Your Voice Matters: Walk it Like You Talk It in Nursing School and Beyond.
As nurses and nursing students we are advocates, healers, and superheroes. We directly interact with patients and assist in their day-to-day care. By having hands-on interaction and being a first-hand witness to patient needs and educational needs, we are in tune with practices that should be maintained and those that should be changed. However, how often do we take the steps to enact those changes? Have you talked to your teacher about a change needed in the syllabus format? Have you voiced your concern regarding the weight of each exam grade on your final grade? Did you share (respectfully) how a teacher’s tone or treatment is affecting your educational progress? We may talk about what we want to be done, but how often do we “walk the walk” and make it happen? With busy schedules, family responsibilities, health issues, and just being tired after a long shift, day-to-day issues may become easier to complain about instead of acting on them. We may think that we don’t have enough power or that the voice of a nurse or student is not enough to make a difference. But the truth is WE DO! I have experienced the power of speaking up - from collaborating with my classmates to working with over 1,500 students across the state of New Jersey (NJ).
How did I begin to learn about legislative nursing and find my voice? I fell in love with nursing during a public health course during my senior year at the University of Maryland, College Park. Nurse Vickye Hayter explained how she lowered the infant mortality rate in Santa Clara, California. She explained how the infant mortality rate is highest for black women regardless of socioeconomic status. Nurse Hayter and her team were able to lower the infant mortality rate in their area through various public health and legislative interventions. This opened my eyes to the vast opportunities of the nursing world beyond bedside care, and the array of work settings that nurses may access . The day after she spoke I applied to nursing school and began my nursing journey the following September.
Keeping that legislative passion throughout my nursing school, I became involved in my school’s Student Government Association (SGA). I took on the role of Student Services Liaison to bridge the gap between student needs and faculty awareness of those needs. My classmates and other nursing students came to me when they had an issue to be addressed or to vent about certain school policies. I would relay these concerns and work with faculty to rectify the issues presented. As much as I enjoyed being active in school, I also needed funding for my nursing education. One of my professors told me about a scholarship given by New Jersey Nursing Students, Inc (NJNS) at its annual convention. I swiftly applied and was blessed as a recipient of the scholarship. Attending the convention to receive my award was my first interaction with NJNS. It was amazing to see so many students, faculty, leaders, and deans in one room with such a huge passion for nursing. It was enlightening to hear what the organization had done throughout that year and the resolutions they had worked on. This convention fell in line with my legislative passion and led me to seek ways to get involved on a larger scale. During that convention I ran for the position of Breakthrough to Nursing (BTN) director, was elected, and began my involvement in the organization. The next year I decided to take a leap of faith and run for president. I was elected and proudly served as the second black president in the last 20 years. This position has allowed me to work with an amazing board to provide leadership, networking, and professional opportunities to students throughout NJ. It also helped me gain more confidence to speak up for myself and peers. Whether it was speaking up for that select-all-that-apply questions that didn't seem fair or voicing concern for the lack of scholarship opportunities during State legislative meetings, I learned the importance of speaking up.
Here are six lessons that I learned as nursing student, president, and now registered nurse (RN) that helped me, Walk It Like I Talk It.
Our voice MATTERS. As nursing students we are completing exams, clinical rotations, research papers, skill assessments, and much more. We often see what assignment and assessments are truly helping our educational endeavors and those that need to be changed in our syllabus and coursework. By speaking up on something such as that select-all-that-apply question or a clinical rotation that can improved, we are not only ensuring that we get a quality education but also to ensure that those who come behind us can have a quality education as well.
You DO NOT have to be in a high position to make your voice heard. Being active in my school’s SGA allowed me to voice concerns of students who did not have the time to attend various meetings and conventions. Find that person in your school or nursing community who is already being that voice and relay those concerns. If you don't have a lot of extra time on your hands (let's be honest -- nursing school doesn't allow for many extracurricular activities especially if you’re taking care of family, holding down multiple jobs, or need to use every free moment to study) voice your thoughts to a student and nurse organization that does.
If you feel something is wrong or should be changed -- speak up. As the old saying goes, “Closed mouths don’t get fed”. At times we may feel that we are not worthy or “experienced enough” to speak up. No matter when you started nursing school or how long you have been a nurse, your thoughts and opinions are important. We have worked too hard to pass our nursing classes and become nurses to be placed in unsafe situations that can affect our graduation, license, or well-being.
Seek out faculty who are invested in your growth as a student and health professional. I was blessed to have a faculty member share information and enthusiasm regarding joining the student government association and the state student nurse association. Nurses that help prepare you professionally are just as important as those that prepare you academically.
Join the organizations and/or nursing school clubs that you feel best represent your voice. If I only took on roles that “looked good on my resume” and didn’t believe that they truly represented my voice, I probably would not have the same passion that I do now. Your school’s SGA is a great place start as well as your state and national nursing organizations. The pre-professional and professional organizations are there to be a voice for your needs. Research each organization and join what best fits you.
Know your limits. Maybe it is not your season to take on a huge role. Know your limits and figure out what you have time to take on. What part of change are you most passionate in facilitating? Is it the assessment, the planning, the implementation, or the execution? Every step is important and maybe your idea fits a specific part of the plan really well.
Take breaks when needed and find time to decompress One of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Brownn is, “Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” This quote resonates with me because while it is important to be a voice for change, it is even more important to take care of your own mental, physical, and emotional health and make yourself a priority. By doing so you're able to be a better advocate and initiator of change. I knew that after graduating, passing the NCLEX, and finishing my term of office that I needed to make myself more of a priority. Whether it’s through taking trips to visit family, catching up on books I didn’t have a chance to read over the semester, or incorporating some “me-time”, I keep self-care on the top of my list.
I hope some of these tips help you to better walk it like you talk it and remember your voice MATTERS. Happy Nursing!! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about getting involved in your local and state nursing community or if want to discuss self-care methods.
Originally written for the PHENOMENAL and resilient nurses at: http://theresilientnurse.com/allnursey/2018/04/02/your-voice-matters-walk-it-like-you-talk-it-in-nursing-school-and-beyond-by-alexandra-maye/. Thank you Nurse Mo & Janae for sharing my story!! <3