October’s guest, Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, writes a thought-provoking article on the culture of nursing.
A few months ago I wrote a blog post about the great opportunities that we are being presented with in nursing and asking the question, “Are we ready to meet the challenges of the future? (https://myamericannurse.com/BlogView.aspx?bl=6268&bp=8214)? It’s an issue that has been weighing heavily on my mind. Why? Because while we, as a group, certainly need to enhance our credentials, communication skills, and image overall, that still isn’t enough to move the profession forward. The most fundamental, and perhaps the most challenging change that is needed, is to change the culture in nursing — that is, shifting from the old oppressed, disenfranchised mentality to one of empowerment and confidence. In other words, we need to let go of what no longer serves us (and is no longer relevant) and embrace new ways of seeing and thinking about the profession… and ourselves.
The word culture can be defined in many ways. But in this context I am referring to an overriding set of beliefs, assumptions, myths, values, tolerated behaviors, and learned responses that unite a group. These elements are formed over time based on personal experience, events, stories told, literature, and other factors. Culture often becomes so embedded in the psyche of the group members that when circumstances change and progress has been made, it can be hard for the members to recognize and embrace those changes. It’s like the old story of the fleas jumping in the covered jar in an attempt to escape; they eventually stop jumping even after the jar lid has been removed. In another words, many times we continue to react as we always have even though old obstacles have been removed and new pathways have been opened.
The last several decades have seen dramatic changes in societal and gender norms in health care and the world in general along with expanding roles and opportunities for nurses. Yet I still hear nurses say, “There is no hope in sight for bedside nurses to improve their lot” or “Nurses get no respect” or “We are our own worst enemy” and so on. Likewise, I recently attended a nursing conference where one of the speakers discussed, ad nauseum, the history of oppression in nursing and how it manifests itself in the workplace. Do we really need yet another lecture on this topic as to causes? I heard nothing about what we do have going for us, suggestions on constructive steps to minimize these and other challenges, or ideas about what we can do to improve our lot and rise to the occasion. Let’s start proactively and creatively talking about solutions rather than whining about problems.
It’s time to create a new reality in nursing. What I am suggesting is not a Pollyannaish approach, nor a denial of any challenges that exist. Rather it is a conscious choice to refocus our gaze, our efforts, and our resources on our strengths and opportunities and discuss how we can build on them. Certainly we want to identify challenges but rather than focusing on the perceived problems, let’s be proactive and brainstorm practical solutions to solve or manage them. Let’s empower every member of the profession to appreciate his or her value and worth in the system.
Admittedly this is not something easy to change. It requires a major paradigm shift, and a commitment, by individual nurses, nursing associations, nursing leaders, and nurse educators. It is akin to a grass roots political or social movement. We have to start telling the stories of empowerment (they are all around us) and putting the spotlight on positive nursing role models. We need to change the dialogue from one of oppression to one of strength and influence. We have to look at what’s working for us and where new opportunities are opening up and find ways to capitalize on that. We need to create a new vision and road map for nursing’s future, a new culture of empowerment, courage, pride, and autonomy.
Donna Wilk Cardillo is the Career Guru for Nurses and “Dear Donna” columnist for Nursing Spectrum, NurseWeek, and www.nurse.com. Donna is also an ‘Expert’ Blogger at DoctorOz.com. She is author of The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses, Your 1st Year as a Nurse, and A Daybook for Beginning Nurses. Ms. Cardillo is creator of the Career Alternatives for Nurses® seminar and home-study program. You can reach her at www.dcardillo.com.