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Best help for nurses comes from nurse leaders

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, September 11, 2012

One of the best things about being a nursing columnist is hearing feedback from readers. Every week, I read the emails and online comments generated by the topics I write about. Doing so not only helps me understand whether my columns have struck a chord or missed the mark; it helps me gain deeper insight into what readers really care about.

One thing that comes through loud and clear? That despite the talk about leadership and empowerment, nurses often feel voiceless and helpless. This comes through especially when reading the comments on a recent story reporting that one in five nurses has depressive symptoms.

Readers say they often feel powerless at work, and they fear for the safety of their jobs if they were to speak up about issues that are bothering them.

"Nurses are afraid to advocate for anyone, let alone themselves, and they become depressed and less productive over time due to things like calling off d/t burnout and fatigue, not doing certain things on the unit for fear of being fired, coming to work and doing just the minimum to get out of there at the end of their shifts with all their parts intact," writes one reader.

"STAFFING, STAFFING, STAFFING!!! When oh when will someone figure out that there would be no nursing shortage, no unhappy patients, fewer lawsuits, nurses more willing and able to pursue higher degrees of eduction [sic] and a lot less depression if nurses weren't expected to work in an impossible environment," writes another.

Nurses obviously have concerns about their jobs and hospital environments, but it's not clear that they working to correct the problems. Neither is it evident that they know how to advocate well for themselves, or if they are aware of ways that they can advance their careers.

But a free webinar series from the nursing associations of the National Healthcare Career Network (NHCN) aims to help nurses with these issues. The monthly series, which begins October 30, is running with support from the American Hospital Association and several nursing associations.

Among the speakers are nurse leaders such as Ann T. Bures, RN, MA, CHCR, nurse recruiter at University of Maryland Medical Center and Dennis R. Sherrod, EdD, RN, Professor and Forsyth Medical Center Endowed Chair of Recruitment & Retention at Winston-Salem State University, Division of Nursing.

The participating nursing associations "hear from members that they want information on career development," Carol Barber, NHCN's managing director, who will be moderating each of the monthly webinars, tells me.

The webinars will feature nursing leaders who will discuss topics ranging from how the healthcare mandate will affect nurses, to advancing nurse education, to how nurses can effectively advocate for themselves at work and improve their work environment.

For example, Barber points to one of the webinars called "How to become a rainmaker," which aims to help nurses learn how to work with nurse leaders about their concerns at work. Instead of simply griping to coworkers around the water cooler, it will advise nurses to voice their concerns to managers in constructive ways.

For example, Barber says after a nurse identifies a problem, he or she shouldn't simply "dump it on your manager's doorstep." Instead of simply pointing out the problem and walking away, nurses should "own it" and proactively offer solutions. Barber says that nurses might offer to lead a task force to tackle the issue or provide some background information or research about the subject to support their case.

"It's empowering, inspiring, with the idea that this is yours to manage," Barber says. "You can be a sheep if you want to or you can emerge as a leader."

Barber suggests that leaders encourage their nurses to listen to the webinars, perhaps even as a group. But if the webinar series accomplishes its goal of empowering its audience, there needs to be a receptive manager at the other end of that message.

Lessons about empowerment will all be for naught if nurses don't feel comfortable speaking up and taking the lead. It's up leaders to put their money where their mouth is and make sure that nurses feel safe enough to suggest changes and raise concerns.

It's up to leaders to make sure that their nurses' efforts don't fall on deaf ears. They should listen, accept suggestions, act on constructive criticism and—especially after reading the above comments—do everything in their power to ensure that nurses won't be afraid of being punished or losing their jobs after speaking up.

Source: HealthLeaders Media