President's Note: Bold Voices - Speak
Up About Things That Matter
By Connie Barden, RN, MSN, CCNS, CCRN
Several years ago, I sailed with five other
women from Key West, Fla., to Annapolis, Md. It was a marvelous, life-changing
experience. Many times since then, I have found that the lessons I learned on
this adventure correlate closely with my everyday life experiences.
I clearly recall our captain cautioning us to
remember that our safety and our lives would depend on the actions and
accountabilities of all of us: the two captains and four crew members. Everyone
would be an important member of the team, and the jobs we would be assigned
would change daily. And, because we would be dealing with variables, such as
weather, navigational challenges and mechanical problems, we should expect the
unexpected. Over the next 12 days, we six strangers worked and played together
as we made our way up the Atlantic coast.
On our last night, while cruising up the
Chesapeake Bay, I awakened to find that we were suddenly socked in by fog, with
zero visibility. Our 43-foot vessel suddenly seemed like a splinter in the midst
of the bay full of freighters, tankers and merchant vessels we couldn�t even
see. Our entire crew sprang into action to begin a vigilant watch and actions
that averted disaster. Each of us had a new job to do�one that was unexpected
and sometimes unpleasant, but always focused on our purpose: to bring our boat
and its six passengers safely home.
Many believe that we in nursing are caught in a
fog�stuck in a perilous situation that threatens our ability to do our work.
Some are uncertain that we will be able to navigate these waters well, and
others are thinking about jumping ship.
However, as your �captain� this year, I know
that we can successfully reach our destination, and that we each have a part to
play in weathering the conditions that face us. To do so, we must start to use
our voices to tell the story of nursing in powerful and effective ways.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, �Our lives
begin to end the day we come silent about things that matter.� One of the things
that matters most to us is our ability to deliver top-quality critical care to
our patients and their families. Yet, surveys show that nurses working in
hospitals report a decline in the quality of care delivered, largely because
there are insufficient numbers of nurses at the bedside. Who is in a better
position to address what this means and help guide solutions than we are?
Many nurses are reluctant or uncomfortable
speaking publicly. But, just as in the crisis of my fog-bound voyage, there are
many different jobs that can be done. And, using your voice can take on many
forms. In fact, voice can also mean simply springing into action. Consider the
� Participate on committees. Be an active
member, who readily shares your expertise and the essential perspective of
� Speak confidently with families and patients
about their care�about who you are and why you are competent to handle and
direct their care.
� Offer responsible suggestions to your manager
when there are issues on your unit. Don�t just whine about problems.
� Share your opinion with administrators on
important issues, such as staff recruitment and retention, and quality of care.
� Welcome new nurses to your unit as allies. Be
a role model and recognize that it is your business to help them succeed. Speak
up if you believe they are not being treated fairly.
� Embrace physicians and other team members as
equal colleagues. Clearly state your suggestions about the patient�s care, and
listen carefully to theirs.
Outside of work:
� Write a letter to the editor of your local
newspaper. Explain nursing care and what it will mean if nurses aren�t there.
� Tell nursing students about critical care and
why you do what you do.
� Take time to share a typical day with your
family and friends, letting them know how your actions save lives and what a
privilege it is to work with people during their most vulnerable moments.
� Talk with elementary and middle school
students about nursing as a career option. Encourage students to become nurses.
� Make nursing an issue for political candidates
who ask for your support. Vote for those who pay attention to healthcare issues
and address these issues in ways that support quality patient care.
� Be prepared to provide information to any
public policymaker not aware of the critical role of nursing and its importance
to the safe functioning of the healthcare system.
Using your voice doesn�t require speaking in
front of hundreds of people or answering reporters� questions. All it requires
is that you act and inform others about the essential care nurses contribute to
patients. Think about your message and the way you can deliver it most
To quote Mark Twain, �Twenty years from now you
will be more disappointed by the things you didn�t do than by the ones you did
do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade
winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.� I urge you to use your voice, be
bold and speak up about things that matter. Never assume that your voice won�t
make a difference.
It wasn�t all work and no fun when AACN
President Connie Barden (right) and her
crew mates sailed the Atlantic coast.