AACN News—November 2001—Opinions

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Vol. 18, No. 11, NOVEMBER 2001

President's Note: A Journey of Rediscovery: Board the Lifelong Learning Train

By Michael L. Williams
President, AACN

re you aboard the lifelong learning train? Or, have you reached a point where you learn only what you need to know when you need to know it? If so, you are cutting your trip short and missing out on the exhilarating feeling that the world of learning has to offer.

As a young child, I lived near a railroad track. At times, the conductor would stop and give my sister and me a free ride. We were alive with excitement and wonder.

I see this same excitement when a nursing student finally grasps a complex concept. I see it when an experienced nurse masters a new technology. I see it in myself when I finally understand a new research methodology.
Yet, confronted by the pressures and challenges of today’s intense and fast-paced healthcare environment, too many of us let precious learning opportunities pass us by. Our motivation to continue our education is driven by external forces, such as meeting the requirements for licensing or credentialing or attending inservices mandated by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Some learning is, of course, driven internally.

Just as we need to nourish our bodies, we need to nourish our minds and our skills. When you have to skip lunch, you eventually eat later. If you don’t have time to read that article or attend that educational program now, make time to do so later. After all, you can only skip so many “meals” before it catches up with you.

Remember the beginning of your nursing education journey—the adventure of nursing school? Hard work, long nights of studying and mounds of assigned reading. Remember study guides, med cards, multiple multiple choice questions and APA format—or else?

Nursing school isn’t any easier today. In fact, nursing knowledge is expanding at a breathless pace. Remember when there was just one pathophysiology book on the market?

And, students today are challenged to balance multiple demands—families (both young children and elderly parents), contributing to the family income to survive, outrageous tuition bills—even in community colleges! In addition, they are expected to be culturally competent, Internet savvy, computer literate, technologically knowledgeable, clinically adept and interpersonally skilled. Think back on your days in nursing school and reach out to help the nursing students in your unit today.

What about you, the experienced nurse? Are you excited about learning? Part of our problem is that we fail to acknowledge the value of informal or on-the-job learning within our profession. Instead, we tend to frontload learning and continue to place more significance on academic learning. Aren’t nursing and medical grand rounds a tremendous learning opportunity? Don’t you learn every day about new medications, new medical conditions and side effects of treatment regimens?

As a profession, we must become more accepting of diverse ways of learning. Although academicians are notorious for pushing diversity, diverse ways of learning are often a foreign notion to them.
The AACN Board of Directors is committed to lifelong learning. For example, during orientation, new board members attend “finance basics” to better understand our financial statements and position. Recently, we explored “dialogue” techniques and learned about the leadership skills needed to manage our association. Some past board members have commented that, by serving on the board, “you truly earn a master’s degree in association management.” And, when I am asked, “Where did you learn that?” I am often proud to respond, “Through AACN.”

AACN is known for its state-of-the-science educational resources. We have information on hemodynamic monitoring, writing and publishing in nursing, ECG and other clinical monitoring. But we also have other learning resources, including leadership development tools, materials on public policy strategies, information on clinical and organizational ethics, and management and delegation guidelines.

Perhaps one of the most exciting participatory learning opportunities that AACN offers is through national volunteer committee positions. Volunteers from throughout the country service on work groups, task forces, think tanks and advisory panels, as well as on the Nominating Committee and Board of Directors.

As your association president, I have learned from each of you. Through e-mails and letters, I learn what you value and what you believe are priorities for AACN and critical care nursing. At times, you challenge my beliefs—beliefs rooted in my prior learning—and make me think differently about issues. You help me re-learn unused skills. Indeed, learning can occur anywhere, anytime—and it can be fun.
You can find rich and rewarding learning opportunities on a variety of fronts—in your workplace and through your professional association. Make time to truly learn.

I encourage you to reach out and:

• Set a learning goal for the week.
• Share an article with a colleague or a faculty member
• Guide a nursing student to learn, being careful not to demean him or her.
• Participate in grand rounds and ask questions.
• Listen to others and share your knowledge.
• Read the nursing articles in your journals for true understanding, not simply to earn CE credits.
• Visit AACN’s Web site to check out educational resources to enhance your practice and self-development. If you’re reluctant to book full passage on the lifelong learning train without first going for a test drive, visit our Web site and view one of our extendEd videos to learn to navigate the online railways. Even if you take a wrong turn, you’ll be alone in the comfort of your own home.
• And keep on learning.

My Turn

Editor’s Note: Richard Faircloth wrote the following tribute to nurses after he underwent emergency sextuplet bypass surgery at Washington Adventist Hospital, Takoma Park, Md. He presented it at the nurses’ pinning ceremony in May 2000 at Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold, Md., where he has taught anatomy and physiology since 1973.

Thank You, Nurse
It is 5 am. My bed light comes on, and a smile greets my morning.
It is time to get ready for our trip downstairs.
Another smile greets me in preop, and another smile preps me
for surgery.
A smile and a gentle touch on my forehead are the last things
I remember.
A smile and a gentle touch on my forehead greet me as I awaken. I am on a respirator and cannot speak. Fear grips me momentarily. Her gentle words and touch calm me. “You are doing great and are going to be just fine.
“Better than ever.”
The nurses never left my side for my entire 18-hour stay in cardiac-surgical intensive care. They were my nurses.
For five more days, my nurses encouraged me and pushed me to sit up, stand, walk, walk and walk some more. They monitored me and followed my doctors’ orders.
At the end of my 12 hours with atrial fibrillation, my nurse came running into my room waving my ECG strip in the air and joyfully exclaiming, “Normal sinus rhythm. Here’s a souvenir for you.”
She was more excited than I was.
My night nurses were especially comforting. They knew the psychological impact of what I had been through—six bypasses and the fear of being alone at night. I never felt that I was alone.
It was time to go home, when my insurance said it was time to go home, and my nurses gathered around to hug me goodbye and wish me God speed.
My home health nurse supported me for about a week before setting me free, or rather weaning me off all of the TLC.
To all nurses: Never stop caring and never stop smiling. Thank you from all of the patients out there, and especially from me.
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