The power of professional dialogue
Elizabeth Matters FACN
The first recorded evidence of my ambition to become a nurse was at four years old in one of those school record books, which has pockets to save your school related memorabilia. To be honest, it seems that junior Matters really wanted to be a vet nurse but, sometime in that year, with the growing insight that turning five brings, I decided that human nursing was the path for me.
It would have been great to have a mentor as a kid. A nurse who could articulate to me in words all the wonderful and powerful things I had to look forward to in joining the profession. My contact with hospitals was limited to a couple of visits to see my granny when she had pneumonia but there was something so intrinsically good and kind about nursing that it seemed like a profession to aspire towards. I knew that I liked to care for others in need and was always the first to accompany someone to the sick bay. I also knew that planning and organisation made me happy, and if I could do that for a job, I would be better for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually know any nurses and nearly every adult in my orbit including all my school teachers and a fair number of doctors, did their best to tell me that I would be better off doing something else.
I went on work experience at two hospitals and then enrolled in a Bachelor of Nursing straight from school. I combined it with an Arts Degree, so I could continue to pursue my other interests – history and languages – which I loved. I was so keen to prove the naysayers wrong and to find everything I was looking for immediately in nursing but it was not to be. We were constantly reminded by our mentors at prac that the training we were receiving was meaningless compared with hospital-based training. Any interest in the academic or non-clinical side of nursing was no contribution to the profession at all. The negative dialogue was so marked and so constant that I nearly didn’t make it through the course and almost joined the “don’t do nursing” camp myself.
What kept me going were the patients, of course, and a few outstanding mentors. I loved the feeling of contributing to the wellbeing of someone who was otherwise in dire straits. I saw that, although my bed making, showering and meal serving were only the beginning of a long journey of practical skills acquisition, they really meant something to the people I was helping and could be performed as well and graciously, or as badly and rudely, as an individual decided. I admired the nurses who could use their words to build dignity where there wasn’t much and to soothe distressed people with their empathy. By the time I finished my degree I knew that nursing was where I wanted to build my professional dreams because it played to my strengths and interests like nothing else.
Ten years later, I have explored many more paths in nursing. I am a registered nurse and registered midwife, trained in Australia and working in Germany. I am an editor oF a nursing e-textbook, a former nurse educator and a current case manager. I have been a speaker at two global nursing conferences and three national ones. I am a mentor to nursing students and new graduates. Every day I work in two languages in the course of my work and I relish the opportunity to write articles for publications such as The Hive. What strikes me, however, is the fundamental importance of professional dialogue in every project or role I take on and the power of my words and those of my colleagues in shaping the perception of nurses and nursing both within and outside the profession.
Nursing has a lot of battles still to wage, even though in Australia we are blessed with a much better professional situation than many of our international colleagues. If we want people to switch on to our concerns, celebrate our achievements and value our contributions, we have to bring a message to them which they find thought provoking and attractive. We need to realise the power of our language to create or destroy the future we hope for and modify it accordingly. Every nurse must realise that to achieve the kind of professional environment that we all want, they must also be an articulate and positive ambassador for the profession – in their workplace, in their family and in their community – and not leave it to those in public leadership positions.
Over the last ten years, ACN’s leadership has been an inspiration to me. The goals of the organisation are steadfastly future-focused and self-assured. It was a great honour, therefore, to be asked to write for The Hive on a regular basis. In this column, I want to discuss this great profession with people who understand it. I want to hear from you and learn from you and share what it means to be a nurse. I want to add my words to be a part of our professional dialogue and to play my small part in creating the future of nursing. I look forward to sharing this journey with you.