A Journey of Rediscovery Looking In and Reaching Out
Michael L. Williams, RN, MSN, CCRN
Editor’s Note: Following are excerpts from the address delivered by 2001-02 AACN President Michael L. Williams, RN, MSN, CCRN, at the Closing Session of AACN’s National Teaching Institute™ and Critical Care Exposition in May 2001 in Anaheim, Calif.
During the past year, I have become aware of the extraordinary waves AACN members have been making. Doing so was not always easy. In fact, more than once, I saw our coworkers wipe out and eat sand. However, as they kept at it, the momentum grew to bring us new energy and excitement.
I have realized that, if I want to play my part in sustaining the wave-making momentum that nursing needs, my journey must be one of constant rediscovery. I hope you will travel with me during my presidential year on a journey like none we have ever experienced. A journey where we will look within ourselves and recommit to the privilege and passion of caring that pulled us in when we chose nursing as our lifelong career. One where we will reach out, respecting that privilege and drawing energy from that passion, so that we can provide the best care for our patients, for their families and for us. Thus, the theme for this year is “A Journey of Rediscovery: Looking In and Reaching Out.”
As a Teacher
As a teacher, I walk alongside students of all ages as they begin their journey. Their energy is palpable and invigorating. So is their commitment. After they have provided care for a patient, I find them looking within themselves, hoping to find just the right balance of reality and ideal. Just as we did. Remember?
Did I say the right thing? Did I do the right thing? They have so many questions because, deep within, each student stands in awe, privileged to be allowed into another person’s sacred space. Each student hungers for the knowledge and skills that will help to get it just right.
As a Clinician
As a clinician, I journey alongside colleagues like you. Day after day, I witness you bringing about small and large miracles. Day after day, I witness tragedy and injustices with you, and I swell with pride each time you intervene.
When I ask why you have done it all, you never have to search for an answer. “Because I’m a nurse!” you tell me proudly. You are trying to say the right thing and do the right thing. That’s why you stick with being a nurse, isn’t it?
As an AACN Member
I am also a member of AACN. In many ways, AACN is where nursing comes together for me. Many of us joined AACN early in our careers to continue our journey of competence and caring. AACN not only encourages us, it also compels us to look first within ourselves and then to reach out.
Think about the magnetic draw of our vision that one day the healthcare system will be driven by the needs of patients and families. Our individual commitment to making this vision reality drew us in and helped us develop into skilled, professional nurses. It became part of us—who we are and what we do.
Looking inward, we will rediscover how crucial renewing our belief in individual competence will be—our belief in the immortal spirit and enduring competence that identifies truly caring professionals. We will renew this belief every time we witness extraordinary acts done by ordinary colleagues, who may not even realize their impact.
Looking inward, we will rediscover that getting there is not as critical as we thought. Savoring the journey will take on new meaning, and we will make time for sidetrips into human relationships, where we will share the trip along with its baggage—the pain and the suffering, the beauty and the joy. Our journey will be one of rediscovering connections, genuine ones with patients, families and colleagues.
Bridging the Journey
There are two important bridges that take us from looking inward to reaching out. Change is the first. Over the years, we have seen the scenery change on our journey. Although places and equipment change, it is the people who change most dramatically because, while they are busy trying to shape their personal journey, their journey is also shaping them. Helping each other and ourselves to adapt to change is an important aspect of our journey.
Although each of us is on a personal journey, we cannot forget that our colleagues are, too. None of us is on this journey alone. We must draw from the strengths of our colleagues and value these strengths as the precious gifts that they are. Teamwork has become more important than ever to success in critical care in today’s healthcare world. Benjamin Franklin was not far off when he said, “If we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately.”
Our coworkers deserve the same compassion that we offer to our patients and their families. We must recognize the sacrifices our coworkers make and be flexible and adaptable, sometimes handing the wheel to someone else.
We must become as passionate about teamwork as we are about nursing. It is the only way our practice will gain the strength to genuinely meet patients’ and families’ needs.
The other bridge between looking inward and reaching out is discovery. We can never stop learning. For many years, nursing and other professionals have practiced front-end loading of education. Students learned in school everything they would need to practice their profession. Today, explosions of new knowledge are redefining our role day by day.
Admittedly, never-ending learning is frightening, especially when it challenges us to become less certain of some knowledge so that new ideas and ways of thinking can work their way in. However, we all know that uncertainty and critical care do not mix willingly. One of our most endearing qualities as critical care nurses is our inherent need to always be certain, even when our basis is old science—our need to be the very best.
Today, being the best means opening ourselves to the latest knowledge, stretching ourselves beyond what is familiar and secure. Being the best means listening with active self-awareness and being skilled in negotiation and medication, even when we are seated at an uneven table.
The other dimension of discovery is the one that leads us to explore new avenues and new terrain without fear—always with a sense of energizing wonder, even when stumbling and tumbling along the way. I call it the rediscovery of discovery and, for me, it is the most fun of all. This is where I realize that research is not about obscure hypotheses and methodologies, but about asking questions, finding answers and using answers—then imagining the next question.
AACN a Partner
AACN will always play a starring role in our journey of rediscovery. Most of the time, AACN will lead the way. Sometimes, AACN will walk by our side. At other times, AACN will push us where we need to go, but would rather not.
To help us on our journey of rediscovery, AACN is already renewing its commitment to enhanced communication with members and chapters. It is exploring a recognition program
of the best work environments for critical care nurses. It is highlighting the value of nursing to policy-makers and the media
in a nationwide initiative. It is focusing attention on the nursing shortage and how to confront its challenges now and in the future. Perhaps most importantly, AACN is valued as an oasis from the harsh realities of the workplace. AACN is our shelter during the journey’s rough stops.
As we begin our journey of rediscovery, we must look inward to the passion that made us nurses. We must reach out to others, welcoming them and nurturing them along the way. We must commit to using AACN’s vision as the road map of our journey.
I am honored to be your traveling companion as president of AACN during the coming year. I look forward to our journey together.