President's Column: Rooted in Strength

Jul 01, 2021

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Today, nurses are at a threshold, at the cusp of a new and different world that we can’t completely imagine.

On the front lines of this pandemic, nurses and other healthcare workers have borne much of the burden of this crisis. But as we slowly emerge, there’s been an overwhelming physical, social and emotional toll, leading many to experience anxiety, anger, despair, exhaustion and burnout. These feelings embody the grief that many of us bear.

It’s impossible to quantify all of the ripple effects this pandemic has caused. Its disruptive forces have led to countless changes in our everyday lives and to devastating loss.

My personal journey also includes devastating loss, and I hope that sharing it with you helps you find meaning, as it did for me.

When I was 28, I experienced several profound losses: the deaths of my father, my brother and then, my first husband, Andy. I had reached my threshold. I was depleted and I walked away from nursing.

Prior to Andy’s death, I recall sitting on the shores of Jenny Lake in the Tetons and watching the horizon of Yellowstone National Park ablaze from wildfires. Not long after, Andy died. Over time, I found a measure of solace in nature.

I returned to Yellowstone about a year after Andy’s death. I expected to see total destruction. Despite the loss of the mature old-growth forest, there was a new and different beauty there — new life. Countless delicate flowers and young evergreens emerged from the destruction of the wildfires.

David Kessler, co-author of the book “On Grief and Grieving,” introduced us to the five stages of grief and suggests a sixth stage: finding meaning. Through my personal experiences I learned that I find meaning and strength in nature.

That day at Yellowstone, those young trees and flowers helped me see how beauty and life can rise from destruction. I thought of the roots each wildflower and evergreen must have to allow them to survive and bloom anew. My family, my friends, my nursing community were the roots that lifted, nurtured and supported me. My roots held me up in my grief. I returned to nursing inspired and more certain of the meaning that being a nurse brings to my life. Through adversity, through challenges, we grow stronger.

I think of this pandemic as a wildfire.

When I reflect on COVID-19’s impact on nurses I recognize the grief we share and the uncertainty of how our landscape has been altered. But I also see our pride, our impact and our influence growing. While we continue to stand firmly entrenched in our response as we begin to emerge from COVID-19, we’re also poised to step into our new world. At this crossroads, we have an opportunity to pause and reflect on our shared experiences, to begin to heal and to find meaning in what we will carry forward with us.

Our roots spread deep and wide to provide that foundation of strength, so we can weather this storm, survive this wildfire. It’s the roots of our community of nurses that give us our strength. It’s a strength rooted in the fundamental beauty and power of what we do as nurses. It’s a strength rooted in our connections with our patients and their families, and partnerships with our teammates and colleagues.

This year’s theme is Rooted in Strength. Because we are Rooted in Strength, forged in fire and growing in power.

Think about that field of wildflowers and those groves of young evergreens, and how they rose from the destruction of the wildfires to become something even stronger and more beautiful. That is my vision for our community of acute and critical care nurses.

We’ve endured a monumental wildfire. But, Rooted in Strength we emerge, emboldened and more influential as individuals and as a profession.

I feel your strength. I see your strength.

Rooted in Strength we create our new path forward as leaders in healthcare.

And, Rooted in Strength, we will rise up and we will thrive.

What roots keep you grounded and strong? Tell me at