As an academic nurse researcher from an underrepresented minority background, for years, I was plagued by a certain phenomenon: specifically, the imposter phenomenon. In 1978, psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes coined this term to describe the internal experience of “intellectual phoniness” that is prevalent in high-achieving women who, despite their academic and professional triumph, feel that they aren’t smart enough, that they have somehow deceived others to view them as successful, and that they will soon be exposed as frauds.
Of course, this phenomenon isn’t limited to women: a 2011 review article published by Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander suggests that 70% of all individuals experience imposter phenomenon at some points in their lives. However, in my article, I focus on how I myself experienced the imposter phenomenon as a woman with African roots within Western academia. More importantly, I share my experience to express how detrimental the imposter phenomenon is to educators in academia. Today, I feel obligated to share my story with my students through my teaching and mentoring.
What are the attributes of the imposter phenomenon? From the definition of the term, I identified at least three destructive factors that contributed to my personal experience of it: namely, self-doubt, negative self-statements, and socialization as an African female.
An individual who sports self-doubt lacks confidence in her own capabilities and thus relies upon others to assess her accomplishments, failures, and reality. Naturally, self-doubt fuels negative self-statements that this individual utters about herself and eventually comes to believe about herself. And her negative self-statements will ultimately reinforce what her society and culture demands of women. If this individual is African like me, she will be haunted by her society’s belief that women are a weaker sex, that they should not be heard but only seen, that they are given things and will never truly earn them, and that they are meant to be taken care of by men and other authority figures in their lives.
So, how did this series of negative reasoning come to plague me? It was several weeks after starting my new position as a Sickle Cell Scholar through a grant funded by the National Institutes of Health. A staff colleague was trying to get my attention as I walked through a hallway to my office and she whispered, “Dr. Ezenwa.” I cringed and quickly turned my head around to figure out who she was addressing. Of course, it was me. We were the only two people in that space. I thought, “Wow. Dr. Ezenwa, my foot!”
As soon as this astonishment faded, I went into my office and was arrested by a severe panic at the thought of my “lies” being discovered. My body felt hot, my heart clapped with a chaotic chorus of groans, and my stomach fluttered like a butterfly rain forest. Pearls of cold sweat dripped from my palms. I felt like a deceiver, a trickster. An imposter.
Slowly, my self-doubt magnified and my anxiety about achieving success intensified. I began to question myself: Did I learn enough in my PhD program to be an independent researcher? Do I know enough to teach at the undergraduate, graduate, and PhD levels? What was I going to tell my students? What if I ruin their lives and academic careers because I teach them the wrong things and extinguish their drive for continuous learning and growth? Will they even understand a word I say to them through my African accent?
These self-doubts naturally morphed into destructive self-statements: I am not good enough. I am not smart enough. I am not worthy. Then, perhaps most devastatingly, these destructive self-statements made me feel boxed in and limited by multiple historical and social orientations forced upon women, even though I had escaped them long ago.
As an African immigrant in Western academia, I worked hard to break through multiple levels of convention. I broke through many societies’ beliefs that the proper place for a woman is at home and her role is to bear children, cook meals, and clean up messes. I broke through the pressure of growing up poor and earning the opportunity to reach greater heights without any real road map or directions. I broke through to success as a black woman who American society believes is lesser than her white counterparts thus deserves less in life. I, as an immigrant, broke through the culture shock of living and working in America and always sought peaceful resolutions to clashes in culture.
But under the spell of self-doubt and negative self-talk, I began to think that even the actuality that I’d broken out of these social constructions was all a big lie. These feelings only magnified and manifested as psychological and cognitive obstacles that cornered me into mental blocks. I soon lacked the confidence I needed to effectively teach and conduct research, as well as to see myself as successful and accomplished.
Now, I first learned about the concept of the imposter phenomenon many years ago during my graduate program. Back then, I brushed the idea aside as silly. How could individuals who paid with blood and sweat to accomplish their goals diminish their accomplishments? But after spiraling into such depths upon simply being called by my appropriate doctorate title, I realized that I was not above this sort of destructive thinking. I had to take control of this phenomenon if I was going to effectively and full-heartedly serve my students, my institutions, and, most importantly, myself.
So, how did I cope with the imposter phenomenon? There are three major strategies that I endorse and have taught my students: self-accountability, accountability with a trusted partner, and continuous self-love.
First, self-accountability: I began by recognizing that I am accountable to myself to be the best I can be in all my life’s endeavors. I am accountable for the outcomes of my actions and inactions, as well as my failures and successes. Once I accepted this fact, I engaged in bone-deep self-reflection about the imposter phenomenon that I had allowed to take up residence in me. I asked myself, “Why do you think you’re not bright enough? Why do you think you’ve fooled anyone who believes otherwise? Why do you think you’re not good enough, that you’re unworthy?”
I wrote down my thoughts on a piece of paper and waited a few days to return to it. When I saw all the questions and my initial answers written out, other realizations came to mind. I, for instance, suddenly understood that the imposter phenomenon had been creeping up on me my entire life. Growing up, everyone had told me that I was “so smart” and openly assumed that I would become a medical doctor. I had always been afraid that I might not live up to this idea of intellectual perfection that my family and friends held about me, and, even after I became an academic doctor, I felt that I was not the genius everyone believed that I was.
When I had excavated my mind of these recognitions and purged any negative ideas that imprisoned my capabilities, I reached out to my accountability partner for a meeting. I shared with her the result of my self-reflection honestly and openly and, in turn, she worked with me on enhancing my confidence. My accountability partner assisted me in three important areas: changing my mindset, developing a strategic plan of action to combat the imposter phenomenon, and constantly checking in to see if the plan was on track.
To shift my mindset, my accountability partner coached me to see the opposite side of my negative thoughts. For example, if I doubted that I was not smart enough to have accomplished the current goals in my life, she empowered me to believe that my current achievements were not handed to me for free like Halloween candy. Instead, I had to earn them through a combination of my intelligence, efforts, and wise leveraging of available resources. She assured me that I already had a long record of accomplishments, and there was no reason for that trend to stop so long as I was willing to challenge myself and do the work required.
Once this mindset shift was underway, my accountability partner helped me develop specific, time-bound goals and strategies to succeed in my current endeavors. Finally, we set a timeline with consistent, scheduled follow-up meetings to assess my progress. During these follow-ups, we reevaluated my goals and strategies, as well as adjusted my timeline as necessary.
The third and final strategy I used to combat the imposter phenomenon was practicing continuous self-love. As a woman, both in African and American society, I was socialized to care for everyone else before thinking of myself. Consequently, I was petrified to upend the status quo and focus on myself for once in my entire life; after all, I had equated self-love with selfishness.
So, to successfully exercise self-love, I had to be intentional. I worked tirelessly to reprimand myself every time I felt guilty for focusing on my needs over other obligations. I reminded myself that, when I am overflowing with love for myself, I will have enough energy to achieve my goals and dreams and also healthily give to my family, career, academics, and finances. I made sure I celebrated my successes, both big and small. Every night in front of the mirror, I stood and told myself how deserving I was of all the accomplishments I worked so hard to earn.
So, with all three strategies combined, did I beat the imposter phenomenon? That I am still a professor and a researcher in one of America’s top ten public universities is a testament to how I conquered self-doubt and negative self-statements and how I refused to allow my ancestral background and cultural identity to confine me from living in my highest potential. That I was recently inducted as a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing is evidence that my research on health disparities in pain management in patients with sickle cell disease or cancer made a difference in peoples’ lives locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. That I am now an entrepreneur is a manifestation of my mindset that now asserts, “You are good enough. You are smart enough. You are worthy.” So, yes, these strategies worked!
The imposter phenomenon is a monster, and the struggle to overcome it is real. Successful women have systematically been robbed of important opportunities because of our own self-doubts, negative self-statements, and our giving into social orientations that seek to confine us. But there is hope and there is help. The strategies I mentioned here, as well as with professional help from psychotherapists, can move us toward controlling the phenomenon and casting it out of our lives.
The question is, are we willing to confront the imposter monster in ourselves? Are we willing to tear down limiting beliefs about academic success, professional success, business success, financial success, and whatever else we desire? Are we willing to free ourselves from the bondage of history, cultural codes, and oppressive gender roles? Are we willing to look in the mirror and say “I am good enough, I am smart enough, I am worthy?” Are we willing to do the hard work to love and respect ourselves?
And, finally, are we willing to do the work now? Not next year, next month, next week, or tomorrow. Now.
Are you willing to take the challenge?
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
—Maya Angelo, “And Still I Rise”
For minority nurses who have ever considered operating their own business, opportunities have never been better for starting a case management firm. Based on projections from multiple sources, demand for case management has been increasing steadily. Persistence Market Research forecasted an annual growth rate of 3.04% for the period between 2017 and 2021. An IBIS World report noted that case management’s steady growth over the past five years has brought the number of case management firms in the United States to over 7,800 and industry revenues to $7 billion. Understanding these market conditions and how they are opening the door for new case management practices is something any entrepreneurial minority nurse with key case management credentials (i.e., Certified Case Manager), and/or interest in gaining those credentials in order to pursue new opportunities, should understand. Also important to know are those areas where minority nurse case managers may have some distinct advantages.
Ideal Market Conditions for Minority-Owned Case Management Firms
In its report, IBIS attributed case management’s growth to expanded primary medical care and workers’ compensation claims, the heightened focus on medical cost containment, and the increased use of nurse case managers in new models of care such as patient-centered medical homes and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). These factors, along with our nation’s new administration and Department of Health and Human Services leadership, were also cited in a URAC® Trend Watch titled, “Case Management Experts Foresee Big Opportunities.”
The uncertainty surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the graying of America, and higher incidences of chronic medical conditions (i.e., heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, and obesity), are other contributing factors for the greater demand for case management services.
Minority nurse case managers also are in a good position to serve individuals of different ethnic groups as our nation’s multiculturalism increases. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that all racial and ethnic minorities were growing faster than whites from 2015 to 2016. According to its findings, Asian and individuals of mixed-races represent the two fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. population with each group growing by 3% from July 2015 to July 2016. It provided this breakdown reflecting the size of the various minority and ethnic groups in our country:
- Non-Hispanic whites – 198 million.
- Hispanic whites – 57.5 million.
- Blacks/African-Americans – 46.8 million.
- Asian – 21.4 million.
- People who are of two or more races – 8.5 million.
- Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders – 1.5 million.
Not reflected in this data are all of the other ethnic groups present in the U.S. population—an estimated 150 ethnic groups. Case managers of various ethnic backgrounds can be extremely valuable when serving patients of their ethnic group. The barriers to communicating with these patients and their family members can be eliminated. Further, a case manager with an understanding of how a specific ethnic group views illness, medical professionals, medical treatments, technologies, end-of-life care, and medical directives can be extremely important in helping patients understand their conditions and treatment plans. This is critical in the patients’ overall well-being, treatment, and adherence to the prescribed plan.
Starting Your Own Case Management Practice
Minority nurses who have thought about starting their own case management firm need to consider what it takes to achieve a successful practice. In addition to having extensive case management experience, it is essential that you gain the CCM credential provided by the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCMC). This credential is becoming increasingly important to those hiring case managers and/or contracting for case management services. To earn the CCM credential, candidates must first meet the applicant eligibility requirements and then pass a rigorous exam. All of the details can be found on the CCMC website at www.ccmc.org. Click on the “Get Certified” link.
To prepare for the exam, there are many robust education and training programs available. We at Mullahy & Associates, for example, have a two-day CCMC-approved “CCM Certification Prep Workshop.” It offers excellent preparation for the exam and also earns nurses, social workers, and mental health professionals 14 Continuing Education credits. It also has been acclaimed as one of the most informative workshops available on best practices for case management. Among the materials provided to workshop participants is The Case Manager’s Handbook, Sixth Edition, which is used in hundreds of universities, hospitals, and other practice settings across the country and abroad.
There is also a self-assessment that must be conducted to make sure you have the personality and skills to lead your own firm. Here are some of the key traits needed to effectively establish and maintain a successful case management business:
- An entrepreneurial disposition.
- The ability to recruit, train, mentor, and motivate others to provide high quality case management services.
- Leadership skills.
- Strong communications skills.
- Business management skills covering key operational areas (i.e., administrative, financial, marketing, and legal).
- A commitment to stay abreast of the latest market developments and health care trends affecting case management and generating new opportunities.
- An appreciation for the importance of continuing education for yourself and your staff.
At Mullahy & Associates, my partner, Vice President Jeanne Boling, RN, MSN, CRRN, CDMS, CCM, and I know what it takes to have a successful case management practice. In our current career stage, we are dedicated to helping case managers of all races and denominations succeed. We’ve developed continuing education workshops and seminars, as well as a suite of long distance and online learning tools to help case managers in their own firms or other practice settings. With the right education, training, and skills, we believe minority nurses can not only realize the professional fulfillment one achieves in their own business, but also will be helping to fill the growing need for high quality case management services.
I received a call from Dr. Gloria Rose, my former professor at Prairie View A&M University College of Nursing, asking me to be the keynote speaker at the Pinning and Hooding Ceremony on May 9, 2018. After taking a breath, I accepted the offer and stated, “Yes, I am honored to do it.” As soon as I got off the phone with Dr. Rose, I called my mother and she was so proud of me.
As a nurse practitioner (NP), my work experience includes opening a clinic and managing house calls, as well as serving in homeless shelters, skilled nursing facilities, pediatrics, family practice, community, personal care homes, private homes, weight management, pain management, and the Redi-Clinic. Throughout my sixteen years of practice, I have developed four rules which have assisted me to accomplish success. The following rules have supported my differential diagnoses and plan of care for clients.
Rule 1. Get a Good History
One of my favorite jobs was working at the homeless shelter. I recall a case that continues to stay with me to this day. The medical assistant presented: “He is here to have his string cut from his chest. The NP before you just cuts it and then he returns again when it gets too long.” I was thinking what is going on with string cutting from the chest.
As the man is sitting on the examination table, I asked how he is doing and right away he states, “I just need you to clip this string and then I will be okay. That’s what they do, clip it.” He removes his shirt and right away I see the healed surgical incision down the middle of his chest, but in the center is dark blue string protruding from a very small hole.
“When did you have the open-heart surgery, sir?”
“I think it has been about three years,” he replied.
“Have you been getting the string cut for the past three years?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replies.
“I am not going to cut the string today. This is suture string that is hanging out of your chest from the open-heart surgery. We do not have radiology services here. I want to get all of the string out for good.”
Then, I secured the string with gauze and taped it to his chest. I arranged for him to go to a special procedures clinic. I provided cab vouchers and informed him to leave now. A couple of days later, the man returned. He was smiling. He stated that he had a gift for me. He gave me an envelope. I opened it. It was filled with suture string. Then he said, “Thank you! You solved the problem!”
Rule 2. Take Your Time
I learned this in graduate school. I saw a young female who presented with missed periods, vomiting, and fatigue. I was focused on her vomiting, and I was in a hurry. I left the room. I failed! Turned out she was pregnant. They say that you learn from your mistakes. I learned that day to always “take my time.”
Rule 3. Be Professional At All Times
At the homeless shelter, I saw a man and asked him how he was doing. “I am not doing well. The doctor gave me this medication for my blood pressure. Oh man! I keep peeing from left to right. As a matter of fact, I got to pee right now.” I reviewed the chart. The medication was hydrochlorothiazide. It is a diuretic which causes frequent urination. I changed the medication to lisinopril to treat his blood pressure and instructed the man to keep a log of his BP readings by going to the CVS around the corner. I gave him pens and a pad and instructed him to return in two weeks for follow-up. When he returned, I was off. My collaborating physician followed up with the patient. He called my supervisor upset that I changed the medication he prescribed. Upon my return to work my colleagues stated, “Robbie, you are in trouble.” I held my tongue. I remained calm and quiet. As I reviewed the chart there was a copy of his blood pressure log, which showed improvement in his blood pressure since taking the lisinopril. This man is homeless and does not have the comfort of a home with a restroom. He has to locate a public restroom to relieve himself. In my professional opinion, changing the medication was the best treatment for him and improved his quality of life.
Rule 4. Go With Your Gut Feeling
During a house call visit the client stated she had a sore and cannot understand how it got there. She reported, “at first I had pain at that same area.” (gut feeling) “Then this sore appeared. Went to the emergency room (ER) and was told that it was an insect bite.”
“Okay, let me see the sore; lift up your shirt.” I saw a fluid filled lesion on an erythematous base. “You have shingles.”
She looked at me, “are you sure?”
“Yes, I am.”
“But the doctor at the ER said it was an insect bite. You are a nurse.”
“I am a nurse practitioner. I can contact your primary care provider (PCP) to prescribe the medication to decrease the severity of the shingles.” She was still not convinced. “Okay, let’s take a picture with your cell phone and then you can send it to your PCP.” As I was leaving, the doctor’s office called and verified the diagnosis. Pain is a symptom that occurs before the lesion appears.
My four rules of practice have provided me with a solid foundation and are the framework of my practice. Every day, I use my four rules of practice and the outcomes are immeasurable. It’s great to know when you have improved the client’s quality of life. This is the greatest satisfaction of all to achieve as a NP.
As we usher in the 116th Congressional Session beginning January 4, 2019, lawmakers (newcomers and incumbents) will have the opportunity to address a number of legislative and regulatory issues. Immigration reform, access to affordable health care, climate change, and national and global security are among a long list of issues that will be discussed and debated during this new congressional session. And while there are numerous competing demands as with all other legislative sessions, nurses are encouraged to remain abreast of issues that impact health care and the nursing profession.
This year promises to be another great year to continue improving our policy acumen and advocating for those issues that are most important to us and the communities we serve.
Moving forward in 2019, newly elected Lauren Underwood, MSN/MPH, RN, of Naperville, Illinois will represent the 14th Congressional District of Illinois beginning January 3, 2019. Rep. Underwood is committed to ensuring that everyone has access to affordable health care. She is currently one of two nurses serving in the U.S. Congress. Other nurses across the country hold elected positions in their state legislatures and government appointed positions or serve on a number of advisory committees or boards.
This session, lawmakers committed to eliminating health disparities will work to enact legislation that will propel us toward achieving health equity, particularly for underserved populations who suffer disproportionality from a number of illnesses and poor social conditions. No doubt the issue of health care reform will remain front and center, especially in light of the recent ruling from a federal Texas judge deciding that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Because this debate is far from being over, we must remain vigilant in monitoring what is happening with this historic legislation. And just as 2018 was deemed the Year of Advocacy by the American Nurses Association, we must be mindful that advocacy is always in season calling us to lend our voices on behalf of those we serve. Regardless of position or setting, every nurse can seize the opportunity to weigh in on policy issues that are of importance to them.
So, consider how will you stay engaged and informed of federal and local policies or regulations that may influence your practice or even the degree to which health care is available to those you serve. Remaining updated on policy issues is becoming even more essential for today’s health care professional. Our professional and specialty nursing organizations provide key resources and often have a specific policy agenda. Have you explored what your professional organization’s position is on a number of policy issues important to nursing?
Consider attending an actual or virtual lobby day this year. Each year nursing organizations such as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE), and the American Nurses Association (ANA) convene lobby days in DC but also provide opportunities to participate virtually for those who cannot attend in person. Visit their web sites for more details. Numerous state nursing organizations and other health related organizations across the United States also convene lobby days providing yet another venue to lend your voice to a number of health-related causes. And remember to touch base with the Office of Government Relations within your health care system, university, or college.
Be resolved to visit a legislative official this year to learn more about their health policy agenda and promote the profession as well. Commit to reading the local news for policy hooks as they say, “all politics is local.” Subscribe to the Federal Register to stay informed about opportunities to offer comments on proposed regulations, policies or key reports. The Register also highlights opportunities to apply to serve on national advisory committees. Volunteer to give testimony at hearings and town hall meetings as lawmakers can benefit from hearing directly from nurses on health care matters. Well that should keep us all pretty busy. In the meantime, check out some of the resources listed on the right to help with advancing your engagement in policy advocacy.
Key Resources to Stay Abreast of Health Policy and Legislative Issues
Nursing and Health Care Related Issues
Health Care Access and Other Health Care Related Issues
Health Equity and Disparities Reduction
State Specific Data
Check with your local and state Departments of Health to locate recent and local statistics.
Tracking Legislative Bills
More and more health care organizations are using big data, predictive analysis, and data metrics to streamline the process of recruiting nursing talent. Over one-third of human resources departments rely on analytics to manage staffing, according to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report. That trend has exploded over the last few years, as organizations lean on technology in earnest. For example, approximately 95% of hospitals use an applicant tracking system (ATS), which is like a gigantic digital filing cabinet full of resumes, according to industry experts.
Big data (or people data) may sound intimidating to nurses who aren’t tech savvy, but the information that they refer to is often quite simple. “Facebook, Google, the U.S. government—even my own tiny website has its own big data,” says Brittney Wilson, BSN, RN, an informatics expert based in Nashville, Tennessee who owns the popular blog The Nerdy Nurse.
Big data usually means extremely large data sets, which help reveal patterns and associations, especially relating to human behavior or that look at trends and systems and help make a determination, explains Wilson.
“Data is everywhere and almost all of it is discoverable. I always tell nurses to not post anything online that they wouldn’t put in front of a recruiter when they’re applying for a job. You have to assume that someone is scraping that data and applying it to an algorithm,” she adds.
How Organizations Collect People Data—and What That May Mean for You
In a recruiting context, a nurse’s personal information can be culled from social media profiles, consumer data, and public records, in addition to a hospital’s personnel data or those of a third-party recruiting program vendor. That nurse’s individual data points can then be merged into bigger data sets, so analysts can create algorithms or statistical models that aim to predict which candidates are equipped to succeed in a given role.
For example, automated systems can spit out resumes from applicants in a certain zip code, based on an algorithm set to predict turnover. Perhaps previous employees with that zip code may have been short-timers, due to a grueling driving commute or unreliable mass transit.
Then even if nurses knew why they were getting the cold shoulder from a piece of software, there’s not much they can do about it. Their home address data is out there and available to hospitals, even if they attempted to hide it by using another street address, through a UPS or other office forwarding service, say.
But what if that undesirable zip code is for an area with a large minority population? Recruiters and IT folks are starting to realize how digital “gates,” based on zip code and such, may adversely impact underrepresented populations. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission frowns on practices which essentially “profile” applicants and employees.
“We need to attract more racial and ethnic minorities to nursing,” says David Wilkins, chief strategy officer of Woburn, Massachusetts-based HealthcareSource, a provider of talent management systems for hospitals. “We’re thin in labor supply and there’s a high labor demand.” The unemployment rate in health care is so low—RNs at 1.4%, and NPs at 1.1%, according to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. “With such an acute shortage, it’s hard to believe that people are consciously turning away any candidates.” Wilkins wonders if unconscious bias, such as when an applicant has an ethnic sounding name, may be at play.
Crowdsourcing, One Surprising Cyber Trend in Recruiting
Relode is an innovative crowdsource referral platform for health care recruiting. “In 2014, we saw there were lots of inefficiencies in the hiring process and wanted to use software to solve this problem,” says Joe Christopher, chief technology officer at the Brentwood, Tennessee-based firm. “The platform allows our small team to work on thousands of jobs. Health care is profession-centric, so staffing agencies are ultimately working with the company. We’re trying to help you, as a nurse, to take your next step.”
A nurse can sign up on the Relode portal, then work with a talent adviser who will set up a profile and then make a match with an appropriate job opportunity based on the nurse’s experience, skill set, goals, and other desires. “As a new grad, you may have to take what’s available, but if we know you ultimately want to go back to California, we can help. What if we can connect you to this great employer [in another state] who can train you? And then after a year or two, you can go back home to California or wherever. Or you might like it and want to stay longer.”
Relode offers nurses a way to earn side income through its crowdsourcing platform. “Nurses are used to thinking, ‘if I need extra money, I need to work an extra shift.’ But we believe the best nurse knows another best nurse. So as a travel nurse, for instance, you may know nurses in Dallas and Phoenix, and if you connect us and that person gets hired, we pay $3,500 directly into your account,” says Christopher. In fact, one nurse signed up with Relode and referred seven other nurses, earning money for connecting people she already knew to new opportunities, he adds.
Make Sure Your Online Application is Optimized for Search Engines
Human resource experts claim that very little recruiting happens without technology anymore. “Your first point of entry is very likely going to be a piece of software, an applicant tracking system. It has to determine the degree of fit between you and the job. So, make sure your resume is well-structured, clean, and easy to parse for an applicant tracking system,” says Wilkins. “Focus less on making it look pretty, and instead, make it very scannable and readable. The average time someone is going to look at it is six seconds.”
A big part of what applicant tracking systems search for is keywords and phrases. Recruiters may be carrying 100 plus openings at one time so they can’t look at all the resumes for each position. “In order to be seen, yours must be in the top 10 or top 20 ranking,” he says. “You should have multiple resumes to make sure the keywords match. Most of the time organizations tailor job titles and descriptions to a particular opening.”
A Travel Nurse Weighs in on High-Tech, Low-Touch Recruiting
Jake Schubert, RN, BSN, travel nurse and owner of Nursity.com, an online NCLEX prep course, is no stranger to the recruiting process and shares a few key insights.
1. The nurse-recruiter relationship is becoming less and less personal.
I get hundreds of emails from travel nurse recruiters all saying basically the same thing: “would love to work with you… would love to work with you… would love to work with you…” Don’t spam nurses with phone calls and emails. You don’t like it when people do that to you, so why would you do it to them? But if you really want to be effective, stop with the spam and make your message personal. For example, you can go to my Instagram and you’ll see that I love to scuba dive. Then reach out to me there with something personal like, “Hey I noticed you like to dive. We have contracts with three hospitals in Florida that are close to some great dive sites.” But no, they don’t do that. Instead they fall back on the same line: “Let me know when you you’re ready to start traveling with the best recruiting company!” I feel like responding: “Let me know when I’m relevant to you.”
2. Many nurses are naïve about a recruiter’s role and motives.
New graduates and some other nurses may think: “This recruiter is really on my side.” But they’re not—they’re being paid by their company so that’s where their loyalty lies. They know when you’re not asking for enough money, for instance, but they won’t tell you where you’re leaving money on the table. It’s not like other industries where people are required to disclose a conflict of interest—when real estate brokers represent both sides in a transaction, they’re legally required to disclose their dual agency.
3. Nurses have the power to create better relationships with recruiters.
I’m one of the thousands of nurses working with Kaiser Permanente right now. You go online and create a profile on their portal, and they email you when an appropriate job pops up. But that’s not how all jobs get filled in a hospital. It’s all about relationships. Managers are always asking me “Jake, do you know anyone who’s looking for a job?” Every hospital is looking for good nurses, and nurses who have good communication skills are hard to find. If I had one piece of advice for new graduates, it’s “Don’t text a recruiter, and don’t think of email as a long text. Email is an online version of a letter, so don’t leave out the niceties.” When you communicate fully, you show that you’re different and that you have professional communication skills.
So, for instance, if you were applying for a job as a dialysis nurse, Wilkins would advise the use of a preponderance of keywords related to that specialty. “Of course, use the word ‘dialysis,’ but also all the words alongside it and related terms and synonyms.
Dialysis in an elder-care, or long-term care setting, is different than working with general patients at an outpatient dialysis care clinic. Use senior care words, long-term care versus outpatient care words. The care job is probably the same but the stuff on the edges is different.”
Wilkins offers a final caveat regarding online application systems, which sounds basic, but could torpedo your candidacy if ignored. “The average completion for an online application is around 15%, which means 85% of online applications are never completed. While in some cases, this is because a candidate changes their mind mid-process, most of the time it’s just because the process is long and complex,” he explains. “But the really scary data is that 15% of people think they’ve actually fully submitted their application when they really haven’t. Sometimes they just miss the ‘submit’ button at the end. Go back and make sure you completed all the steps.”
Nurses shouldn’t forget to update their own employer’s human resource portal—it makes it easier for the department (or a hiring manager) to identify internal candidates. When there’s a job requisition for an assistant nurse manager with a master’s degree and a set of relevant experience, for instance, a recruiter can look through the hospital’s internal database of qualified nurses before posting the job publicly.
How to Protect Your Online Privacy When Job Searching
“We need to educate nurses that when you put your resume out there on any career site—upload it to CareerBuilder, Monster, Indeed—you’re selling access to that resume,” warns Christopher. An applicant may upload a resume and forget about it, but when they get an email or call from a recruiter, wonder: “How did they get my number?!” When you trace it back, almost always it was that uploaded resume and the terms of service that allow recruiters to contact you.
There are workarounds though, that will protect your privacy without hampering your job search. “Lots of people are able to set up an email address specifically for this use—you’d check it once a day if you’re in the job market, or once a week if you’re not,” says Christopher. “Sometimes the systems also require a phone number. You may be able to set up a Google voice number or use another solution like that.”
When using online job engines and portals, be aware that there are games that some unscrupulous recruiters play, says Christopher. For instance, “a staffing agency that does lots of work with nurses may put up a job listing for an opening that doesn’t exist” at the moment. That gives them a running start for handling hard-to-fill roles, “so that when an employer asks for an ICU nurse, say, they already have 10 nurses that have applied for that. Indeed will no longer host agency jobs, the listing has to be from the employer,” because of recruiter abuses. “Even now Indeed offers applicants a way to filter jobs—there’s an employer of record option.”
Present Your Best Cyber Self to Snag a Job
Nurses and talent recruiters are both figuring out the new communications etiquette, with some stumbles along the way. “I get text messages from recruiters pretty frequently. I was shocked the first time because they contacted me on a very non-professional manner, in my opinion,” says Regina Callion, RN, MSN, travel nurse and owner of ReMar Review, an NCLEX review program.
“Greetings will be skipped, and it will pretty much say ‘Make 10,000 dollars in a month! Sign up today for xyz.’ The lack of formality and information provided is a turnoff.”
That anti-text sentiment is common, even among some Millennial, digital native nurses. “My cell number is the last bastion of privacy for me,” Wilson says. “I don’t want to get a text from a recruiter without my consent. It feels like you entered my living room and sat on the couch and don’t even know who I am.”
But recruiters say that reaching out to nurses in the traditional way isn’t efficient, so they have to employ new channels. “Our team has found that texting is a really great way to communicate for nurses. They’re busy and so instead of leaving a message and waiting for a call back, a text is a brief but direct conversation,” says Christopher. “Obviously, you have to know who the person is and agree to it, but texting is a really efficient way for us to say: ‘Here’s a great opportunity that meets three out of four of your criteria. Do you want to talk about it?’ Or if there’s a simple question from an employer, we can get a quick answer: ‘Are you licensed in California? I know you graduated from school there but …’”
The nurse-recruiter dance requires sensitivity and cooperation from each partner. Recruiters do a service for nurses, exposing them to opportunities they might not otherwise discover and fast-tracking their applications through the hiring process. Nurses can help recruiters by making themselves easier to find and by being open to approach. “It takes a lot of energy to look for a job, and it’s a lot like dating—when you’re not looking, that’s when you’re most desirable,” explains Wilson. “My job before this one was with a startup who found me because I’d SEO’d [search engine optimization, or the process of affecting the visibility of a web page] my profile online so well… I always tell people—take a phone call. You never know.”
Especially since the #MeToo Movement began, sexual harassment has been in the spotlight. We spoke with nurses who have been harassed, legal experts, and nursing professionals to determine what you should and can do if this happens to you.
Celia,* RN, a longtime hospice nurse, remembers it like it was yesterday. A younger man, at least younger for hospice, had been admitted with terminal cancer. While Celia says she recalls other nurses talking about the patient having made “inappropriate comments,” she had never experienced it herself.
Until she did.
The patient had been angry and struggling with what he deemed the unfairness of dying young and leaving his wife and child—and knowing that he wouldn’t be able to take fun trips or do things with his daughter. Because he had a trach, which requires frequent suctioning and medication, he felt like the staff was treating him like a leper—when actually, they were simply following all safety precautions.
“Once trach care was completed, I sat down, took my gloves off, and offered him a hand to hold—this is standard practice between hospice staff and patients, and it’s not frowned upon,” says Celia. At the time, the patient held her hand, cried, and expressed gratitude for the time to talk. “I felt we had a nice, professional, and therapeutic rapport.”
A few weeks later, a couple of days after Christmas, Celia was caring for the patient, and he asked if she was married. When she responded that she was in a long-distance relationship, he asked how she took care of her sexual needs—and asked using inappropriate, graphic sexual language.
Celia replied, “One—that is none of your business. And two—It’s not appropriate conversation between a patient and a nurse!” Then, Celia calmly informed him that this was harassment and abuse. With one word to her managers, she told him, she would never have to be his nurse again. She says that the patient was contrite and apologized. Celia passed it off as a one-time thing and let it go.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the harassment. After a couple of weeks, Celia was the patient’s nurse again. While taking care of his trach, she talked with him. When he could speak, they discussed their favorite kinds of music. She recalls, “It was a nice interaction, as I grew up in a musical home, and discussing this was special to me.”
Near the end of the treatment, though, everything changed. The patient told her lots of things that he would like to do with her sexually, in graphic detail.
Celia recalls, “I was horrified. I was angry. I felt nauseated. I felt ashamed about my body, and I wanted to cry. I was shaking, inside and out.”
She told the patient that he was so far out of line. He was shocked that she was so rattled and tried to justify it by saying that it was a compliment. Celia left his room immediately.
The first thing she did was post on the staff’s white board that she would no longer care for this patient. When she calmed down, she emailed her managers and then communicated with them in person the next day.
Celia’s managers were supportive. She never saw the patient again, and he left the facility a few days later.
Harassment is Prevalent
A Medscape.com survey published last year revealed that the majority of nurses—71%—say that they had been sexually harassed by a patient. Of those responding, 90% were female nurses, 10% male.
But male nurses get harassed as well. They may, however, be even less inclined to report it. In the same survey results, it states, “By gender, female nurses…were much more likely to say they had been sexually harassed than their male counterparts (73% for female nurses vs 46% for male nurses).”
No matter the gender of the nurse who experiences it, sexual harassment is wrong. That said, how do you decide if what a patient is doing or saying is sexual harassment?
If it Looks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck
According to Trista Long, RN, DNP, MBA, ON-C, a nurse manager for an inpatient med/surg unit with Blessing Health System, it is easy, most times, for nurses to differentiate between behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate. “The first sign of inappropriate behavior is when patient’s actions or conversation makes the nurse uncomfortable. Patients who are making inappropriate comments will first ‘test the waters’ by making inappropriate jokes or mild comments to gauge the nurse’s response. If the nurse dismisses the comment, the patient will likely continue with the inappropriate conversation or actions.”
If a patient exhibits inappropriate verbal behavior, it’s often easy to recognize, says Long. “Nurses know what crosses a line and what doesn’t,” she says. Because of the physical nature of nursing, however, Long says that inappropriate physical behavior can sometimes be more difficult to recognize.
“I often tell my staff that—again—inappropriate touch is anything that makes them uncomfortable…it’s no different than being in public and having someone touch you inappropriately. Just because you are in a hospital does not give another person the right to touch you,” explains Long. “Most patients will want to hold your hand or touch your arm, but they will not go any further than that. An action or remark could be considered harassment if the nurse directs the patients to stop, but that direction is ignored.”
“A ‘reasonable person standard’ is generally used to determine if conduct is motivated by prurient interests or for a person’s sexual gratification,” says Debra W. Levin, counsel in the health law group at Brach Eichler. She previously served as counsel to the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners and was the Assistant Section Chief responsible for legal services provided to more than 50 licensure boards, including the New Jersey Board of Nursing. “If a reasonable person would be offended, then it can be determined to be sexual harassment. Because the standard is subjective, it is often hard to determine.”
“Sexual harassment is generally any unwanted sexual direct or indirect physical contact or comments. Of course, some physical contact may be more overtly ‘sexual’ than other contact, but much of the time, the intent will be evident,” says Jessica T. Ornsby, LL.M., Esq, managing attorney with A+O Law Group. “A good rule of thumb is whether the contact is objectively appropriate under the circumstances. For example, if a nurse is taking a patient’s blood pressure, is it necessary for the patient to place his or her hand on the nurse’s thigh? Probably not. But if a nurse is helping a patient into bed, that patient may need assistance stabilizing himself/herself and may rest his or her hand on the nurse in a way that would otherwise not be necessary.”
She adds, “Sexual harassment is basically a step down from sexual assault. If the action/contact involves force or any kind of penetration, that is most likely assault and should be addressed accordingly.”
What to Do if It Happens to You
Suppose a patient sexually harasses you. What do you do?
“Experts believe that sexual harassment is significantly underreported in health care. For that reason, I believe the best defense for nurses starts with reporting these types of incidents,” says Jennifer Flynn, CPHRM, risk manager at Nurses Service Organization. “No matter who the harasser—whether it be a supervisor, coworker, or a patient—nurses can take steps to address harassment in their workplace.”
“While working in a hospital, the first step is for the nurse to address the behavior. The nurse should tell—not ask—the patient to refrain from the inappropriate comments or actions and to stop immediately. The nurse should then report the behavior to his/her manager so that the leader can be aware. If the behavior stops, it typically will not need to go further,” says Long. “It is imperative that the nurse set boundaries with the patient immediately once s/he recognizes the behavior. If the action is severe or violent, the nurse should report it immediately, and the leader should address it. If the nurse is uncomfortable caring for the patient, the patient can be reassigned to another nurse. There have been times when I have assigned only male nurses to a patient who was harassing the female nurses.”
There may be times in which a patient won’t stop. In this case, Long says that the leader should talk with the patient and stress that the behavior won’t be tolerated and must cease. “If the behavior continues or if the nurse is uncomfortable caring for the patient, the patient should be reassigned to another nurse, and the leader should engage the Risk Management Department and/or the Security Department to assist. Many times, a Security Officer will be asked to speak with the patient and direct them to stop the behavior. Since they are often in uniform, it can be a show of added authority and the behavior will stop. If it does not, the Risk Management Department can speak to the patient and explain any legal consequences to their continued inappropriate behavior,” says Long.
Ornsby says that each work environment, ideally, should have some kind of policy with regard to sexual harassment. “Nurses should make note of these policies and earmark them for future reference,” she says. “If the policy does not specify to whom to report the incidents—ask. If a patient’s behavior…is making you uncomfortable or causing you to feel unsafe, leave the situation immediately. Your personal safety and well-being are the most important. Federal laws on sexual harassment apply regardless of whether the harassment is taking place at a hospital or a doctor’s office.”
Levin agrees that health care organizations should have policies in place. “Larger or licensed facilities may have staff to counsel the patient regarding harassing behavior. Additionally, in regard to patients, the patient can be transferred to another’s care, a chaperone can be provided, and the patient can be counseled. In dramatic situations, the patient can be discharged/terminated from the practice or facility. State-specific laws apply that govern termination of the doctor/patient relationship/discharge so that the patient is not abandoned, and there is a transition of care,” she says.
The American Nurses Association has challenged nursing professionals to end sexual harassment in the workplace by adopting a zero-tolerance policy. “Much has been written lately about the importance of nurses engaging in self-care. Not tolerating sexual harassment is an integral component not only for self-care, but also for self-respect, vital for professional effectiveness. Speak up when sexual harassment occurs and facilitate a civil work environment,” Flynn says.
The Bottom Line
“If the organization is not responsive to the nurse’s claims, s/he should consult legal counsel or their union. No one should be subjected to sexual harassment in the work place,” says Levin.
Long says that harassment, whether physical or verbal, has been perceived in health care as “part of the job.” But it’s not and never should be seen as such. “It is never acceptable to be harassed by anyone at any time. Nurses are an integral part of the health care team and should command the same respect as every other profession,” says Long. “Unfortunately, nurses have been depicted in a sexual manner for ages and that has demeaned the profession. Being a nurse does not negate my rights as a human being to not be verbally or physically assaulted.”
“I took an oath to care for others, but that does not mean that I have to sacrifice my physical or mental well-being,” Long adds.
* not her real name