Over the years she worked her way up to the top position in the clinic. When it was announced that Sunday-Allen was to be the CEO, Everett Rhoades, president of the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic’s board of directors, said this about Sunday-Allen, “She is not only an experienced nurse with a master’s degree in public health administration but has also gained national recognition for several programs that improved the clinic and the services it provides.”
(See the Update following the article.)
Front Line Nurse
JW: What kinds of opportunities are available for American Indian nurses?
RS: If you are an Indian nurse, you will never be unemployed because there is so much need among Indian people for nurses. The preference is to hire Indian nurses to take care of Indian people. You can work in a rural area, an urban area or for IHS in any of their sites, including places in Alaska. If you get tired of one kind of nursing, such as ambulatory nursing, you can go into other kinds of nursing, such as emergency room, intensive care, and home health nursing.
JW: How did you get involved in nursing?
RS: I had always known that I wanted to do something in the health professions. Both of my grandparents are diabetic. As a little girl I would spend all day with them at the Claremore Indian Hospital. As I’d sit there, I’d think, “Someday I’m going to do something for Indian people.”
When I was taking a course in allied health at the University of Oklahoma, a guest speaker talked about all of the opportunities that are available for nurses, so I started taking classes that were prerequisites for nursing. Then I applied and got into the nursing program. In 1993 I finished a bachelors in psychology. (I had already taken a lot of psychology courses because they were interesting.) In 1995 I got my bachelors in nursing.
My first job, right out of college, was as an ambulatory nurse here at the clinic. Within 6 months, I was the director of nursing. I only had one course that prepared us for management positions. I could have used a lot more. Now with the nature of health care and with managed care, I would definitely recommend that students take courses in business as part of their electives.
JW: Do any Indian student nurses have clinical learning experiences here at your clinic?
RS: Yes. Every semester I’ve had a student over here. If they are LPN [licensed practical nurse] students, they follow the LPN. If they are an RN [registered nurse] student, they follow the RN. By the time they leave they may be doing what the nurse they were following is doing.
JW: For readers who aren’t familiar with the different levels of nursing, could you please briefly describe the levels.
RS: A license practical nurse is degreed out of a vocational school. Those programs are usually 18 months long, post high school. An associate degree nurse goes to a junior college for two years and is considered an RN after being licensed. For a bachelors of science in nursing, you need two years of prerequisite college-level work and two years of nursing school.
Master’s-prepared nurses include nurse practitioners. In some states nurse practitioners are so autonomous that they write prescriptions and run their own clinics. Depending at the university, you can also get a master’s level education in pediatrics, women’s health administration, research etc. As an advanced level nurse, you can take avenues other than patient care.
JW: As a director of nursing, what qualities do you look for in candidates for nursing positions?
RS: First I look for someone who is culturally sensitive and receptive to learning about other people’s cultures. I give preference to Native Americans. I look for people who are good communicators, both written and oral, and work well on teams. Of course, I want nurses who are caring and compassionate. I don’t want people who are just in it for the money.
JW: What about men in nursing?
RS: The last two positions that I’ve filled here have been with men. Nursing is no longer considered a female profession.
JW: Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers who are considering nursing as a career?
RS: Nursing school is not hard. It’s time consuming. It’s an endurance test. And you’ll make it!
This article was originally published in the Winter 2000 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is Ben Shorty, Navajo.)
During the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic’s Red Feather Gala, Robyn Sunday-Allen learned that the Governor of Oklahoma, Brad Henry, had named November 14, 2009, “Robyn Sunday-Allen Day” in Oklahoma.
Her accolades also include being a finalist in the Journal Record “Oklahoma’s Most Admired CEO’s”. Below is a profile of Sunday-Allen that was written for the Journal Record’s “50 Making a Difference” series.
Sunday-Allen is dedicated to community development and so serves on several boards including the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Red Cross, and the Oklahoma Blood Institute.
Publication: Journal Record (Oklahoma City, OK)
Date: Friday, October 2 2009
50 Making a Difference Profile: Robyn Sunday-Allen, Oklahoma City Indian Clinic
Byline: Journal Record Staff
It can be extraordinarily difficult to walk the line between family obligations, cultural traditions and the demands of a busy executive office. Yet it's a line that Robyn Sunday-Allen walks with great skill and effectiveness as chief executive officer of the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic. A member of the Cherokee Nation, Sunday-Allen grew up using the Indian Health Service (IHS). “As a child, both of my grandparents had chronic illnesses that caused us to visit the IHS facilities often, she said. I knew then that I wanted to become a health care professional who worked in the IHS system serving American Indian people.”
Sunday-Allen earned her bachelor's degrees in psychology and nursing as well as a master of public health degree from the University of Oklahoma. She joined the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic in 1995 as a registered nurse. She was subsequently promoted to nurse manager of health services in 1997, to chief operating officer in 2001, and to chief executive officer in early 2009. She is a member of the Oklahoma Nurses Association and the Oklahoma Public Health Association.
“It has been a thrill to implement so many innovative health care programs that have affected thousands of Indian people in Oklahoma - programs that have changed the face of preventive medicine, diabetes management, early obesity intervention, HIV/AIDS and substance abuse in our state,” she said. “To be involved with Native people and to see health, pride and joy return to the faces of those who once hurt so badly has been my greatest accomplishment.” Sunday-Allen is also motivated by the knowledge that she is helping people who would otherwise have little or no access to health care, and that she sets an equally positive tone for the employees who report to her.
In 2009, Oklahoma Business magazine recognized the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic as one of the Best Places to Work in Oklahoma. Personally, she also received Outstanding Leadership and Outstanding Performance awards from the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic.
“My mom is my most important influence,” Sunday-Allen said. “As a single mother and licensed clinical social worker, I saw her daily trials and tribulations, as well as her dedication to charitable issues outside of our home. She made a difference for so many, and at an early age I vowed to uphold her good work.”
Sunday-Allen has kept that vow in spades. In addition to her professional obligations, she serves on the advisory board of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and is on the board of directors of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She also volunteers for American Red Cross and Oklahoma Blood Institute.
“One of Robyn's most outstanding characteristics has to be her ability to walk the fine line necessary to deliver health services from a 21st century perspective while upholding the traditions and culture of the Native Americans she serves,” said Kay Bills, director of Native American Business Development, Tourism and Trade Promotion for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “A Lakota proverb says it best. 'We are known by the tracks we leave behind.' Robyn has left her tracks for other women to follow, and they are well-known in her professional field and in business.
Sunday-Allen said she is able to balance all the duties on her plate through dedication and a reliance on her family and Cherokee heritage. On one hand, I am a busy CEO of a large organization. On another, I am a wife and mother to a very active five-year-old son. And, I am a Cherokee woman deeply steeped in the culture and traditions of my people, she said. I endeavor to daily walk the trail that leads to balance, peace, dignity and happiness. By doing this, I honor my people, my organization and my family.”