In the last blog, I remarked that we haven’t really talked about the truest cost of leadership and what it means to resist the status quo. Resistance is necessary as a first step in leadership.
I recently went to an optional Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity workshop for my new position as a Nurse Coordinator at the University of Maryland. I definitely had my biases when I walked into the room. I thought it would be a dry conversation with no relevant reference to diversity or equality as I see it today. And though there was no working definition of diversity or inclusion, I was pleasantly surprised when the instructors presented a slide on implicit bias.
Unconscious bias or usually known as implicit bias is a “positive or negative mental attitude towards a person, thing, or group that a person holds at an subconscious level”.
This is a topic that needs space to grow so we will delve deeper in later blogs, but for the sake of knowledge I needed to bring it up. The instructors also asked each participant what equal opportunity employment meant to us and the answers ranged from being “colorblind” in dealing with employees to thinking of each person as “equal.”
When it came time for me to answer the question I could feel my heart racing and my throat tightening. It’s almost always hard for me to say something that I believe is in contrast to the normal responses. I brought up that being “color-aware” and “inclusive” and equality is not always the right choice when making decisions about employees. I was still nervous after I said it. When we had a break, one of the instructors called on me and said “Nikki, thank you for your response.”
No lights flashed and no drums rolled, but what I found is that speaking up and out is necessary if we as nurses are to influence healthcare policy right from where we are. And it can be quite disturbing to know that what you need to share is going to be in contrast to what your colleagues are thinking. Whether you are on the unit or speaking in front of Congress on an important piece of legislation having the courage and conviction to speak up and out is critical.
Nurses have the experience and practice that many legislators lack. As such, we have a unique perspective on issues affecting healthcare. We must strive to engage in policy work as this is the primary way that most healthcare challenges are covered. After all, policy work is among the professional and moral obligations of nurses. In order to communicate these perspectives in a way that will affect policy, there are certain things you need to pay attention to:
- How you see yourself: Nurses must see themselves as professionals with the ability and right to advocate on behalf of themselves, their patients and society at large. You may feel that you are not equipped to impact policy making, remember though, that you advocate for patients in your dealings with administrators and physicians on a daily basis. Also, now a days you don’t have to go down to Washington to advocate, you can do it from home.
Nursing bodies will draft the letters and you can sign them adding your own bend on it. You can attend grassroots nursing and community coalitions.
- Educate yourself: In order to effect change, you must know what you would like to change. Therefore, you should be knowledgeable of existent policies. Learn the way in which policy development takes place. If you don’t know it, ask! Seek out those who are involved in policy development and gain information about policymaking activities.
Arming yourself with knowledge can help you feel confident to present your points. Remember also, the most important point is your lived experiences and what you have seen happen first-hand in your practice.
- Collaborate: One voice will not be loud enough to impact whatever policies that you would like to see changed. It works to your advantage to network with other nurses, doctors and health care professionals within your hospital, community or state. Even if you don’t speak to Congress directly, it is through collaboration that you make the greatest impact.
- Volunteer Yourself: Being involved in civic engagement in your community is so powerful. Sign up to do a soup kitchen, help a local clothing drive, and most importantly meet the people that you are volunteering for.
- The Challenge: I know you are busy, I mean who isn’t right? Limited time and resources, may feel daunting when embarking on a journey to transcend your everyday bubble and get involved in the greater work. But it is the greater work that makes us feel connected to human kind, it makes us humble, and reminds us that the work does not end because you punch the clock at work. And I wish I could say that when you do go out and serve your community that it will make it all better, but I can’t. If that is your purpose then you’re going to feel like a failure every time. However, if your purpose is to do one small thing to consistently to be more connected to the world around you, to find your unique thumbprint on impacting policies even from where you are, then you will feel like the step is fulfilling. My confidence grows each time I resist the urge to be quiet because I can, or to stay focused on an issue instead of becoming distracted by my own wants and desires.
I am thriving every time I make a contribution however small towards societal change.
Nursing is understanding and caring for human health. The nursing profession is valuing all people and advancing health across all levels of a society. In order for this to to be true, policies must be made to integrate patients lives more fully and who better to speak on how patients truly live than you.