AACN News—August 2005—Opinions

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Vol. 22, No. 8, AUGUST 2005


President's Note
Engage and Transform
The NTI Spirit: Take Out or Eat In Only?


By Debbie Brinker, RN, MSN, CCNS, CCRN
President, AACN

It’s August, yet I’m still reliving last May when critical care nurses again took over a major city—New Orleans, this time—to engage in AACN’s National Teaching Institute & Critical Care Exposition, one of healthcare’s most powerfully transforming events.

NTI numbers alone are compelling. Participants: more than 7,900 nurses from 50 states, the District of Columbia and 15 other countries, making it the largest attended nursing conference in the world so far this year. Exhibitors: more than 460 companies and employers occupied over 110,000 net square feet of space. Education sessions: more than 600 with 125 offered in the exhibit hall alone. Add to that dozens of scheduled and unscheduled learning, networking and social events, and you enjoy a satisfying educational “meal.”

Much of the NTI’s educational content is also served up for takeout. Audio recordings of many sessions. WebEx presentations of some. Webcasts of major talks. Online poster presentations. Complete session outlines and references in the Program and Proceedings. Even if you haven’t been to an NTI, you probably get the picture.

But I find myself reliving the NTI for another reason. I call it the NTI spirit.

Although this spirit is genuinely palpable on site, I have discovered that it, too, is available for takeout. In fact, I believe it is perhaps the most valuable and enduring quality of the NTI experience. It is what draws nurses back year after year. And, because they take it back to their units, it attracts several thousand new participants each year. What is this spirit? How will you recognize it? Can you only get it by attending?

Energy, Passion, Optimism Contagious
The spirit of NTI is one of unbridled energy, passion and optimism. It comes from being with others whose values we share and from our thirst for knowledge and solutions that will help us to do something bigger than ourselves—ensure better and safer healthcare. The NTI spirit affirms that in association we will create more possibilities and changes to sustain our quest for excellence than we could alone. It instantly binds us with the power of contagious passion and the commitment to make a difference.

Thousands of us gathered in one room create the NTI spirit. Paradoxically, it is the spirit that also draws us into the room. We create the spirit in one-on-one conversations and small-group networking. Yet, it is that spirit that prompts us to have those conversations, often inspired as dozens of award winners speak to us from the podium. Most of them are folks like us. Some are so renowned that they seem bigger than life.

Why Keep the Spirit Alive?
How could we not feel powerful and optimistic surrounded by colleagues in the NTI cocoon? Then comes day-to-day life back home. The same life that everyone else was experiencing while we were away. The short staffing, stumbling communication, dysfunctional collaboration and never enough time. Why keep the NTI spirit alive to energize everyone we work with?

Because, even without the NTI, we all share a profound commitment to doing the right thing for our patients, their families and ourselves. Not only are we committed to this; we are ethically obligated to do so. It will happen only when we live this commitment by engaging with tenacity and the dogged determination that is the hallmark of nurses driven by a vision calling to them from the inside.

For patients and families, doing the right thing means keeping them safe and secure. It means ensuring their comfort, whether on the path to health or to peace at the end of life. It means seeking excellence in every dimension of healthcare. It especially means recognizing that, though each of us genuinely thinks we are doing the right thing, we aren’t always doing things right.

“Things” like communication and collaboration, for example. Did you know that, according to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, communication was the root cause of nearly two in three of all sentinel events during the past 10 years? And, that inadequate orientation and training was the root cause of more than half of these events?

How Do We Keep the Spirit Alive?
We keep the NTI spirit alive by fanning the flames of our personal commitment. The commitment that brings us to work each day because we recognize that our absence will diminish everyone’s efforts. We relentlessly pursue clinical excellence. We welcome being a resource from whom new nurses learn as much about skilled communication and true collaboration as they do about clinical techniques. We concentrate on our strengths as the fuel that keeps us focused on making our work environment and our practice right.

We welcome the NTI spirit as a call to action and an antidote to despair. Being the victim is easy. Let something or someone else be responsible. Easy, but insincere and dissatisfying. At the NTI, we experience the spirit in its most concentrated form. It rids us of the despair and fatigue that comes from losing the battle with the same old problems.

How Does the NTI Spirit Work?
What is the spirit’s “mechanism of action”? Is it the excitement of learning cutting-edge knowledge? Or hearing how others have solved problems that perplex us? Or, just as often, finding out that we have solutions to problems that perplex others? All of these are energizing activities, yet none requires an NTI to happen.

Therein lies the beauty and uniqueness of the NTI. Yes, it is a fabulous feast while we’re there. But in its own way, each course is available for takeout. We’re engaged while at the NTI, just as we are when we join colleagues at a patient’s bedside to solve a thorny clinical problem. We reconnect with longtime friends and find new ones at the NTI, just as we welcome longtime colleagues at home and, when swapping shifts as a favor to someone, find ourselves working with a coworker we never really knew.

As I represent AACN at chapter and national events throughout the country, I commit to passing on the NTI spirit to you. The spirit of engagement and transformation. In return, I ask that you commit to engaging yourself to become part of the change you want to see. I ask that you share with me the stories of how you’ve engaged and transformed yourself and others.

Wherever you are is the entry point.
—Kabir