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Practice Matters

Do I still belong?

By: Cynda Hylton Rushton, PhD, RN, FAAN

You matter to the profession.

As nurses continue their journey to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, many are asking, “Do I belong here?” Belonging, a human need, is fueled by connection, meaning, and purpose. When we belong, our values align, we feel confident, we perform better, our identity is fortified, and we’re more resilient. For nurses, asking if we belong may be an expression of the disorientation and dissonance that’s occurred during the pandemic. Some have touted nurses as the most trusted profession, as angels and heroes, while others have vilified nurses and questioned the reality of the pandemic or rejected basic safety measures. At the same time, nurses experienced the unrelenting mismatch of people and resources to provide the care that we’re trained for and committed to.

When trust is contracted, we begin to second-guess ourselves and others. We may question why we’re here. We may question our role, employment choices, or our decision to be a nurse. Or we may question the behaviors, choices, and commitments of others. We may wonder if our leaders are dedicated to the same things we are or whether we can count on our colleagues. And we may feel as if our patients have turned against us, treating us disrespectfully—sometimes violently. Lack of meaningful connection with those we serve erodes our sense of purpose.

Healthy workplaces require belonging. It’s vital to building and sustaining trust. Belonging, a complex concept, includes belonging to yourself, your patients, the nursing profession, and to your role or position.

Who are you?

You probably have many labels—nurse, wife, mother, sister, aunt (or…

Belonging to yourself. Knowing who you essentially are, what you stand for in life and work, and why you’re here form the foundation upon which all other layers of belonging reside. Trusting your intuition, judgement, and wisdom gives you the confidence to belong. Nurses can easily skip this part of the equation while focusing on their service to others, but it’s essential if you want to be true to what matters most.

Belonging to our patients. The Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements grounds our commitment to those we serve. The first provision outlines the basic values of the profession—respect all persons and treat everyone with fairness, equity, and compassion. The second provision affirms our primary commitment to our patients. These foundational commitments motivate nurses to show up, innovate, advocate, and take courageous actions.

Belonging to the profession. Nursing education sows the seeds of professional belonging. You’re making an intentional choice to adopt the core values and commitments of the profession and to pursue lifelong education to ensure your competence and trustworthiness. Belonging to the profession involves adopting and embodying shared values and acknowledging the diverse ways in which nurses serve others. It embraces the standard that every nurse matters, and that all nurses have a unique contribution to make to the welfare and health of others.

Belonging to your nursing role or position. As a nurse, you can reinvent yourself again and again. For some, leaving their jobs is an act of integrity or survival. For others, it’s a progression in their career trajectory. You can leave a job without abandoning the core of what it means to be a nurse and to belong to the profession.

A path forward

Pausing to consider what it means to belong—without reactivity or distraction—can allow us to make integrity-preserving choices and to avoid abandoning ourselves or others in the process. (To read about nurses’ feelings of abandonment during the pandemic, See Battle of COVID-19: Frontline nurses feel abandoned during the pandemic)

We need all nurses. You matter—whatever your current role, you belong in this amazing profession. Let’s stand together to re-imagine nursing by belonging to ourselves, our patients, and the multitude of ways in which we serve the profession every day.

Cynda Hylton Rushton is the Anne and George L. Bunting Professor of Clinical Ethics at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and professor of nursing and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

American Nurse Journal. 2023; 18(3). Doi: 10.51256/ANJ032348

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