AACN News—December 2001—Opinions

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Vol. 18, No. 12, DECEMBER 2001


President's Note: A Journey of Rediscovery: Not One Voice, But One Song

How many times have you heard the call for nurses to rally around “one voice”? Yet, is one voice what we really mean?

Although a unified approach to advancing nursing science and practice may be admirable, I myself have joined many close colleagues in numerous thoughtful, lively debates regarding the nature and essence of nursing. Of course, some would argue that we are wasting our time. However, I believe that this type of dialogue has enabled us to more clearly articulate the value of nursing to the public.

Naturally, we intuitively and lovingly know that nursing contributes enormously to the health and welfare of the world, though we also are aware that the proof is forthcoming. We have sometimes heated, but most often fun deliberations about the most desirable approach for nursing in its quest for healthy societies. Should we abandon expensive, albeit proven critical care technology for lower cost preventative strategies that have yet to demonstrate substantial evidence of long-term effects?

Through all of these debates, I most appreciate our respect for each other—the fact that we are not striving necessarily for one voice. In fact, I think that by calling for one voice, we do the profession of nursing a disservice. We negate the diversity among our members, stifle new and innovative ideas and perpetuate the status quo. It is therefore imperative that we move from the “one voice” mentality to the “one song, many voices” way of thinking.

Of course, it would be nice if one voice would work for us. Just imagine all 2.7 million U.S. nurses agreeing on one person to speak on our behalf—to sing for all of us. But would this be possible? Could we all agree on Luciano Pavarrti? Or would some prefer Julio Iglesias? Or Puff Daddy or Madonna? Or another singer among myriad others? How would we decide that a new, better singer has arrived? Because there are many outstanding singers and many preferences among the listeners, it is doubtful that we could ever find the one voice that sufficiently meets the needs and desires of everyone.

Why do we think one voice is desirable anyway? A wise person once said, “If we always agree on everything, then one of us is unnecessary.” As nurses, we want to create consensus and present a united front to the public, to other disciplines and to legislators. There should be some consistency and rationale in our thinking and our communications with the public.

Yet, in socializing nurses to agree with one another, different opinions are devalued. But isn’t the essence of diversity that differences be shared, acknowledged, and appreciated? Don’t these differences expand our thinking and potentially increase our strategies for overcoming problems of interest to nursing?

The true pleasure of working with nursing students is the varied life experiences and perspectives they bring to the classroom. Some are first-time undergraduate students; others are RNs returning for their BSN degrees; others are receiving their BSNs as a second degree. Each of them challenges you on what you think about various issues. Each provides views of the world through “new eyes.” And each brings to the profession of nursing his or her unique perspective. Hopefully, our socialization will not turn them into “Stepford nurses.”

Learning to appreciate others’ perspectives takes time and soul searching. Each of us must look inside ourselves and determine our personal prejudices and values. We must first understand ourselves to appreciate differences in others. Evaluating your personal prejudices will help to identify opinions that you may be preconditioned to discount or undervalue.

Although we have called for “one voice,” I believe that AACN’s goal is “one song, many voices.” Following are some steps we can take to achieve “one song” within nursing:

• Look inside yourself to understand your own values and prejudices.
• Actively listen to other people’s perspectives and find the lesson in their message. Remember to seek first to understand and then be understood.
• Look for mutual ground, what we have in common that we can agree upon and build from.
• Take the time to truly understand one another. Do not dismiss someone that shares a different perspective than you, because the most valuable learning often comes from uncomfortable situations.
• Be positive and give others the benefit of the doubt. Start with a belief that they are inherently striving for the good of the profession.
• Actively share different perspectives instead of discouraging them. Use different perspectives for self-reflection and learning.

Singing one song, but using many voices, provides a depth and breadth to the lyrics. Adding a chorus of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses makes the song richer and fuller.

Carefully read the accompanying lyrics to the Mark Williams’ song “One Song, Many Voices.” They truly represent us.

Nursing has come a long way. Perhaps one benefit of managed care was the impetus to create greater unity among nurses. The value of nursing is a paramount issue for the public at the moment. By better understanding the essence and breadth of nursing, each nurse can use his or her own voice to sing the nursing song. Let’s move from one voice singing our song to many voices singing one song.

One Song, Many Voices

I am one voice singing in the choir
One flame burning in the fire
I am one wave rolling on the sea
One voice in the sea of humanity

My race, my religion
And cultural identity
Are gifts I bring to humanity
I am a flame in the fire
Of a universal choir

Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, Arab
Indian, African, Muslim,
Christian, Hindu, Jew
Man and woman, me and you
Every heart beats
To the rhythm of humanity

We’re singing one song
In many voices
Believing in one world
A universal chorus
One song in many voices
Believing in one world

My voice falls out of harmony
I get the blues from insensitivity
Go open your heart and mind
And treat me with dignity
And my voice will ring

My race, my religion
And nationality
Are gifts I bring to humanity
I am a flame in the fire
Of a universal choir

Hispanic, Asian, Caucasian, Arab
Indian, African, Muslim,
Christian, Hindu, Jew
Man and woman, me and you
Terrorism, civil war
Apartheid and dictators
The human spirit will be free
We’ll unlock every door
Every heart beats
To the rhythm of humanity

We’re singing one song
In many voices
Believing in one world
A universal chorus
One song in many voices
Believing in the world


Letters

Work With Schools
Re: “The Nursing Shortage: Easy to Fix?” (President’s Note, October 2001, AACN News):

The activities that are listed are good. However, I suggest that one other be added: Work with colleges and universities to make nursing a more viable choice of majors for students.
My experience has been that, at some schools, this major can easily be overlooked by freshman students. Because of the competition in attracting candidates for majors and careers, we must ensure that incoming students have an adequate opportunity to consider nursing.

In addition, the way nursing programs are designed often isolates nursing students from the general student body. Although clinical studies are necessary, others who chose a major such as education and must fulfill a student teaching requirement seem to be able to remain mainstreamed to a greater degree.

Programs that offer an ADN program with optional continuation to a BSN also pose a unique problem because freshmen with an undeclared major who then decide to go into nursing may be obligated to do a fifth year of school to meet the requirements. We should encourage these programs to offer a design that does not penalize students who do not decide their major prior to their college entrance.
Gwen Fosse, RN, BSN, MSA
Grand Rapids, Mich.


Male Nurses Should Make Roles Clear
In his “President’s Note” column (August 2001, AACN News), President Michael L. Williams left out an important point that I have experienced in 40-plus years of nursing.

I have worked with many male RNs, mainly in critical care and in the emergency room. A lot of patients assume that male nurses are doctors. However, most of the male RNs I have worked with have failed to correct the patients’ assumptions. This has always been a sore point with me.
Barbara A. Brockway, RN, CCRN-R
Yorba Linda, Calf.