The Next Shift is a new series of stories written by experienced RNs to provide advice that can help guide the next generation of nurses. The series is presented by The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future.
I began my career as a visiting nurse. Early on, I saw that the kind of insurance my patients had or lacked played a significant role in the type of care that I could (or couldnt) provide. This led me into the world of healthcare policy because I realized that the best way to improve healthcare in our country was by understanding and being able to influence public policy.
Since starting as a community health nurse, my career has been rich and varied. Currently, I lead AARPs Public Policy Institute and serve as chief strategist at the Center to Champion Nursing in America, where I direct technical assistance for the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a national campaign working to transform health and healthcare through nursing.
Being a nurse is a tremendously rewarding job, with many different career paths and opportunities to make a difference in peoples lives. Having worked in many diverse roles throughout my nursing career, Id like to pass along three pieces of advice.
Lead where you are.
No matter what your role is, think of yourself as a leader. Leadership is a journey not an end point and you can lead right now from where you are. We are historically underrepresented on hospital boards and other boards where major healthcare decisions that affect consumers and their families are made every day. Nurses represent the voices of consumers and their families, and our voices need to be heard at these and other decision-making tables.
Right now, the campaign is working on an ambitious goal to get 10,000 nurses on boards by 2020. As you move forward in your career, I hope you also will consider someday joining a board and helping us to meet this goal.
Support people in all settings.
Continue nursings strong tradition of supporting individuals and families. As a nurse, your patients and their families need you to explain what is happening, anticipate their needs, support them and be their teacher and coach. You can do this best by tapping into your empathy. This is especially important for our nations silent army of family caregivers. These 42 million Americans need your help. A 2012 study by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the United Hospital Fund found that family caregivers now are performing complex tasks like wound care and injections that were once only done in hospitals. As a nurse, we need you to play a key role in supporting family caregivers, whether you are simply asking them how their day is going or teaching them how to care for their family members and friends.
Build relationships outside of nursing.
We cant move nursing and healthcare forward alone. So as you begin your career, I encourage you to build a professional network and make an extra effort to make connections with people outside of nursing. In my own career, having strong relationships with policymakers, businesses, other health professionals and community leaders has been a critical key to my success.
These three strategies have helped me to be successful in my career, and I know that they will help you, too. Congratulations on becoming a nurse. I welcome you to this special and rewarding profession, and want you to know that we are counting on you to continue to carry nursing forward and to improve the lives of the people we serve. Thank you for everything you are doing now, and more importantly, thank you for everything you are going to do in the future.