STTI Conference Reflections

I just arrived home from the Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) conference in Indianapolis about creating healthy work environments.  It was a full day of driving there and back from Ontario but well worth the journey!   Everyone I met was so positive and inspiring – I wish we could spread this positive energy to the four corners of the earth and remind our colleagues that healthy workplaces are possible.  Are there barriers?  For sure.  But without a vision and passion for change, we are going to stay where we are, which unfortunately isn’t always  ideal.

Some of the highlights of the conference for me were listening to the panel discussion that kickstarted the conference on Friday morning, hearing Dr. Cindy Clarke speak later that day, and having a discussion about some of the challenges of having an academic career in nursing.

I had a real “light bulb” moment on Saturday when we were discussing the importance of recruiting and retaining doctoral-prepared nurses in academic positions and the value of  staying current in our clinical practice in addition to balancing the demands of teaching, research, and service while pursing tenure.

It dawned on me that the academy was not built with practice disciplines in mind, therefore clinical practice is not valued at many institutions in the same way as the traditional tripod of responsibilities (i.e. teaching, research, and service).   How can we be expected to prepare undergraduate students to become professional nurses if we are not up to date on our nursing skills and current best practices?  On the other hand, how can we possibly become and remain experts in all domains and still have a life?!    I’ll be the first to admit that I work 50-60 hours/week on research and schoolwork and the remainder of my time is spent with my son, working out, squeezing in other activities (like writing and grocery shopping) and sleeping.

Although I love my job as a staff nurse I am dreading going back to work in September when my maternity leave ends.   I know from experience that spreading yourself too thin takes a toll on my body and my mental health.  Not to mention that when quantity of activities increases past a manageable level, quality often suffers.   Having to choose between spending time with my son (which I will never get back) and running around like a crazy person trying to build my CV and establish my career is not easy.   I care deeply about nursing and I want to contribute to our profession in a meaningful way.  I also love my son and cherish all the time we have together.

Women already face enough challenges pursuing academic careers without the added obstacles of pursing one in nursing.  How can we expect nurses to give up their high-paying (and often unionized) staff nursing jobs to go back to school and still support their families?  Moreover, how can we expect nurses to complete their doctoral work while teaching or working full-time and often working the second shift at home as a mom and house manager?   Yet, so many do.   If we are going to successfully recruit and retain nursing faculty, we need to be more supportive of talented nurses who want to become educators and researchers.  We need to recognize and appreciate that as individuals we cannot and need not be experts in everything.  Every nurse has different gifts and strengths to offer that bring a wealth of knowledge and ways of being that enrich our profession.

For me, valuing, respecting, and embracing diversity is fundamental to creating a healthy profession and a healthy work environment.  Just because I have a passion for research and teaching and a few extra letters next to my name doesn’t mean I don’t admire and value the experience and expertise of seasoned staff nurses.  It would be completely ignorant of me to think that I know more or better than others; I simply know differently.  I would be gravely mistaken if I thought that what others have to offer makes me “less than”.  I can only hope that my colleagues in practice embrace the same attitude: I might be pursing an academic career but I am still a “real” nurse.

Thankfully, my nurse colleagues in academia have been so supportive and encouraging!   I have so much to learn and a long way to go but I am inspired by the courage, wisdom, and strength of the nurses who have led the way before me.   I am so fortunate to be surrounded by such wonderful scholars and nursing leaders.   Together we are all going to accomplish so much!

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