For Nurses, “Just” is a Four-Letter Word

For Nurses, “Just” is a Four-Letter Word

If you’re a nurse, when was the last time you said, “Oh, I’m just a nurse” or “I’m not really an expert–I’m just a nurse”? If you stop to think about it, what are you really saying when you deny your expertise? Words are powerful, and the words we use to describe ourselves can have far-reaching effects — for others and within our own psyches.

For several years, I’ve used my soapbox to cajole nurses into embracing their nurse identity and their individual and collective value as skilled clinicians.

Like I’ve said before, nurses have been voted the most trusted professionals in the U.S. every year for a good reason. That’s because, whether we feel like experts or not, the general public views us as honest and knowledgeable professionals with whom they trust their lives–and the lives of their loved ones.

Sadly, many nurses don’t feel like experts, and the common use of the above-mentioned phrase demonstrates for us the fact that nurses suffer from collective low self-esteem.

While some nurses are more expert than others (or more educated, experienced, or specialized in their practice), every nurse is an expert in some way, shape, or form. Having survived nursing school, learned how to be a nurse, developed specialized assessment skills, and been issued a license to practice, you deserve to call yourself an expert.

Face it, you’re a nurse, and you’re an expert when it comes to being a nurse. And in the eyes of the general public, you’re part of a special breed they see as angels, saints, or some other superlative creature.

Of course, your nursing career is a creature that will only continue to grow and evolve, which is a wonderful thing. Nurses are required to participate in continuing education to maintain and renew their licenses. Still, many nurses also seek out education and specialization because they’re professionals who always want to learn something new, increasing their knowledge, skill, and expertise–and that’s a beautiful thing.

When I coach nurses, I instill in my clients the undeniable fact that they are experts. However, I also demand that they never again say, “I’m just a nurse.” Using that small “four-letter word” –just — is an affront to who you are and what you do. In this context, “just” is a diminishing term, a word whose purpose is to relieve you of authority, intelligence, and undeniable importance.

You’re a nurse, and nurses can be described as the lifeblood and the backbone of the entire healthcare industry. Take away nurses, and the system as a whole would cease to function.

We’re not simple handmaidens to the all-knowing physicians (like it was in the bad old days). Instead, we’re skilled in the art and science of nursing, and this art/science is made more powerful by decades of research, practice, theory, skill-building, and knowledge accumulation.

You are a nurse. Period. And you deserve to erase that one particular four-letter word from your nursing vocabulary.

Minority Nurse is thrilled is welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column. 

The Continuum of Nurse Career Growth

The Continuum of Nurse Career Growth

The growth of your career as a nurse can be consciously self-generated or simply a result of happenstance and a laissez-faire attitude toward professional development. Neither of these options is necessarily bad in and of themselves, but a thoughtfully sculpted career is definitely fodder for a much richer, more satisfying, and rewarding trajectory.

Whereas employment can often feel like a means to an economic end (i.e., survival), there is also the notion that work is an avenue to self-awareness, a sense of personal pride, contribution to the community and society, and a full engagement in life.

Work, Fear, and Struggle

It is true that, at specific points in life, work serves a particular purpose. But, especially at a young age, before professional training or advanced education, work is often a utilitarian exercise. Yet, at the same time, it can also feed our sense of pride and purpose—and, perhaps, aspirations for more.

Many work ethics are out there, and many of us may be familiar with the so-called Puritan Work Ethic,” which espouses hard work and a frugal lifestyle. But, then, there are also the 21st-century pop culture notions of “The Four-Hour Work Week” and get-rich-quick plans.

Meanwhile, fears and anxieties are frequently experienced by those who grew up during the Great Depression.

Since the economic downturn of 2008, many households have struggled to survive, with breadwinners working multiple jobs in the face of a rising cost of living, frozen wages, and increased difficulty finding health insurance (the Affordable Care Act notwithstanding) or planning for retirement.

Yes, work can feel like something we need to do to survive. But we can also consider how work doesn’t just pay the bills and put food on the table but also how it feeds us on the inside.

The Continuum of Consciousness

Considering these suppositions, where do you fall on the continuum of consciousness vis-à-vis your nursing career? Are you “sculpting” a career that’s truly meant for you to embody? Or, to the contrary, are you gliding along a track that, while more or less acceptable, seems like it was created for you by those who feel they have the right to dictate your professional pathway?

Along these same lines, is your career driven by something akin to the Puritan Work Ethic, or are you driven by fear, whether it be fear of not having enough, fear of losing status, or fear of being without work?

This continuum of consciousness vis-a-vis our nursing career trajectory can frequently change, perhaps even daily. Some days, you may feel completely connected at work, aware of how you make a difference in the lives of others. On other days, work may feel like a total slog, a chore to complete as quickly as possible, with your blinders fully in place so that you go through your day without much sense of connection or purpose.

The larger arc is what we’re after, no matter what happens daily. Even though it’s no fun to survive those problematic workdays that feel like they’ll never end, if the majority of your work life is positive, growthful, and adding meaning to your life, you’re on the right track.

Sculpting A Nursing Career That Fits

When you consciously sculpt your nursing career, you are the driver, and your decisions create the path ahead of you. And if you’re not exactly sure where you’re going, don’t worry; the path can be created with each step of the journey.

Sometimes, we follow our intuition, applying for a job because “something” tells us we should give it a try. At other times, a potential position comes into our awareness, and we “know” that the position is the best step towards a future that we’re creating. Our intuition can guide us, and we can consciously seek out opportunities that we feel are the strongest choices for us at this particular time.

The main question is this: are you consciously creating your career, or is your career just happening to you? While it may be OK to coast along from time to time, a consciously created career is the most potentially satisfying.

Paying Attention to Career Arc

So, dear Reader, pay attention to the arc of your career. Have you made good choices? If not, is there a way to remedy that situation? If your current position has you feeling stuck, what can you do to get unstuck? Who can you turn to for advice or support? What action steps can you take to get back on track?

Paying conscious attention is a powerful way to feel like you’re taking the reins of your career. Others’ opinions don’t need to matter much unless you value their opinions. Do you feel like there’s something you need to do because “they” say you “should”? Well, who are “they,” and why do you need to listen to what they say.

Some people function from that above-mentioned place of fear, and others operate from a place of abundance and grace. Which lens would you prefer to look through?

Take the reins of your career path. Find your place on the continuum of consciousness. Create a career that works for you, and make your nursing career a work of art of which you’re proud.

Water and feed your nursing career with conscious creativity and attention, and it will feed you from the inside out.

Minority Nurse is thrilled is welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column. 

5 Ways to Build Your Network of Nursing Career Allies

5 Ways to Build Your Network of Nursing Career Allies

In the course of your nursing career, you need allies who can support you in elevating and advancing your journey as a professional nurse.

Allies are easier to come by than you think, but many nurses don’t think strategically about this important aspect of nursing career development.

Since many nurses seem averse to consciously and purposefully building a professional network, here are five strategies to do just that.

Find A Mentor

A mentor is often an ally who has your best interests in mind. During your nursing career, you can always hire a mentor for a short period of time and a specific purpose but there are plenty of mentors to go around among your peers and colleagues.

A mentor is often an ally who has your best interests in mind. Of course, during your nursing career, you can always hire a mentor for a short period and a specific purpose (for example, a career coach), but there are plenty of mentors to go around among your peers and colleagues.

Consider yourself very lucky if you’re a newer nurse and have one of those rare employers offering a well-designed mentoring program. Unfortunately, most nurses fall into the camp of needing to seek out a mentor on their own.

A mentor can be an experienced and compassionate colleague willing to meet with you periodically to help you navigate essential aspects of your career. If there’s someone you think is the cat’s meow as a nurse or leader, you can boldly ask them to be your mentor — let them know what you need, and ask if they’d be willing.

You also have the option of simply closely observing and emulating someone who you think is superlative in the areas where you’d like to grow. Silently watch them, practice as they practice, and allow them to be your nurse role model.

For me, my colleague Donna Cardillo is this type of mentor. I never officially asked Donna to mentor me; instead, I observe her career and how she goes about things, and I often use the example she sets to empower myself to move forward creatively.

Start Small and Easy Finding Allies

If you’re an introvert and networking feels scary and intimidating, don’t worry about trying to find like-minded allies and colleagues at big conferences and meetings. Instead, start small, and make this process easy on yourself.

Look to your immediate circle of colleagues for your true allies. Who always has your back? Who checks in and asks how you’re doing? Who offers help and is always there for you? Your work friends may be a natural gene pool of natural allies.

It’s easy to keep these types of allies close. Nurture these relationships through reciprocal kindness and mutual support.

Leverage Online Platforms and Resources

Over the years, I’ve met hundreds of nurses and professionals through online nursing communities and social media.

I met my former business partner and RNFM Radio cohost, Kevin Ross, on Twitter in 2011 — we then launched one of the first nursing podcasts around, as well as a growing company. Our other partner, Elizabeth Scala, found me on Twitter in 2012; she was looking for like-minded nurse entrepreneurs and allies.

I also met Dr. Renee Thompson — the internationally known expert on bullying and incivility in nursing — on Twitter around that same time. Our Twitter connection quickly developed into a true offline friendship, and I now count her as one of my closest friends.

Dr. Thompson also unofficially mentors me in terms of growing my speaking business. So although we’re close pals, she also serves as a person whose work ethic and approach to supporting the nurses I seek to emulate.

Meanwhile, I continue to use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to build my network and meet new people with whom I feel aligned. When someone stands out from the crowd, I reach out, and we expand our relationship via phone, Zoom, or FaceTime, and sometimes we have the chance to meet in person, which is truly the icing on the networking cake.

Think Outside The Box

Your allies don’t all have to be nurses; they don’t even have to work in healthcare.

Your most ardent and enthusiastic allies might be right under your nose.

Think about your family and close friends — who among these groups of your most intimate circles are natural allies?

Who cares enough to ask about your career and how you’re doing? Who shows interest in your professional life? Some may enjoy your company by cracking a beer together, enjoying a meal, or playing baseball on Saturday mornings — that’s fine since you need friends like that, too. However, a select few are true allies to whom you could turn for advice or support when you need them most.

And remember: your therapist, counselor, AA sponsor, or faith leader are all natural allies. Look to them for comfort, advice, support, a shoulder to cry on, and a peaceful place to share your deepest worries and troubles.

It’s You

Finally, look at yourself. It would be best if you were your own greatest ally. After all, you’re always there, aren’t you?

If there are ways in which you tend to undermine yourself, seek help from a therapist or counselor to unpack those negative habits and thought patterns. Continue to untangle the stuff that holds you back, and consistently move forward in the interest of being self-respecting, healthy, whole, and balanced.

Allies Are Everywhere

Your allies are everywhere. Look within, look without, look online, and look around you. These allies will get you through the tough times and help you grow when it’s time to be expansive.

Gather your allies and create a circle of support for your nursing career and personal growth. It’s part of your life’s work — make it count.

Minority Nurse is thrilled is welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column. 

Magnetizing High-quality Nursing Care

Magnetizing High-quality Nursing Care

The Magnet designation for hospitals emerged in 1990 under the auspices of the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) as a strategy for catalyzing and recognizing the highest possible standards for quality nursing care.

Since its inception, Magnet has given ambitious hospitals something concrete to strive for. Magnet has also allowed nurses to identify facilities that deliver optimal patient care while creating positive workplace cultures for nurses who care about their work and what their employers stand for.

Walking the Talk

As of this writing, fewer than 600 hospitals hold Magnet status, and since there are over 6,000 hospitals in the U.S., we can see that Magnet status remains the exception, not the rule.

Magnet standards make sense when we consider what makes a hospital stand out. We can understand why some nurses are drawn to seeking employment at facilities prioritizing achieving and maintaining Magnet status.

From another perspective, while Magnet designation is an impressive achievement, we can be sure there are plenty of excellent non-Magnet hospitals where nurses lead satisfying and robust careers while delivering outstanding care. However, there are Magnet-designated hospitals where things may not be as perfect as they might like us to believe, and much work remains to be done for those institutions to walk their talk.

As boots-on-the-ground professionals, nurses know the inner workings of healthcare employers and facilities. While a certificate from a certifying body is all well and good, nurses want to see the evidence in their day-to-day environment. What aspects of Magnet do nurses want to see and experience? A few might include:

  • Shared governance
  • Quality improvement initiatives
  • Advancement of nursing practice
  • An emphasis on evidence-based practice
  • Transformational leadership
  • Career advancement and a leadership track

No matter where they work, nurses want to feel respected, acknowledged, and rewarded for their dedication. They want a workplace free of incivility and to be treated as more than just cannon fodder on the front lines of the battle against disease.

Hospital organizations that walk their talk hold nurses in the highest esteem. Seasoned nurses are recognized for their expertise and institutional memory, and new nurses are embraced as the representatives of the future that they truly are. Everyone’s place should be valued, and nurses should feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves, but where individual gifts hold meaning.

Like Attracts Like

When we consider the nature of a magnet, we think of how a magnet attracts objects with similar properties. In contrast, those unlike the magnet are repelled or completely unattracted by the magnet’s force.

Imagine being a fly on the wall of the brainstorming sessions that occurred in the late 1980s when the ideas that led to Magnet status were still gestating. The concept of magnetism may have yet to emerge immediately during those conversations. Nevertheless, many ideas may have been floated in those early days, and who knows how the process eventually resulted in magnetism bubbling to the surface.

These days, we’re accustomed to the notion of a Magnet hospital. Acute care facilities want their nurses to be the best, and savvy patients aware of the Magnet designation may seek care at facilities holding such status.

Focus on Quality Nursing Care

If approximately 10 percent of American hospitals are Magnet-designated, what are the remaining 90 percent focused on, and what do their nurses experience? Do they feel that something is missing? Perhaps. Are there non-Magnet community hospitals without the resources to dedicate to pursuing Magnet status that still shines like healthcare stars? Without a doubt. Are there facilities where satisfied patients receive optimized, high-quality care from incredible nurses devoted to doing their best every day? Absolutely!

We all know that certification is no panacea — institutions are bureaucracies made up of people, and human beings (and many bureaucracies) are inherently flawed. Still, doing one’s utmost to achieve a worthwhile goal can give meaning to our work, and a collective dedication to Magnet certification can empower everyone.

If you work at a Magnet facility, consider whether it meets your expectations. And if you work at a non-Magnet hospital, how does your hospital show up on the positive side of the quality equation? Hopefully, your employer sees you for who you are, values your contributions, recognizes your gifts and pays you well for your dedicated service.

You can be a human magnet for positivity, excellent nursing practice, high-quality patient care, and a happy, satisfying career. And if the Magnet process is part of making your career successful, all the better.

Minority Nurse is thrilled is welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column. 

We’ll be at the 2022 ANCC National Magnet Conference® October 13-15 at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA. Stop by booth 2018. We look forward to seeing you there!

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