I won’t give up on nursing.
It’s easy to lose hope. Every news article, journal, and blog I read these days has a litany of the issues facing the nursing profession, from widespread burnout, surging resignations, underprepared novices replacing seasoned practitioners, and increasing violence in the workplace. Couple that with the unrest in the environment—climate change, the war in Ukraine, systemic inequities, rising inflation—and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
Yet, I won’t give up on nursing.
I’ve studied nursing’s history and I’m old enough to have watched nurses navigate challenging situations in a way that brought hope and humanity, expertise and innovation, growth in practice, and transformation in society. At the start of the HIV epidemic, without knowing the source of the disease, nurses leaned in and cared for ailing patients, many of whom were ostracized by their families and coworkers. In Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and now Ian, nurses cared for patients for days in challenging situations, sometimes without electricity or water. And throughout the pandemic, nurses cared for thousands of patients taking their last breaths without family or friends at their bedside.
It’s not just these “big” acts of nursing that inspire me to hope. It’s my colleagues and I, as new grads, learning to translate the conceptual learnings of the classroom to the real-life tragedies of patients facing devastating diagnoses. It’s my colleagues and I learning new treatment regimens as new medications enabled kidney transplantations and lysis of myocardial infarctions. It’s my colleagues and I researching the forces that create professional practice environments and advocating with all of our being to create workplaces that support nurses to become their best selves.
So even as we navigate through these particularly difficult times, I know that it is every nurse, in his or her practice, next to his or her colleagues, taking action to figure out how to improve their practice, their staffing, their patient care, their well-being, and their community, that will make a difference both for the profession and for the world.
Because the world needs nursing, maybe now more than ever. I cannot imagine how we navigate out of our current state—in healthcare or in our society in general—without the intellect, compassion, expertise, humanity, innovation, and hope of nurses.
So lately, I’ve studied hope. Hope is not the belief that everything will be fine; rather, it is the perspective that with action, we can make things better. Hope does not deny realities, it faces them. And, however challenging the situation may be, hope acts.
Often the first action is making an injury visible and public so that what was once overlooked or deemed tolerable is noticed. It’s raising awareness about high levels of burnout in nursing (including the fact that a third of nurses were burnt out prior to the pandemic). It’s letting people know that more than two nurses were assaulted every hour in the second quarter of 2022. It’s actively discussing the dire situation in nurse staffing and its consequent impact on patient care.
And then it’s about looking for actions, however small, so we can begin to make things better. It’s remembering that what we dream of is already present in the world and looking for and taking that first step is important. It’s knowing that, in spite of media portrayals, the fact is that in most disasters, most people are calm, resourceful, altruistic, and creative. It’s tapping into that best and most powerful part of ourselves to take the first step to make things better. I, for one, am starting by not giving up on nursing.
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Marla J. Weston, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a registered nurse and former CEO of the American Nurses Association. Currently, she serves as the senior advisor for Practicing Excellence’s Nursing Experience Project (NEP), an app-based skill-building solution created by nurses, for nurses.