AACN News—August 1998—President's Note: The Word Is Out! There Is Power in Nursing!

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Vol. 15, No. 8, AUGUST 1998

Mary G McKinley

Well, the word is out! And, that word is “power.” As my presidential theme for the year, I chose “The Power of Nursing.”
The decision was difficult, though I definitely believe that power is an accurate word to apply to the practice of nursing. However, there are some who simply don’t like the word, perhaps because it sometimes conjures up negative images.
For example: having power over someone else. The image of someone taking advantage of another who is weak, dependent, or helpless makes us uncomfortable. Nurses may not be comfortable with the word “power,” because they tend to feel powerless amid the turbulence of today’s healthcare environment. Yet, this tremendous change is the reason we must be powerful—not powerless.
I look at power from two perspectives.

First, power equals strength over time, and nursing personifies strength over time. We know from the recently released History of Critical Care Nursing that, although our specialty is relatively new, the profession of nursing has an honorable and lengthy history. That history is full of images of the power that we have. In Nursing: An Illustrated History, nursing is called the oldest of the arts and the youngest of the professions. This book is filled with nursing images that are both historical and powerful.
In fact, nursing even precedes the image of the medicine man. Nursing has been a part of our history from the earliest times to today, when nursing’s strength is so vital to the health of our patients.
We have a proud heritage. Think about the images of Florence Nightingale caring for the soldiers of the Crimean War and, more recently, the powerful image of the Women’s Vietnam War Memorial. Does nursing exhibit strength over time? Most certainly! Is there power in the practice of nursing? Most definitely!

Power can also be viewed as a means to supply energy. Do we not, in our everyday practice, serve as a source or means of positive energy for our patients and families? Are we not a source of energy for those who have reached an extremely vulnerable point in their lives? The energy that nurses give can assist patients or families through the most difficult times.
Without that energy—without nursing—what would the patient’s or family’s experience in critical care be like? Think about the patients for whom you care every day. It is your presence, your energy, and your power as a nurse that can make the healthcare experience a positive one for patients. This is the power of nursing. It is important that we maintain this positive energy for our patients.

We also can share the power that we have through our association with each other. Positive energy can be contagious! For example, I watched a nurse arrive for a morning shift with a positive attitude, full of energy and vitality. She was actually radiant—if anyone can be at 6:50 in the morning. As she prepared to start her day, I saw how her energy and her power, affected others. Even the night nurse, who was exhausted after a particularly trying shift, left the unit with a more positive outlook.
It is imperative that we share that energy on an individual basis and as an organization. Returning from a successful National Teaching Institute—where we networked and listened to colleagues from every corner of the country, where we heard from past President Gladys Campbell about how we share a firm foundation—I sensed a tremendous power, the power of our association with each other.

So, the word is out. I believe that it is a most appropriate word for our time. If we are to be effective in creating a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients, we must be powerful in making our optimum contribution to critical care. We must view the power of nursing as a positive force that can be used to benefit our patients and our profession. We must share our power.
Throughout the year, I plan to highlight some of the characteristics that I believe make nursing powerful. It is said that “unless power is used effectively, it is lost.” I encourage you to recognize the power of nursing and use that power to encourage cooperation and collaboration in creating a patient-driven healthcare system.
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