AACN News—July 1998—President's Note: The Power of Nursing: Join the Chorus and Sing Our Song

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Vol. 15, No. 7, JULY 1998

Mary G. McKinley

Editor’s note: Following are excerpts from the speech delivered by 1998-99 AACN President Mary G. McKinley, RN, MSN, CCRN, after accepting AACN’s vision from outgoing President Gladys M. Campbell, RN, MSN, at the 1998 National Teaching Institute and Advanced Practice Institute in Los Angeles last month.

As I watched the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Japan earlier this year, I was struck by the stirring musical moment when choirs on five continents sang Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” This was a technological marvel, but it also demonstrated the power of a unified voice.
I was inspired, because I believe there is a song in each of us—a song about our dreams, our hopes, our aspirations, and our values. I hope our song includes a verse about nursing, and what we can accomplish if we find the strength to sing our song.
Imagine the creativity and energy that could flow from this song, if each of us found the courage and strength to sing it without the fear of reprisal or intimidation. Imagine a healthcare system, where patients are at the center and nurses—whether their role is as staff, manager, educator, or advanced practice—make their optimal contribution. Imagine the power, the volume, and the sheer intensity of this song—a song that could change the face of healthcare! I believe that this song is just waiting to be sung.
What is this song about? It is about new horizons, about breaking the mold. It is a song about harmony in our unity and strength. It is a song about influencing the future of healthcare. It is a song about power in our practice and caring for others.
What keeps us from singing our song? I think that there are three reasons: our timidity, the division of the whole, and apathy.

Have you heard fellow nurses introduce themselves as being “just a nurse”? This statement reflects a primary problem in our profession. We seem to lack self-esteem. We don’t believe in ourselves! It is difficult to sing a song when you don’t believe in your voice.
Interestingly, our patients believe in us. Patient satisfaction surveys have consistently identified that nurses are viewed as important to healthcare. Somehow this public belief doesn’t translate into a personal belief for nurses. We still don’t believe in ourselves!

Division of the Whole
The division of the whole has always been a concern in our profession. Nursing is famous for its intraprofessional conflict. It is difficult to join in the chorus when you don’t know the words, and we aren’t sharing our song with others. We are not singing it out loud enough so that others can hear it and learn it—so that we can all be singing from the same page. We must learn to share our song and feel the power in having others join us in singing it. After all, don’t we all share the same vision—a vision of a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients where critical care nurses make their optimal contributions?

Elie Weisel of US News and World Report said, “The opposite of life is not death, it is indifference!” What causes this apathy, this indifference? It could be this time of tumultuous change. Things can literally change overnight. For example: A hospital suddenly merges and becomes a “system.” Nursing staff is called at home and told to report to a completely different hospital and different unit.
I work in a community hospital that has been downsized, rightsized, and maybe even wrongsized. This chaotic and rapid change can quickly stifle our songs.
If predictions are correct and we are facing the greatest nursing shortage ever, we need tremendous courage, not apathy.
We can overcome these three limitations by:
• Overcoming timidity—Become involved. AACN provides a forum for learning to sing your song and for overcoming timidity. In her speech at last year’s NTI, Gladys Campbell said that AACN gives us a collective voice. It is this collective voice that can help us to sing our song together.
AACN provides us resources to develop our song as well as to assist us in sharing our song. These resources include Research-Based Practice Protocols, outstanding educational offerings such as the NTI and the Leadership Connections conferences, immediate clinical
information sources such as PRAISe (Practice Resource and Information Service), FAX on Demand, AACN Online, continuing education offerings, publications such as the new edition of the AACN Core Curriculum and the new edition of the AACN Clinical Reference, and networking through chapters, regions, and advisory teams.
There is no way that you can sit back and be timid when there are so many enthusiastic and excited colleagues singing the same song; you just have to join in!
• Eliminating the division of the whole—As a long-standing leader among nursing organizations, AACN provides mechanisms for unification. The Best Practice Network is an excellent example of AACN taking the lead and assisting in the development of an online resource that has the potential to change healthcare—not just nursing. In this endeavor, AACN is joined by 27 other organizations including our colleagues from the Society of Critical Care Medicine. AACN is highly respected by other nursing organizations and healthcare disciplines, because it has the vision to focus on the patient and lead with values that are rock solid and ingrained throughout the organization.
AACN’s public policy focus is another way that the visibility of nursing is increased, which can help unite nursing organizations. In these and so many other endeavors, AACN is truly seen as a choir leader.
• Overcoming apathy—AACN provides the social context for nurses working in critical care. Associations, by definition, do that. AACN however pushes the envelope when it comes to nursing organizations. Our membership in AACN gives us access to real-time online information and networks that help us overcome apathy. AACN challenges us, stimulates us, and pushes us to go farther and reach higher! In the right environment, where there is a common interest and mutual support, people can truly be creative and have fun.
Can we create a unified song that will show the public what it is that nursing does—what is unique about nursing—and break the mold of past images? We can.
Can we muster the courage to create a patient-driven healthcare system where critical care nurse can make their optimal contribution? We must.
Are we willing to create a masterpiece of collective song—demonstrating the power of nursing practice? We shall.
As I begin my presidential year, I look forward to meeting you and visiting chapters where I can hear your songs. I look forward to representing this fabulous organization in the many forums and meetings across this country. It is an honor to be a part of this choir of approximately 70,000 critical care voices. It is a privilege to be singing with you.
I am looking forward to the challenges. I will sing my song with pride, knowing I am backed up by one of the biggest and best choruses of nurses in the world.
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