AACN News—September 1998—President's Note: The Power of Our Practice: Look to Our Roots

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Vol. 15, No. 9, SEPTEMBER 1998


Sometimes the simplest answer is the hardest to find. Even if it stares you in the face, you may not get the message. My grandmother used to say, “If it had been a snake, it would have bitten you.”

I think the same is true for nursing. If you take time to consider nursing’s roots, you will find answers to a lot of questions. Unfortunately, the tumultuous healthcare environment usually doesn’t allow us the time to examine what is most important to us.
I have likened the current healthcare environment to whitewater rapids. As a whitewater rafter in my younger days, I experienced the feeling of helplessness that one encounters at the mercy of the currents. In these situations, I wasn’t exactly sure where I would end up. This same feeling sometimes causes us to lose sight of what truly makes the difference for us and for our patients.

I think about what I hear as I travel across the country. The nurses’ work environment is chaotic. Terms such as “wall-less hospitals,” “sicker and quicker,” “do more with less” (a personal favorite that is all but impossible), and of course all of the “re” words such as redesign, restructure, and reengineer are common.

Today’s critical care nurses are caught in white water as they care for their patients. It is this white water of getting the patient out of the unit, allowing technology to become the focus of our care, and trying to do more with less that causes us to lose sight of our goals. We may overlook the reason we are here: to watch over the patients who are entrusted to our care.

However, by looking to our practice, our roots, we can assess our true strengths. In a flash flood of white water, only the trees with the strongest root systems survive. It is the personal caring, the compassion, the complexity of what we do, in addition to the special interaction of human relationships in extremely vulnerable situations, that make nursing vital to the American healthcare system. Fortunately, the public seems to understand the importance of nursing. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 67% of Americans believe nurses make the medical system work better for them. Nurses rated higher than doctors, hospitals, and drugs, and far better than HMOs (no surprise there).

We must remind ourselves of the power in our practice—the power of recognizing and averting complications, of a gentle touch or encouragement, and of the knowledge we bring to the patient-care setting. We must identify the power that we have to assist in curing where possible, and, more importantly, we must recognize the power of our caring in all interactions with patients and families.

Just as we must remember our roots, so must AACN. As part of an organizational assessment, it has become clear that AACN must focus on its roots. The organization was based on the practice of critical care nurses and the resources they needed at the bedside to provide the best possible care. Although the current environment for associations is tumultuous and distracting, we can continue to ensure our success if we refocus on what is important: assisting members to make their optimal contributions in the practice setting.

I am reminded of the story of two seeds that are planted side by side in fertile soil. The first seed recognized that to grow and create beautiful flowers, the roots must first be nurtured. The second seed was afraid and did not recognize that its strength lay in nurturing and caring for its roots so that it could become a beautiful flower. The first seed grew into a beautiful rose. A hungry bird ate the second seed. The moral of the story is that those of us who refuse to nurture our roots can get swallowed up by life.

I encourage you to nurture your roots and feel the power of your practice. At AACN, we will be refocusing on our roots to better serve you and assist you in making your optimal contribution to patients and their families.