AACN News—December 2008—Opinions
Vol. 25, No. 12, DECEMBER 2008
Have You Read Your Cookie Box?
The physician was about to increase the dose of beta blockers, but overlooked the patient’s vital signs. I pointed out that the patient’s heart rate was already in the 40s so the dose wasn’t changed. The heart rate leveled off in the 50s and the patient went home the next day.
— Mandy Dees
I suctioned his large amounts of sputum through the nasal trumpet and replaced the CPAP mask. A nurse colleague confirmed the trumpet was in place, even though a half hour later neither the respiratory therapist nor I could find it anywhere near the patient. On a calculated hunch, I strongly recommended a neck and chest x-ray. The radiology report of an “endotracheal tube higher than expected” was all it took for the physician to lay the patient flat, open his mouth and fish out the missing trumpet.
— Martha Reid
All in a day’s work for a high acuity or critical care nurse, wouldn’t you say? These two examples of advocacy paid off because they prevented serious complications. But would you call them examples of leadership?
I would and here’s why.
Leaders have a can-do attitude. They listen — which includes paying attention to what they hear, see and know. They’re confident and know how to read their audience. Leaders earn and respect the trust of others, in part by showing they know the difference between what may be important and what is truly urgent.
Regardless of our role, nurses are leaders when they equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to care for patients and their families. We are leaders who rally team members of every discipline to keep their eye on the ball. In this case, it’s the ball of ensuring safety and quality. Nurses are leaders when they confidently support and advocate for healthy work environments where both patients and caregivers win.
It’s Right on the Cookie Box
Next time you reach for some Girl Scout cookies notice these bold words: courage, confidence, character. While you’re munching, visit www.girlscouts.org/research and download a copy of Exploring Girls’ Leadership. It’s an informative and easy read covering a wide range of action projects and studies about youth leadership.
A nationally representative online survey by the Girl Scouts Research Institute asked 1,318 youth ages 8-18 what makes a good leader.
Here are the top 10 qualities they identified in rank order:
Having a positive attitude
Being a good listener
Being able to speak well to a group
Being good at what you do
Being a role model
Being a team player
Involving many different types of people
Make Leadership Inevitable
Those skills apply to every nursing role, don’t they? Leadership skills must be required for every nursing role, yet many nurses — maybe most — don’t consider themselves leaders. The Girl Scouts seem to be on the right track. So what can we learn from them?
As nurses we need to learn and hone our skills as effective leaders. How do you rate yourself as a communicator? How would you describe yourself as a team player? Are you confident as a positive role model?
Working with nursing students, we can paraphrase the Girl Scouts and make it our mission to prepare nurses of courage, confidence and character who make healthcare a better place. Nurses who advocate for the patients and families entrusted to their care. New graduate nurses should know their role as a leader is inevitable.
Don’t wait for that leadership course. Instead, blend the inevitable leadership dimension into every aspect of nursing school. As academic educators we need to reinforce with students from the first day that they are nursing’s future leaders. Remind them once a week. When they’re seniors, make it once a day. As clinical educators and preceptors, we ought to model leadership skills in action and help students to hone theirs.
Please send me examples of how you use your leadership skills, whatever your role, but especially if you work at the bedside. I’d like to share your wisdom with others. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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