Acute and critical care nurses regularly accomplish meaningful and important tasks. Once in a while, all they need is just ﬁve minutes. Many of us are skilled in tackling the moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour or day-to-day challenges that our work brings.
However, tackling major change to a unit, a hospital or the entire healthcare system is often harder than it looks and can take far longer than we thought it would. A separate set of skills and bountiful patience are often required. The solid foundation people use to create something of major importance that can stand the test of time is WHY.
History is full of great examples of how WHY resulted in something remarkable. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the city of Nimes in Southern France desperately needed water. The ancient Romans used this WHY to build a 30-mile aqueduct to bring life-sustaining water to the city. Where the aqueduct traverses the canyon of the Gardon River, they constructed a three-tiered bridge called the “Pont du Gard.” Using 63 arches to stand 160 feet tall and span nearly 900 feet, it took them almost 15 years to complete. This magniﬁcent structure still stands today, despite devastating ﬂoods, wars and millennia of heavy human use.
In recent times, former President Jimmy Carter’s WHY has guided him in the 35-plus years since he left office. Regardless of how you feel about his presidency, it’s undeniable that he and his wife, Rosalynn, share a common WHY: to help poor and isolated people around the world. From this shared purpose, they created the internationally respected Carter Center, which has accomplished remarkable things since its inception. They’ve worked with other nongovernmental organizations to facilitate peace in conﬂicted countries, monitored 107 democratic elections in 39 countries, and treated and eradicated little-known tropical diseases affecting people in underdeveloped countries. At the age of 93, Carter remains actively involved in Habitat for Humanity, the sixth largest nonproﬁt organization in the U.S. Throughout his life, he has inﬂuenced millions of people.
These stories have some common characteristics: thorough study of the problem, consideration of different perspectives and a clear vision of the end result. Integration of science, data, expertise, passion and creativity to design solutions. Coordinated teamwork and ﬂexibility to adjust when necessary. And, above all, steadfast resilience and patience to see a big project through to the end. Important work is never accomplished in the blink of an eye; the broader in scope and larger in focus it is, the longer it takes to do it right.
Like the ancient Romans and the Carters, our WHY is to help others thrive. In our case, we serve patients and their families, nurse colleagues and the healthcare system. This important work requires the same elements used by the ancients and by the great philanthropists of our time to ensure the lasting change we seek.
Acute and critical care nurses face major challenges: establishing and sustaining healthy work environments, promoting nurse resilience, addressing inadequate stafﬁng and navigating a healthcare system with an uncertain future. These are not small tasks to be checked off one’s to-do list. They are major and lofty goals requiring years of persistent work. Reactionary, shortsighted responses will not provide the enduring change we seek. Careful study, vision, science, collaboration, innovation, adaptability and diligence are essential for creating solutions that work. Guided by Why, nurses are thoughtful, patient professionals, capable of doing any work that is worth doing and achieving results that will stand the test of time.
Let me know how your WHY helped you tackle your major and lofty goals at GuidedByWhy@aacn.org.