AACN News—August 2002—Opinions

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Vol. 19, No. 8, AUGUST 2002

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 following suggestions.

At work:

� Participate on committees. Be an active member, who readily shares your expertise and the essential perspective of nursing.
� 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 effectively.

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.

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