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Vol. 23, No. 1, JANUARY 2006


President's Note
Engage and Transform
Find the Right Match

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

People want to make a difference and be respected. Is that a surprise?
—Paul Ames

Standing at the doorstep of a new year—a season of reflection when people often resolve to bring about significant change in their lives—offers the possibility of new directions. Whether at home, at work or both, the new year can be our personal reflective period, a time when we gear up for our next burst of targeted energy. Resolutions often center on relationship issues, so what better time to talk about matchmaking?

My presentations and conversations last fall were often about how essential it is to be engaged in our work. The match between us and our workplace determines our ability to engage. Where do we thrive best? What is our unrelenting passion? When did our critical presence made a difference? Can we fulfill a greater personal purpose through our work?

Nurses tell me about patient care decisions that do not match the hospital’s mission statement. About smiling administrators bearing doughnuts, then dismissing a nurse’s contribution at a critical meeting. About, even today, a surgeon not being held accountable for flinging an instrument across the room, but a nurse’s job being placed on the line for questioning the appropriateness of a medication. These stories add up to one key lesson: We can’t genuinely engage in our work when we aren’t meaningfully recognized and respected for our values, and for our contributions to our patients, our unit and our organization.

The Right Match for New Nurses
Nurses who are new to the profession or to critical care may be so excited about being hired into their dream unit that they overlook the absence of the helpful resources they need to fit in and progress. I challenge my soon-to-graduate students to remember that picking the right job is a two-way search. Candidates should carefully evaluate the prospective unit. In a time of shortage, they can be particular about finding the unit that is the right match.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s white paper, Hallmarks of the Professional Nursing Practice Environment, is a succinct and on-message guide for evaluating a prospective healthcare employer, framing questions like: Do you see nurses collaborating with others? Do you see compassionate communication among nurses and with their patients and families? Are continuing education and lifelong learning supported? What will your orientation involve? Will you have a mentor during and after orientation? How does it feel to be in this unit? Do you see positive interactions you’d like to be part of, or ones that feel awkward or embarrassing?

Genesis, a new graduate, described her clinical practicum like this. “I learned a lot about different diseases and caring for the most critically ill patients, but I also learned how valuable teamwork can be. When every bed was full, everyone worked together to provide excellent care. Not one nurse could have survived those days alone.” Genesis understood the value of and the need to find true collaboration before accepting a position.

A New Adventure for Experienced Nurses
Even if you aren’t interviewing for a new position, look at your own unit as if you were. Closer examination may confirm that it’s the right match for you, or cause you to reflect on why it's not.

What do you value most as a nurse? Is it pride because your team’s effort in developing evidence-based palliative care guidelines is helping a cardiac patient and his family? Is it the growth from lip service to true collaboration? Perhaps it is noticing how the nurse you mentored now cares for the sickest patients with confidence and ease. Or how you and your colleagues are achieving excellence through certification and shared governance.

The answers to those questions naturally lead to these: What is your role in creating a clinical unit of excellence where the team is valued? Has your negative attitude or demeanor inadvertently made you a barrier? Ask new nurses why they chose to work in your unit. You may rediscover what attracted you in the first place. When you really see yourself as a catalyst for positive change, you take ownership for creating a culture that aligns with your beliefs.

If You’re a Manager
With input from your team, define your unit’s values based on excellence criteria, then hire nurses who are committed to those criteria. When a nurse manager in Atlanta was hiring for a progressive care unit, he asked applicants to read the requirements for the AACN Beacon Award for Critical Care Excellence, and asked if they could commit to achieving those goals in the unit.

Be crystal clear about where the unit is headed and who needs to be on the team to get there. Then follow your intuition. Hiring a nurse who isn’t the right match harms the new employee as well as the existing team. So does keeping someone who isn’t well matched to the unit’s culture, because he or she is not committed to the same values. As a result the unit’s integrity and your credibility as a manager are eroded.

Applicants need enough evidence to assess if the culture fits their needs. Give them an honest picture of day-to-day work and tell them where the unit is headed. Studies in the business world show that people hired based on cultural fit—as one factor along with necessary knowledge, skills and ability—contribute faster, perform better and stay longer. It’s not about hiring clones. Rather, it is attracting and supporting the diversity of backgrounds and experience required for success.

Inviting Our Soul to Work
Even when everything seems to be in place—the environment healthy, the hallmarks present—engagement is really up to each individual. Engagement requires us to find the right match, the place where we thrive best and where there is harmony with our values.

In the “Heart Aroused,” the poet David Whyte, a popular speaker at nurse executive conferences, suggests that we can only have a match when we invite our soul to work and when we seek to preserve its integrity. He admits that the word “soul” evades being defined. In fact, he calls it “the indefinable essence of a person’s spirit and being,” adding that “it can never be touched and yet the merest hint of its absence causes immediate distress.” In an Association Management article titled “Corporate Soul for Competitive Advantage,” Eric Klein and John Izzo describe corporate soul as “the experience of coming fully alive at work.”

Preserving the soul means taking care that, as the inevitable craziness of even the healthiest work environment swirls around us, we stay connected to our greater purpose, our reason for being at our chosen jobs. That purpose is entirely personal. It may be ensuring someone’s comfort, health or peaceful death. It may entail helping a new nurse achieve professional success or fulfilling our own ethical and spiritual beliefs. Perhaps it is to provide for our children’s education. Whatever our greater purpose is at a particular point in time, it is essential to nurture it in order to thrive.

Finding the right match isn’t optional. By its very definition, our work as nurses is about relationships—because mismatches make for messy relationships. Are you and your workplace suited for each other?

If people believe in the company they work for, they pour their heart into making it better.
—Howard Schultz
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