Last month’s American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet® and Pathway to Excellence® conference brought together over 10,000 nurses—more than 6,500 in person and nearly 4,000 virtually. As always, participants left the event feeling reinspired, reinvigorated and remotivated to do the important work of nursing.
Finding content and designing a conference that highlights and celebrates the best in nursing excellence while also rousing thousands of attendees to keep striving for more is no small accomplishment in any “normal” year. After 20 grueling months of the COVID19 pandemic, it was a herculean task. The conference hit that sweet spot between acknowledging the horrific realities that nurses faced in the past year while simultaneously celebrating our strength and capacity for carrying on.
From the first session on, stories, pictures, and music relived the early days of the pandemic—times when the streets were eerily empty, PPE was scarce, and how to care for people with this little-understood virus was unclear. The influx of patients overwhelming our emergency rooms and inpatient units, the unrelenting exposure to people dying, and the fear of bringing this contagion home to our families were remembered. From speaker stories at the podium and peer-to-peer conversations in the hallways, we told stories of the worst of the worst; the things we never told our families and friends, nor talked about even with our colleagues lest we reawaken suppressed memories of our dark days.
At the same time, once again from the first session on, content and conversations celebrated our resilience, our endurance, and our survival. We hugged (with masks on), we cried (with masks on), we laughed (with masks on). And although we are still in the middle of this, we recognized how far we have come, how much we have learned, and how strong we have been together.
I was reminded of a time in my career when my organization went through a challenging period. As a leader, I thought it was my job to motivate people, so I concentrated on the future and sent messages of hopefulness and positivity. Wisely, a teammate had the courage to tell me that by acting as the “cheerleader,” my message landed flat and false, denying to many the reality of the situation (Thank you forever Marianne for having the courage to confront me with this.). Not long after this event, I heard Bob McDonald who was then the Secretary for Veterans Affairs (VA) give a speech. At a time when the VA was being publicly hammered for misrepresenting wait times for veterans to get appointments, his presentation included both a robust review of the harsh reality of the issue and other strongly positive outcomes that the VA was achieving. In other words, he owned the whole of it—the bad and the good.
This lesson—to own the whole of it—may be the best advice to guide us as leaders and clinicians while we continue to navigate through the pandemic. It’s our job to thread the needle in the messaging–to let our colleagues know that we see them and how they are continuing to endure the relentlessness of this pandemic, while also reminding each other of how we are standing strong, caring through the human toll of the pandemic, and learning new ways to support our own and each other’s well-being every single day.
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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.