Build it, and they will come; nurture it, and they will stay — and thrive
Nov 08, 2021, By: Michelle Acorn
It is hard to fathom that in 2021 — the Year of Health and Care Workers, on the heels of 2020, the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife — the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Yet, the nursing response in Canada remains robust and steadfast.
As the inaugural chief nurse of the International Council of Nurses since May 2021, I wish to extend my sincere gratitude and appreciation to my Canadian nurse colleagues for delivering nursing care and services, and for leading valiantly across our complex health-care system via public health, hospitals, primary care, home and community care, long-term care, retirement homes, correctional institutions, and academic nursing schools.
While I am at the pinnacle of my career, I am conflicted at the paradox of service, compassion, and capacity colliding with inadequacy. Collectively, we must do more, listen more, examine the nature of our work, and evaluate our nursing responses to public health crises.
We must never forget the lessons learned from COVID-19. We can never go back. We must prevent future public health emergencies and pandemics by using our united resilience to move us forward.
Look beyond problems
Nurses need to be part of the transformation to promote health, social, and professional equity. Our knowledge of health and the health-care system, together with our experience with patients, families, and communities, are key assets. It is vital that conversations with health-care providers focus on more than just the problems. We must offer creative new solutions, act on them, and test them for impact.
For this to happen, nurses need to be at policy tables to be proactive and look upstream for solutions, versus a reactive downstream approach. Nursing knowledge is cumulative, encompassing educational, organizational, clinical, experiential, and leadership domains. Nurse power can be leveraged and organized to strengthen relationships and partnerships. We can share patient stories to highlight the human crisis and guide efforts toward recovery.
To effect change, caring for our nurses is paramount. We have endured mass traumatization, moral and ethical distress, and turbulent emotional experiences during these troubled times. Our nursing workforce is exhausted; our work environments and working conditions are stressful and strained.
Yet, nurses can exercise their professional power strategically to advocate, influence, lead, support, inform, redesign, rebuild, recover, and reform health care. Our intentional, deliberate, relentless voices and advice can drive policy change. We are agile — we have flexed and pivoted, and we can bring nursing solutions to the table. As valuable health activists, let’s bring our creative and innovative approaches to local, regional, and systemic levels. To do this, we must balance our intellectual and emotional intelligence. Storytelling is a nursing competency. Human stories can describe, share, and educate others.
Having such conversations when emotions are charged is difficult but necessary. Nurses are partners in change, not silent bystanders. We must ensure our presence at decision-making tables for continued health activism and health diplomacy. Our voices can articulate our expertise from the bedside to the boardroom.
Passion, perseverance, and purpose are key. To rebuild or recalibrate on the same foundation of inequity and a fragile nursing workforce is a flawed approach. We need to reconstruct our health system to build a healthy workforce.
Mitigate losses, strengthen gains
We can mitigate the loss of nursing knowledge by transferring our knowledge and bridging knowledge gaps. We must utilize succession planning with seasoned and mid-career nurses as coaches, preceptors, and mentors, and through creative staffing develop nurses across their career trajectories.
We must offer creative new solutions, act on them, and test them for impact.
We need to move the needle forward in diverse leadership, beyond the nurse-hero discourse and applause to meaningful investments, dialogues, and inclusion — nothing about nurses without nurses. No one should make decisions for nurses unless they know nursing regulation, education, scope of practice, and the realities of our diverse roles.
The path forward must be a professional and social health prescription for nurses. We can strengthen our intention to lead, to stay, to inspire, and to thrive. Our pipeline of hope for our nursing community can resuscitate, stabilize, and lift our profession. Through courage, integrity, and the power of nurse experts, we can speak the truth.
Nurses are privileged and honoured to share in the human experience from birth to death. We need to magnetize, stick together, charge one another, and boost our power for the health of the system. We can inform and influence through collaboration, sharing the patient journey, and demonstrating the value of nurses and nurse intervention for quality outcomes.
We can optimize a healthier future together. Nurses can share the evidence and demonstrate who we are as a profession for health equity and social justice. Authentic leadership starts with us all. Let us invigorate, imagine, and innovate nursing.
As service providers and system users, we can celebrate victories and design a healthier future together to shape public health policy. A “field of dreams” for nurses is achievable. Build it and nurses will come; nurture it and nurses will stay.
I would like to share advice on how to maximize action and impact for employers, policy-makers, decision-makers, and nurses. Together we can support our profession in its current state and as we move forward.
Leadership maximization: 8 lessons
Engagement best practices
1. Engage in efforts to ensure broad representation, visibility, and voices across all stages of the nursing profession and health-care system sectors. Show humanity, empathy, compassion, and gratitude. Make it happen, or help it happen. The International Council of Nurses has programs to support leadership development.
Recruitment best practices
2. Conduct offboarding interviews of nurses who are retiring or leaving the profession. The goal is to keep loyal alumni connected to promote your organization and recommend employment to other nurses.
3. Amplify onboarding and residency opportunities to increase competence and confidence in early-career nurses and assist them in transitioning into clinical and management roles.
Retention best practices
4. Engage in “stay” conversations 60 to 90 days before anniversary work dates to increase job commitment, reduce nursing turnover, and maintain connection as nurses reconsider their work and life priorities.
5. Promote staff well-being for physical, psychological, and patient safety. Quality of work life is paramount, and nurses’ experience is vital in improving retention.
6. Remove barriers to practice in order to enable, empower, and support nurses to strengthen their capacity.
7. Participate in career planning to support and keep nurses satisfied and hopeful within the organization.
8. Implement a respect and recognition program to showcase nurses’ accomplishments, innovations, contributions, and loyalty individually and collectively. Acknowledge preceptors regularly for their support of students, new graduates, and transitioning nurses.
Michelle Acorn, DNP, NP PHC/ Adult, CGNC, FCAN, FAAN, is chief nurse, nursing and programs, with the International Council of Nurses, a federation of more than 130 national nurses’ associations representing millions of nurses worldwide.