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Empowerment in nursing: 5 ways to find your voice

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Bullying is not new to our profession, but the term “nurse bullying” seems to be the buzzword du jour. I believe nurse bullying stems from the old adage, “Nurses eat their young.”

We’ve discussed this hot topic before, and there are a myriad of well-respected resources that have researched this disheartening subject. I’m here to suggest some ways we can curb its development and possibly (with a little bit of time and effort) eradicate its existence.

I don’t think nurse bullying is going to go away anytime soon. However, I do think we can take steps to face it head on. I humbly believe that bullying exists only because we allow it, either passively or actively. In neither case are we helping the situation. If we’re not solving the problem, we’re contributing to its growth.

Ultimately, each of us possesses the singular tool to fix this problem. Bullying in nursing takes many forms and has many different sources, but it ultimately is about power. Someone bullies another out of a need to show power, to become more powerful or to at least feel as though they are in power. The reality is that power is in the eye of the beholder. Empowerment trumps power every time.

To have that empowerment, you must find your voice. I’m not talking about your physical voice, its tone or volume. Yelling and shouting are simply byproducts of one’s insecurities. I’m talking about speaking up, speaking out and speaking for yourself. All the time. Every time.

Every nurse has a voice and just needs to find and cultivate it. From the moment you decide to become a nurse and during the entire journey to your final destination, you need to find your voice. Find it and cultivate it. Once you cultivate it, keep using it. Once you find your voice, pay it forward by teaching it to others.

Here are five ways to find your voice:

Speak up in school

Sit in the front of class. Make sure the professor knows you by name. Become an active participant in your learning. Ask questions and seek answers. Don’t be afraid to ask the stupid questions.

Speak up during clinicals

Be the first to volunteer. Be at the front of the line. Be the first to check off a skill. Make sure your advisor knows your name. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Speak up during your orientation

Never be late. Arrive early. Ask questions. Learn something new every day and be sure to master everything that is taught. Do not learn the shortcuts and whatever you do, don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

Speak up to the physician

Always have your ducks in a row when reporting a patient’s care plan. Always be organized. Anticipate the next step in your care. Never apologize for doing your job. Do not be afraid to say, “I do not know.”

Speak up when challenged by bullying

Never passively let bullying happen, whether to you or someone else. Take an active part in squelching it. Don’t be that nurse who adds gasoline to the bullying wildfire. If you don’t speak up, it won’t go away. Just because you ignore it, doesn’t mean its gone. Don’t be afraid.

Here is the irony of it all: We as nurses are given the responsibility to advocate for our patients. It’s our job to speak for our patients when they cannot. We do a fine job of advocating for our patients; isn’t it time we did the same for ourselves?

For more on bullying, check out “Renee Thompson Bullying Expert” on RN.FM Radio

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Sean Dent

Sean Dent is a second-degree nurse who has worked in telemetry, orthopedics, surgical services, oncology and at times as a travel nurse. He is a CCRN certified critical care nurse where he's worked in cardiac, surgical as well as trauma intensive care nursing. After five years practicing as an RN, Sean pursued and attained his Masters of Science in Nursing. Sean currently practices as a Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP-BC) in a Shock Trauma urban teaching hospital. He has been in healthcare for almost 20 years. He originally received a bachelor's degree in Exercise and Sport Science where he worked as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC).
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6 Responses to Empowerment in nursing: 5 ways to find your voice

  1. Alicia-Joy

    Great article Sean. There is a MLK jr quote I love: “The only thing needed for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”

    I think a lot of us nurses are scared of speaking up for so many reasons. Of course, including possible negative ramifications. But we just need to remember to think wisely before we do. Respond instead of react. And speak up in a manner that is professional and appropriate.

    We cannot let fear keep our voices unheard. This is one of the things leading to continued disrespect and lack of improvement in the nursing field.

    Embracing self expression is vital personally and professionally.

    Thank you for the reminder!

    Alicia-joy Pierre

    • Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

      Alicia-joy, Well said. Well said. So glad you like the article.

  2. Granny RN RN

    I must disagree about the ‘I don’t know’ response, especially to a physician.
    I would say ‘let me check that for you’ or ‘I will find that (answer) and get back to you with it.’
    To say ‘I don’t know’ can imply a lack of concern or lack of motivation to be worth dealing with in the mind of the doctor, patient, family member, whomever you are speaking with and the very LAST thing that you want is to appear to be uninformed/incompetent especially when you are working in an ED or ICU environment.
    After all, YOU are the Professional to whom the patient’s care has been entrusted. You WANT to project absolute confidence because if YOU ‘don’t know’ it raises the anxiety level of the people who NEED to be comfortable leaving you as their Nurse.

  3. NurseVal

    Great article on a subject that is important to the nursing career culture. I believe many nurses don’t speak up for themselves because they don’t know how. It’s not enough to say how important it is to speak up. Some practical examples would be good. Thank you, Sean!

  4. Daletarnished

    Great article. You pose some very positive solutions to REAL problems in nursing. Hopefully people read the comments because I love to play Devil’s Advocate and stir the pot. I’ve been a critical care RN for over 13 years and worked in management as well so I present these situations from experience and welcome input to help those who may not receive the response they are looking for. I hope someone replies to the hard questions I know some of you are looking for answers for.

    (Speak up in school) – If I am a proactive student and follows all of your tips for empowerment, how do I handle an instructor who wants to crush my spirit and put me in my place for for being proactive enough to ask ANY question. (this was my experience and I was told I should not aspire to work in critical care immediately because I needed to get used to nursing first….I STARTED IN CVICU – WORKED IN NEURO ICU AND TRAUMA AND TRAVEL NURSING SINCE THEN)

    (Speak up in clinicals) – What do you do when a clinical instructor tells you that you are overzealous and need to sit back and watch others first sometimes. Your instructor tells you that nobody is perfect and gives you an unsatisfactory rating not based on performance but because you are always first to respond or try new tasks. (This was my experience and I had an instructor that hated that I was president of gamma beta phi, the student nurses association and led study groups to increase retention. My wife who is also a nurse and I graduated at the tops of our respective classes despite this…they also hated that we were in school together and this was Alabama)

    (Speak up during your orientation) – What do you do when the current climate of short staffing and improper ratios cuts your orientation short by many weeks and they expect
    to take a full patient load? (This was never my experience but many people I have precepted over the years experience this despite my attempts to advocate for them in this instance.

    (Speak up to the physician) – Every shift at every hospital for the last 13 years I have encountered at least ONE -and many nurses have this experience – That one doctor who doesn’t care how prepared you are, does not want your advice or assessment in an attempt to advocate for your patient….he just doesn’t like to be called or doesn’t return the call. (Fresh out of nursing school in CVICU I witnessed this phenomenon and have experienced it time and again.) I am a resource for calling difficult doctors now but what advice do you have for the nurse looking for this answer?

    (Speak up when challenged by bullying) NO DEVILS ADVOCATE HERE…you have to go to your management immediately and if they are the problem go to HR and if the HR department or facility is the problem……do as I did and contact the EEOC (entire hospital was flagged and multiple firings and EVERYONE had to go through diversity training) – THEN MY WIFE AND I MOVED ON TO A BETTER PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT.

    I look forward to your responses and invite YOU ALL to come to my blog and leave comments there as we discuss SERIAL KILLERS IN NURSING ( http://www.tarnished-novel.com/blog/series-malignant-capacity-in-healing-hands-sonia-caleffi/ ) ahead of the release of my book taRNished. ( http://www.tarnished-novel.com/ )

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