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Vol. 23, No. 3, MARCH 2006

President's Note
Engage and Transform
Heroes Need To Be Noticed

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

Every successful person needed some help to get there. For me, the real heroes are the people who remember that when they arrive. A hero turns around, looks back at where he came from, and asks what he can do to bring other people along so that they can realize their own dreams. A hero does what he can to create other leaders, never forgetting that once upon a time, he was the one with the outstretched hand.
—Earvin Magic Johnson

It’s true, isn’t it? When you’re successful, it’s because you’ve had help along the way.

When I was a new graduate, I entered the PICU with five peers—all of us with great trepidation at the task ahead of us. Plunging into orientation, we soon realized that, even in this critically short-staffed unit, some of our new colleagues considered us a burden. That is, until nurse manager Judy Huntington explained to everyone that we would be welcomed and given a complete orientation with a positive preceptor, Gay Montgomery. Judy checked in with us every day and cared as much for us as she did for our small patients. And Gay shared her cardiac expertise willingly and nonjudgmentally, helping us become the competent, compassionate nurses we are today.

Twelve years later, I returned to the same unit, as manager of some of the same nurses I’d worked with previously. I recognized that it was my turn to give back to those who had accepted me a dozen years before and to create an environment where I could pass on Gay’s expertise to a new generation of graduates. At the moment I accepted the job, I made a commitment to always remember how it feels to be a new graduate in critical care and to lend a welcoming hand to students and new nurses. Not necessarily to be a hero, but to do the right thing as an advocate for patients first, then for nurses.

Coincidentally, based near the AACN headquarters in Southern California, the My Hero Project is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to inspire the hero in all of us by shining a spotlight on real-life examples of people at their best. Culled from contributions to the project, My Hero: Extraordinary People on the Heroes Who Inspire Them, is a collection of essays mostly by celebrities, people many of us might consider to be heroes. Yogi Berra, Muhammad Ali, New York mayor Rudolf Giuliani, cardiologist Bernard Lown, Paul Newman, Dana Reeve and children’s singer/songwriter Raffi are among them. Here’s the twist. Each person describes those who have illuminated his or her own life. A parent. A teacher. A spouse. A son. A celebrity. A politician. A firefighter.

Although cynical in its intent, a Publishers Weekly book review accurately pinpointed the project’s genius with this description: “The old prerequisites for heroism—nearly super-human achievement and self-sacrifice for the public good—have now broadened to include graceful coping with the normal vicissitudes of life and being friendly and supportive of other people.”
But there’s another. A search of the Web site turned up just three stories about nurses.

Telling Their Stories
Even before I learned about the My Hero Project, I had asked nurses to tell me their stories about the heroes in their lives that engaged and transformed them. Not surprisingly, nurses’ heroes come in every shape and size—relatives, teachers, public figures, colleagues, patients and their families. All inspired the nurses to make a difference in the care they provided.
Courage. Compassion. Critical Care Skills. Critical Thinking. My colleagues across the country have spoken passionately about their experiences in transforming the lives of their patients, families and co-workers. They often tell me they have been the most engaged when they provide end-of-life care. Sheryl was a hero to a dying man and his wife when she laid flowers and a card by the husband’s side on his wife’s birthday. Sheryl said her gift was seeing the loving look between them when she entered his room.

Peggy transformed a tragic situation into one with meaning, comforting and supporting a family while they made a decision about organ donation. Her colleagues called her a hero and mentor for her outstanding communication, collaboration and support to the patient’s family and the entire team.

Liz, Krista and Michelle are AACN heroes. Working as nurses in what they describe as “the new normal” of life after Hurricane Katrina, they are rebuilding their homes and their personal lives. Yet, as AACN’s New Orleans volunteer chapter adviser, president and president-elect, respectively, along with their local colleagues, they recently welcomed President-elect Mary Fran Tracy and me to their city, and expressed appreciation that AACN hadn’t forgotten them.

These nurses and so many more cope gracefully with “the vicissitudes of life while being friendly and supportive of other people.” If that defines heroism, then why isn’t heroism more commonplace?

Who Are Your Heroes?
Who helped you stay engaged so you could make meaningful changes in yourself and in your work? Who was instrumental in your choice of career? Who helped you weather a crisis? Have you told others about your heroes and, in gratitude, offered your help to those who need it?

Although we may not know it, we are most likely heroes in our daily lives. Nurses offer an extraordinary gift: caring for others at the most vulnerable times in their lives. Often, though, we are unsung heroes.

I challenge you to share hero stories from your nursing experience to inspire others. Tell others about courageous nurses, physicians, pharmacists, respiratory therapists. Spread the word about the brave acts of patients, of families, of pets. Tell your stories and honor your personal heroes; visit www.myhero.com. And, after you’ve shared your stories, let me know. Send me an e-mail at debbie.brinker@aacn.org.

The world knows little about its greatest heroes.
—Dan Zadra
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