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Sharon A. Cusanza


Magnet®, Accreditation®, Pathway to Excellence®

Sharon Cusanza brings over 40 years of nursing experience to her consultation practice, including nursing leadership, quality improvement, and Magnet® experience. She is currently the head of risk management education at LAMMICO.

Sharon Cusanza brings over 40 years of nursing experience to her consultation practice. She has extensive experience as a leader/director including a background in quality improvement, education, and accreditation. Her experience also includes chairing institutional level quality, nursing leadership, and shared decision-making committees. She is currently the lead of risk management education at LAMMICO/Medical Interactive where she oversees ACCME accreditation with commendation and ANCC accreditation with distinction. She was formerly the Magnet Program Director at a large tertiary care hospital, where she successfully wrote two sets of Magnet application documents and coordinated the accompanying site visits. Sharon possesses in-depth understanding and analysis of the ANCC Magnet Recognition Program®, the Pathway to Excellence Program®, and the Accreditation® Program. She is a Fundamentals of Magnet® certificate holder. Fundamentals of Magnet® is a professional credential for consultants who guide hospitals as they apply for Magnet recognition. She also has over 15 years of experience developing local and regional conferences for professional organizations.

In addition to consulting and nursing education, she has presented her own nursing research studies and quality improvement projects at ANCC National Magnet Conferences, AONL, ACCME conferences, and the ANCC NPD Summit.

Summary of Services

  • Conducts gap analysis and readiness assessments and provides strategies for success.
  • Develops customized education and training to support organizational needs.
  • Assists organizations with document development and review.
  • Assists with electronic document submission.
  • Conducts comprehensive on-site reviews in preparation for site visits.
  • Works with all stakeholders to achieve organizational goals.


  • BSN, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, LA
  • MSN in executive nursing, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL


  • American Nurses Credentialing Center–Certificate Holder in Fundamentals of Magnet®
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center–Nurse Executive, Advanced
  • Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions-Certified Healthcare CPD Professional

Professional Memberships

  • Alliance for Continuing Education in the Health Professions
  • Association for Nursing Professional Development
  • American Nursing Association
  • American Organization of Nurse Leaders
  • American Society for Healthcare Risk Management

In the Magnet® Manual, Transformational Leadership (TL) has sources of evidence related to mentoring and succession planning associated with specific levels of nursing: clinical nurse, nurse manager, nurse leader (see the specific definition in the manual) and chief nursing officer (even the CNO should have a mentor and a succession plan for his/her replacement). There seems to be a great deal of confusion between these two concepts and the types of programs that organizations should have in place.

Mentorship: In my experience, a mentor is a wise, trusted, influential counselor, teacher or supporter. A mentor may be a peer (rather than a manager) and may or may not be an employee of the same organization. A mentored relationship is a one-to-one relationship that spans over many years (usually at least two). A mentor assists a less experienced nurse to develop and meet his or her career goals by providing resources, learning opportunities, and ideas to improve performance, as well as helping to identify strengths and weaknesses, and evaluating successes and failures. Mentoring is essential for the career development and establishment of new nurses and the transfer of years of wisdom and expertise of mature, experienced nurses.

Succession Planning: In contrast, succession planning does not involve a long-term, one-to-one relationship. It is the process of identifying and developing key internal personnel to fill leadership positions when leaders are promoted or leave the organization. A leader is usually working with a few key candidates for succession planning in various states of readiness (from advanced beginner to expert). Succession planning activities may include coaching, providing resources and learning opportunities specifically related to preparation for promotion. It could also involve shadowing in various areas or transfers to different departments.

Confusion between the two activities arises because some of the processes are similar. Both are assisting a protégé to advance their career, providing resources and learning opportunities, and providing feedback to improve performance. The differences arise in the goals for the outcome and the relationship between the two. Mentoring involves a long-term relationship that is usually viewed as informal for the goal of career progression from novice to expert despite the position or organization. The goal of succession planning is promotion to a higher-level position within a specific organization. The process is usually considered to be formal but the relationship is not dependent on the timing or closeness.

With these similarities and differences in mind, one of the most cited deficiencies for these standards is lack of evidence for these activities. Here are some suggestions to overcome the lack of documentation:

  1. Create a formal mentoring program with required documentation of meetings for all four levels
    • Pair mentors with mentees
    • Ensure that mentors and mentees commit to a designated time frame with specific touchpoints (consider the time frame to be at least one year)
    • Provide scheduling and documentation tools
    • Provide a suggestion of activities to kick off and maintain the relationship
    • Don’t forget that even the CNO needs to have a mentoring experience for his/her own growth and development
  2. Create a formal succession planning program with required documentation of the development process for each level
    • Provide tools to leaders on how to identify experienced candidates for succession planning
    • Provide assessment tools to leaders to help them to identify the additional skills that each candidate needs
    • Keep a list of organizational resources for leadership development that the leader can make available to the candidates for gaining the skills needed to become leaders and managers
    • Provide tools to the leader to reassess the candidate to identify when he/she is ready for advancement
    • Maintain an ongoing list of candidates that are ready for promotion
    • Don’t forget succession planning for clinical nurse positions that could be a student intern program or nursing assistants who are near graduation from nursing school
  3. Create a reporting mechanism at timely intervals to the Magnet Program Director so that he/she will be able to select the best mentoring relationships and succession planning processes for use in the Magnet documents.

Effective mentoring and succession planning programs can be a source of great stories. For assistance with these types of programs or with other Magnet related components, please contact the ANA NKC consultants.

*Use of ANA Consultation Services does not guarantee you will achieve an ANCC credential. ANA consultants and staff cannot influence the actions of ANCC program staff nor decisions of the Commission on Magnet® Recognition, Commission on Pathway to Excellence®, or Commission on Accreditation in Practice Transition Programs and the Commission for Nursing Continuing Professional Development..

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