Feb 16, 2021, By: Leanne Paquette
Becoming a professional nurse is simultaneously magnificent and burdensome. The volume of learning expected of student nurses can be overwhelming. Lectures and experiential opportunities are excellent ways to teach students the material they need to learn, but they don’t provide adequate venues for students to share their expertise by expressing their nursing voice. To clarify, the “nursing voice,” according to my rendition, refers to the act of nurses speaking up for themselves and their profession and patients. It is knowledgeable, compassionate, empathetic, advocating, empowering, and cordial.
I am newly inspired with the following question: what distinguishes the nursing voice of today, in practice and in education? I believe we can begin to answer this question by noting that today’s nursing voice is often fuelled by frustration from workload exhaustion and professional oppression, a frustration that increasingly leads to political advocacy. The nursing voice is prominent on social media and many other digital platforms, but continues to be less so in mainstream media. That’s why I believe the culture of nursing education, and furthermore, the culture of nursing, needs to do more to support the awareness and utility of the nursing voice.
This commentary will discuss the concept of the nursing voice and why it is important that nurses and nursing students are equipped to speak with professional certainty.
Complicity in encouraging silence?
With lecture sizes often ranging between 80 and 200 students, student nurses can often only — even over a four-year BScN program — develop their nursing voices through their scholarly papers. How are nursing students to grow beyond the skills we teach them to ensure that they can, with familiarity, assert their voices when needed? I contend that nursing education therefore plays a role in complicitly encouraging silence.
The vulnerabilities created by technology and lack of recognition could be mitigated by supportive nursing schools and employers and proactive health-care associations.
Similarly, nurses in practice experience burdensome workloads where the acuity of their patients may limit their nursing voice to dialogue associated with reaction-based care. The nursing voice is needed in practice to ask the difficult questions about history, politics, and social context, which serve to uncover health disparities. Nurses must strengthen their voice to lead health-care reform and advocate for needs-based solutions for patients, for communities, and for themselves professionally.
The urgency of technology and professional recognition
Technology creates an urgency to promote using one’s nursing voice. Digital tools help give nurses and nursing students the information they need to make critical assessments and interventions, but these tools are no substitute for the voice of the nurse.
Likewise, Kear (2019) also characterizes professional recognition as something needing urgent attention as it relates to the nursing voice. She claims that the work of nurses is sparingly celebrated and encourages them to recognize the value of their own voice.
The vulnerabilities created by technology and lack of recognition could be mitigated by supportive nursing schools and employers and proactive health-care associations. These would ensure engagement and lead to innovative approaches that promote the nursing voice and prevent it from suffering regression into a comfortable hum of uncelebrated expertise.
Nursing voice and the pandemic
Fall 2020 shifted the culture of nursing studies to online course delivery. This requires commitment of an authentic instructor’s presence and innovation. My students will have opportunities to speak and to grow in confidence. I will encourage them to raise their concerns at the onset of each class, particularly around the issue of cultural diversity, to improve their nursing voice while simultaneously promoting cultural inclusion.
Furthermore, nurses in practice and nursing students are confronted with a new level in provision of care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their stories are valuable. Giving them the opportunity to share these experiences is critical, as doing so cultivates their nursing voice as well as professional solidarity.
The Nightingale Challenge implored organizations to support nurses in innovation, advocacy, and leadership. From academia to the bedside, nursing organizations have a unique opportunity to nurture this growth by creating safe spaces for discourse and learning.
If you’re a leader in education or practice: this is your opportunity to empower the nursing voice.
Kear, Tamara M. (2019). It is time to tell the world what nurses do. Nephrology Nursing Journal, 46(3), 275-328. https://search-proquest-com.ledproxy2.uwindsor.ca/docview/2242763951?accountid=14789
Leanne Paquette is a full-time lecturer and second-year PhD student with the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Nursing in Ontario. Her central research interest lies in nursing incivility across the spectrum of the profession. Leanne has held a variety of nursing and leadership roles, starting over three decades ago as registered nurse assistant, that have shaped her passion for the use of the nursing voice.