Yes. And it begins by understanding power, and how you personally can change the power dynamics in America.
Several people share responsibility besides the officer who killed George Floyd. For starters, the three other policeman who did nothing to stop him, as well as whoever allowed an officer with 18 previous complaints to continue working in the capacity of a guardian of the public, are at the top of the list. As humans we tend to look to a single person to blame, while in reality there are always others standing by.
For example, the captain of the Costa Concordia was not the only one on the bridge as the ship crashed into rocks killing 32 people. There were five other officers present that said nothing as they watched the looming disaster because they could not speak truth to power. Every day we, as nurses, observe power discrepancies too:
- A nurse is asked to use a regular facemask instead of an N-95 to treat her COVID-19 patients
- A physician is impatient with a nurse and does not make eye contact as he/she barks orders
- You hear the demeaning tone of voice as another nurse talks to her nursing assistant
- A nurse manager takes literally months to approve a vacation request.
These are all examples of life in a hierarchy where some people believe they have more power and thus have the right to oppress others…examples of power over/power under that exists in the hierarchy of a medical environment. And as human beings we are unaware that underlying and motivating all of our actions is an unspoken belief: some people have more value than others.
That is where America is today, and this is what you can do.
Don’t ignore these moments. Every time you speak your truth and stay in your own power you help to create a society where others can do the same.
Is it a risk? Yes. Nurses report retaliation by being fired, labeled a troublemaker, or targeted and isolated from the group.
Is it a risk worth taking? Only you get to decide. But for real change to happen, we must one-by-one:
- Own and give voice to those personal moments when someone has taken your power away or you have watched some take away another’s
- Treat every member of our team as valuable and worthy
Yes, then the change will come.
What did you see today that’s worth owning?
Example of how to stand in your power/voice
Use the D-E-S-C model
(Learn more about becoming a skilled communicator here)
Situation: A nurse is asked by her manager to use a regular face mask in treating COVID-19 patients
Describe – I understand that you want me to break protocol and use a regular face mask
Explain – Six months ago I would have been fired for doing this, as it is against hospital policy and infection control science
State – I need to be provided with an N-95 mask in order to stand by my license and best practice
Consequence – So that I do not put myself, my patients, and my family at risk.
Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.
All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses. Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners. She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.
Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.