The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. —Mahatma Gandhi
COVID-19 has elevated nurses and the essential role we play in providing quality care to front-page news. This public recognition gives nurse leaders momentum to make real and necessary changes to promote their role and improve our healthcare system. Like Florence Nightingale’s leadership in the Crimean War, we must seize this moment to secure a seat at the strategic decision-making table. Here are five practical ways to make that happen.
- Be courageous. Nursing has a 150-year history of being submissive and subservient to others. It’s time for us to stand up and speak out on behalf of ourselves and our patients. We must always be professional and well prepared, but we must also learn to use our voices and lead from wherever we are.
Others can see things in us that we don’t see ourselves. When a friend invited me to run for office in a national nursing organization, I didn’t sleep for two weeks, worrying about whether I was up to it. But this experience became a career highlight for me.
- Humanize the facts. To prove your point, you need irrefutable facts—combined with real stories about real people. Sharing facts in context of their human costs and consequences will move us forward. Complaining and commiserating amongst ourselves puts us on the road to nowhere.
Years ago, hospitals considered parents to be visitors, so they had to leave their children’s bedsides during rounds and at night. One night, a child died alone, unnecessarily, because of these paternalistic rules. I knew this was wrong, so I used my voice to ensure that this never happened again. We formed a family advisory committee and changed this policy forever.
- Invite yourself. Stop waiting for an invitation. Take the initiative to show up at important meetings and reach out to influential leaders. Social media makes it easy to connect. If someone doesn’t accept your invitation, move on. A little rejection is nothing compared to what we’ve seen these past several months.
Trust me on this one. I’d admired the work of Dr. Barry Posner, co-author of “The Leadership Challenge,” from afar for years. He graciously accepted my invitation to connect on LinkedIn and became my mentor and friend.
- Invent, innovate and inspire. Now is the time to use your creative superpowers. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to reinvent yourself, your team and your community. Sometimes innovation is hiding in plain sight. Nurse leaders spend most of their time in meetings away from our patients and teams.
I created “Frontline Fridays” so my nurse leader team and I could put on our scrubs and work alongside the nursing staff. This firsthand experience helped us stay visible and credible. It made us better leaders and helped us make better decisions.
- Never stop learning. The best leaders are always learning. Nurses have a legal responsibility to be lifelong learners to maintain their licenses. But with lives hanging in the balance, no one should have to tell us to continue to learning. Don’t let budget cuts limit your education and training opportunities. Invest in yourself. Resist the temptation to trade short-term savings for long-term losses.
As a single mother, getting my master’s degree was an undertaking in itself. After my third class, my hospital discontinued tuition reimbursement for advanced degrees. So I paid for it myself with my Visa card and worked and worked until I could pay it off because I knew it was the right thing to do for my patients and career.