AACN News—May 2000—Opinions

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Vol. 17, No. 5, MAY 2000

President's Note: One More Thing, Before I Go: Celebrate the Joy of Critical Care Nursing

By Anne W. Wojner, RN, MSN, CCRN

President, AACN

It is hard to believe that my presidential year will soon be over, as I pass the vision to the 31st president of AACN, Denise Thornby. Serving as your president has been an incredible privilege and responsibility. As I have traveled around the country to attend your professional meetings and tour your units, I have been repeatedly rewarded and awed by the caring that each of you show for your institutions, your patients, each other and AACN. AACN is an organization whose members truly exemplify the best and the brightest in critical care.

Although I will miss many activities that I have enjoyed during my presidential year, having the opportunity to write this column each month is one that I will miss the most.

When we walk through the doors of our ICUs each day, we face terrific challenges. We must focus not only on the needs of our patients and families, but, these days, we must also care for ourselves as we are pulled through a raging current of change. Acknowledging these
challenges and the pain that we often feel is important. I hope that the thinking I have expressed in my columns has helped some of you make it through another day of carrying out the important work on which our patients so desperately depend.

The past year, we have looked at our need to become individual change masters, and the skill sets that we must cultivate to thrive in uncertain times. We have explored our potential to hear and deal effectively with hard, truthful messages. We have examined the need for changes in our institutions that would foster a return to cultures that invest in nursing excellence. In addition, we have examined our need to grow future nurses through relevant educational programs, and systems that embrace and commit to growing our young.

This is the final “President’s Note” column that I will write for AACN News, though The June issue will feature excerpts from my presidential address at the opening session of the National Teaching Institute in Orlando, Fla. Therefore, as I “sign off” and say “goodbye” in this closing column, I want to showcase and celebrate AACN’s local presence and action strategists, our chapters.

My travels the past year have provided me with the wonderful opportunity to witness first hand the work of AACN chapters in a number of communities. Some of the chapters I have visited have hundreds of members, while others are much smaller in size. Our chapter leaders and members volunteer their time toward bringing our vision to life in their communities. Despite differences in their sizes, despite the challenges associated with caring for the critically ill, despite the often uncomfortable work environments in which we practice, AACN chapter members find the time to give even more of themselves to make a difference in the lives of others.

Being a chapter leader these days is anything but a simple volunteer position. The challenges that we have explored this year within our workplaces are alive and well within our chapters, too. It takes a special person to volunteer for double duty in this challenging environment, and our chapter leaders are just that! Your chapter stories share some startling similarities:
• Difficulty recruiting new graduates and younger critical care nurses to chapter membership
• Clinging to chapter traditions and rituals that seem to no longer work
• Recycling leadership teams, because of an inability to enlist other chapter members to leadership roles
• Challenges associated with full lives that interfere with chapter leaders’ workloads.

Chapters provide a mechanism to make the mission and vision of AACN come to life in diverse geographic settings, not only within the U.S., but in many parts of the world. However, if chapters are to truly make a difference in the years to come, if they truly exist to help us make our optimal contribution, then chapters, like our workplaces will need to change significantly as well.

This year, the AACN Circle of Excellence President’s Award, which is dedicated to chapters, focused on change mastery, an ability to do things in unconventional ways, take risks, and become pioneers in a world of innovation. Many wonderful exemplars were submitted by our chapters. However, two shining stars stood out. This year, I am proud to recognize the two winners of the President’s Award—the
37-member Greater MidCities Chapter, located between Dallas and Fort Worth, Tex., and the 389-member San Diego Area Chapter in California. These are two very different chapters, with two very different sets of issues; yet, each sensed that the secret to success was to step outside the box and do things differently.

The leaders of the Greater MidCities Chapter bravely re-created their entire chapter structure, tearing down long-standing traditions, cutting workloads and exploring new, fun mechanisms that would add meaning to chapter life. They recruited new members and a new leadership team, as they committed to handing over the chapter reins to new leaders with new ideas. Leaders within the San Diego Area Chapter reassessed the richness of their chapter processes, and created new purpose and meaning to chapter involvement. They looked closely at their contributions and connections to the community, and developed new mechanisms to drive excellence in nursing practice, and increase critical care nursing’s visibility. Both of these chapters—one large and one small—demonstrated the vigor and drive of thriving pioneers in this ever-changing world.

So, how can other chapters step up to the challenge of recreating themselves? Although there are no hard, fast rules for success in chapter rejuvenation, something can be learned from this year’s award recipients. Chapters that thrive find a way to connect with the passion we have for critical care nursing. They find a way to showcase nursing excellence, and they serve as an oasis for their members in the midst of an ever-changing practice landscape.

AACN’s national leadership team believes that chapters play an essential role in growing future critical care nursing leaders. Although many of our members do not belong to chapters, we are committed to ensuring that those who choose to join are provided a meaningful experience, fostering a climate that promotes sharing, learning and exploration of the world of critical care nursing. Toward that end, immediate Past President Mary McKinley dedicated a national board liaison position, which has been filled by Debbie Byram, to examine and enhance the contributions of chapters. Following in Mary’s footsteps, we added a second board liaison, Connie Barden. Debbie and Connie are working closely with National Office Chapter Specialist Darval Bonelli and the 19 Chapter Advisory Team (CAT) leaders on exciting efforts to enhance the work and the meaning of chapter life.

As we journey into the future, chapters are likely to change significantly. Virtual chapters that meet via the Internet are only a short time away from becoming reality. Chapters that form around issues or needs are likely to develop, bridging the talents of critical care nurses from diverse settings and locations. There is no telling how our chapter structure will look in the future. However, one thing is certain: This structure will look like nothing we have seen before!

The future of AACN depends on each of its members. Regardless of how we organize ourselves in the future, if we continue to pursue making AACN’s vision a reality, our shape, size and structure will not be important. As I close my last “President’s Note” column, I hope that each of you will take with you into the future the passion that you have for critical care nursing. Let it nurture you, as you have nurtured countless numbers of patients and families. Whether as a chapter or as an individual, find joy in rediscovering new ways to face the challenges that lay ahead. Learn to go where none have gone before, celebrate your mistakes, and applaud your accomplishments. After all, you deserve to bask in the glory. You are a critical care nurse.


‘President’s Note’ Columns Inspiring
I wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed and appreciated Anne Wojner’s “President’s Note” columns the past year. I have been inspired and uplifted by her straightforward support of the nurse at the bedside.

Her reminders to those in management and education that their mission is to support the nurse at the bedside in order to support the patient have been eloquent, timely and greatly needed.

My sincere thanks for a job well done in leading the organization. I hope to benefit from her continued leadership in the provision of critical care nursing.

Deidre A. Grab, RN, BS, CCRN
Manassas, Va.

Columns Say What Nurses Feel
AACN President Anne Wojner writes great “President’s Note” columns. I have copied and posted them in our critical care areas. They have really hit a nerve, as many people who are not AACN members have read them and commented on how much they agree. Thanks for saying so succinctly what so many nurses feel.

Penny Blake, RN, ADN, CCRN
Hobe Sound, Fla.

Don’t Confuse Experience With Age
Re: Honor Nursing’s “Tribal Leaders” (March 2000, AACN News):

A bimodal nursing workforce should be described in terms of nursing years, not nurses’ ages.

Many nurses who are in their early 40s have more than 20 years in the profession. Consider the average age of nurses entering the profession. What about novice nurses who are well beyond the age of 40 and find it difficult to to endure 12-hour shifts or lift a 250-pound patient? These nurses are often mistaken for “tribal leaders.” They can be the most disrespectful to younger, but more experienced nurses.

In conceptualizing yet another “feel good” framework, let us not set ourselves on a path toward age discrimination by associating it with experience.

Aleesa M. Mobley RN, MS, CS
Marlton, N.J.

Message Applicable in Many Fields
What a wonderful blessing it was to read the “President’s Note” column (“The Best Gift Is From the Heart”) in the December 1999 issue of
AACN News. I found myself pondering it for a number of days, and actually reread it in its entirety.

I hope you know how applicable this is in so many fields and places. My wife is familiar with the Briles book (Woman to Woman 2000: Becoming Sabotage Savvy in the New Millennium) you mention; thus, it is on my “to read” list.

Thanks again for a wonderful blessing.

Steven V. Seekins, MPA, APR
Former Executive Vice President
Chief Executive Officer
Society of Critical Care Medicine

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