To Create Nursing’s Future, Today’s RNs Must Look To Great Leaders Of The Past

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By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN

On May 12, the final day of National Nurses Week, we once again will commemorate Florence Nightingale’s birthday. It’s a good time to reflect on her attributes and attitudes and the actions she used to ignite the evolution of nursing more than 150 years ago.

Nightingale was tough and outspoken. She was an excellent communicator, persuasive and effective in making her point. She was well educated, socially savvy, politically active and an adept networker. Nightingale was fiercely passionate about her work and the value of nursing, and used the power of her connections to move nursing forward.

She didn’t blame anyone for the social barriers she encountered nor did she try to figure out why they existed. She just broke through them and kept right on going.

Nightingale did groundbreaking research and revolutionized not just nursing care but healthcare as a whole. She had vision, determination, confidence and a strong sense of self.

To keep the nursing profession strong, today’s RNs must embody these traits. Unfortunately, I hear some nurses complain that no one respects us, that we don’t have any power and that we are our own worst enemies. They focus on what they perceive as nurses’ and nursing’s weaknesses. We need to stop complaining and fully embrace Nightingale’s qualities to make nursing a force with which to be reckoned.

Why is this so important now? With inevitable healthcare reform, the Institute of Medicine’s report on nursing’s future and the nation’s changing demographics and healthcare needs, nurses are poised to take on an even bigger and more significant role in healthcare. This may be one of the greatest opportunities we’ve ever had to be healthcare leaders.

It may seem daunting to be a force of change. Think of the great changers like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nightingale. Change wasn’t granted to them; they grabbed it using their social and political skills, their passion and their steadfast belief in their mission.

So what would happen if nurses dug down deep and tapped into our personal power and strength? What if we channeled Nightingale and all of the other strong, empowered, determined nurses who came before us such as Mary Breckinridge, Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail, Clara Louise Maass, Luther Christman and Mary Eliza Mahoney? They fought obstacles and prejudices, and in spite of great odds, found ways to make remarkable strides and leave their marks on the world. Each forged his or her own path to accomplish what needed to be done for the greater good. This is our legacy. We owe it to our nursing predecessors and ourselves to live up to their ideals.

Take this chance to revive the pioneering spirit of our nursing forebearers. Create a new nursing reality with new roles and new healthcare models that will generate a healthier future for the planet.

Let’s use Nurses Week to channel Nightingale’s power, passion and pride in nursing and put it into practice. Look out world, here come the nurses!

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