Monday, May 07, 2018

Change, Personal Agency, and Wellness -- Celebrating Nurses Week 2018

As Nurses Week begins, what does the idea of nurses and nursing conjure for the majority of people when they think about nurses? Obviously, the public trusts us immensely (the Gallup Poll confirms that every year), so there's a lot behind who we nurses are and why we're so special.

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

The Heroism of Nursing
Clinical nursing may be largely task-based, but I'll add that it's very much touch-based. From the care of premature newborns to the midwifery of the dying in hospice, nurses' ability to physically touch their patients is central to both nursing identity, nursing practice, and patient healing.

In our fast-paced and overworked healthcare environment, nurses are often stretched beyond their capacity to provide the compassionate, personalized care that lies at the center of the essence of nursing. However, many nurses soldier on and still provide excellent care under suboptimal working conditions, and this is nothing short of heroic.

Speaking of heroism, nurses rescue injured mountaineers from helicopters, care for the homeless and destitute, and provide increasingly complex care to students at all levels of education. From the Magnet hospital NICU to the locally owned home health agency, nurses are the very mitochondria of the healthcare system.

Mention that you're a nurse to someone you meet at a cafe or supermarket, and you will often hear a story of how a nurse so wonderfully touched the lives of them or someone they love.

The heroism of nursing comes in large packages (like rescuing stranded hikers from the aforementioned helicopter), and in small packages (like bringing a small toy to a frightened, bored child waiting for his first chemotherapy treatment).

This everyday heroism is inherent, intrinsic, important, and deeply ingrained in nurses worldwide, and it is the stuff of which so many moving stories are made.

The Nurse as Symbol

Nursing is symbolic of much good in the world, and as nurses continue to struggle with untenable nurse-patient ratios, workplace bullying, suboptimal pay, and other egregious issues in need of resolution, we continue to serve as symbols of what human beings are capable of when their best intentions are made manifest.

The positive symbology of nursing is powerful: it all began with the Lady with the Lamp, and has only grown and flourished since, notwithstanding the sexism and patriarchy which continues to be a consistent factor that figures in the profession's existence.

If we can embrace the symbolism of who we are as nurses and live up to its deeper meanings, we can make our work as nurses even more fulfilling and successful.

Personal Agency and Fomenting Change 

Even as we serve as highly skilled healthcare professionals and symbols of humanity's potential for compassion and caring, we see much around us that needs to be fixed.

When our institutions fail us and leave nurses in the lurch, we must then support one another, band together, demand change, and vote with our feet. Employers who treat nurses poorly should have a reputation to match, thus signaling prospective nurse employees that a different choice of workplace would be advisable.

Nurses can connect with their own sense of personal agency, advocate for change, make noise about their working conditions, and even run for office locally or nationally in order to foment change at the legislative level. Nurses can speak out in their communities and alert citizens (all of whom are potential patients, of course) of the ways in which the healthcare system is falling down on the job and putting profits over people.

Personal agency is the notion that the nurse can own their own power and choose to wield that power in whatever ways seem appropriate. When a nurse's personal agency is manifest, that nurse feels empowered to speak, act, live, and work in ways that are aligned with their own value system.

Self-Care Still Matters

Amidst hard work, advocacy, and a busy 21st-century life, nurses must also find time for self-care. Too many nurses leave the profession under trying circumstances, with a significant percentage abandoning their new career within the first few years of becoming licensed. As cliche as it may sound, nurses must first care for themselves in order for their inner batteries to recharge for the task at hand.

A diminished personal fuel tank does nothing for the nurse's well-being and stamina, and if employers aren't stepping up and encouraging self-care, nurses must take the initiative and do it for themselves while holding one another accountable to actually follow through.

If you, dear nurse, do nothing else for yourself this Nurses Week, I implore you to take a moment to perform a global assessment of your life and decide where you can choose to make time for the small things that improve your mood, your health, and your overall well-being.

Whether it's making time to write poetry on quiet Sunday evenings or committing to two yoga classes per week, choose a small yet significant self-care goal that is measurable, time-based, and realistic. If a friend, colleague, or loved one is willing to be your accountability partner in holding you to accomplishing your goal, all the better.

In our stressful world, self-care isn't a frivolous luxury, it's a dire necessity.

Bringing it All Back Home

Connecting with your sense of personal agency, practicing self-care, and working for change are all hallmarks of what nurses can do to make their lives and careers more fulfilling and worthwhile. The intrinsic heroism of nurses and the nursing profession speak to the overall mission and values that form the foundation of our profession.

Nurses Week is a moment to reflect on our heroism, reevaluate our wellness, consider how to manifest change, and feel gratitude for what we've already accomplished.

As a gift to you, dear nurses, I'm offering 15% off of any coaching packages purchased before the end of business on May 12th. Any packages purchased with this special discount need only be fully used by Nurses Week of 2019. Why not invest in your career this week as a way of thanking yourself for being a nurse? 

Happy Nurses Week! May your heart be filled by your choice of career, your chosen lifestyle, and the values and sense of personal mission reflected in both.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

As of May of 2018, Keith is the host of Mastering Nursing, an interview-style podcast showcasing inspiring, forward-thinking nurse thought leaders and innovators. 

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality and social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and intelligent cat, George.

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