I was honored to be asked to speak at our Rutgers-Camden Nursing Sigma Theta Tau Induction ceremony. While I may be one of the oldest nurses ever inducted into Sigma, it is wonderful to finally be part of this organization that celebrates the power of nursing. Here is an overview of my message to the newest inductees.
A heartfelt congratulations to this year’s Sigma inductees. I want to take a moment to look around the room and acknowledge the newest members of Sigma. We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, especially the 6 women who had the vision for a nursing organization that recognized the value of the nursing profession. Exactly 100 years ago, after a World War and a pandemic, these 6 Indiana nursing students approached their advisor with their inspired idea to create what was to become Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society
The founders chose the name from the Greek words storgé, thárros, and timé, meaning love, courage, and honor.
Connected, empowered nurse leaders transforming global healthcare – But unless we make these words come alive with action, they are just letters on a page. That’s the work, to make connections that will empower nurses, creating leaders who will transform global healthcare, which is in dire need of transformation.
Developing nurse leaders anywhere to improve healthcare everywhere. Also recognizing nurse leaders, who like me, are coming to Sigma later in our careers. For those who are new to nursing and Sigma, but have a lifetime of a career ahead of you, take the mission of Sigma to heart, Be Bold from the start!
Nursing has never needed you more than right now. Much like the echoes of 100 years ago, we are once again living through challenging times. The most consequential in my 38 years of nursing practice. I graduated from nursing school at the height of the Aids epidemic, but COVID has been a completely different experience. For those new grads to be, your desire to become a nurse has been challenged over and over again since March of 2020. It is clear that your dedication to your profession has already been tested and will prove to be foundational for who you will be as a practicing nurse.
For the new members of Sigma, this is a moment of inflection, change, of opportunity and to embrace a mission to engage our voices to help create a new future for nursing. There are more than 4 million nurses in our country and 1 million physicians. We can leverage our status as the most trusted and respected profession as confirmed for the past 20 years by the Gallup organization to speak out and be vocal about public health issues. Certainly, it should have not taken a pandemic for the nation to understand the importance and impact of nurses, but here we are. Let’s use that leverage!
The Woodhull study had the most impact on my practice than any other study I have read in recent years. The original Woodhull study was completed in 1998 and named for Nancy Woodhull, the founding editor of USA Today. Ms. Woodhull was both curious and concerned about what she believed was the under-representation of women in all media. When she became ill and had multiple hospitalizations before her untimely death, she became most concerned about the voice of nurses in the media. The extensive study uncovered some very disturbing data, including that only 4 percent of health-related news articles utilized nurses as a source, even if the article pertained to nursing or included photos of nurses (Mason, Glickstein 2018).
The study was replicated 20 years later in 2017, I am frustrated to report that the latest findings were equally abysmal with little-to-no improvement in giving voice to nurses as sources for health-related media stories. Woodhull Study Revisited details the findings and raises thought-provoking questions about the role of bias at the intersection of nursing and journalism.
But we have much work to do to overcome a legacy of nursing silence or nurses being silenced. It is actually a combination of both.
This is the message I want you to think about after this evening has concluded. How can you use your voice, your power in one of the most consequential times in the 100 years of Sigma and of nursing? One of my former Rutgers students, Kathy Dreger, now a practicing school nurse wanted to make sure I shared this message with you:
“I was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau as a senior in college having no real idea of the honor. However, I have listed it on my resume as an “honor” along with the clinical award I received at graduation. Please let the Class Of 2022 know that the field of nursing is vast and can take them wherever they want to be. I am in my 25th year as a nurse and 6th as a school nurse. Nursing has been very fulfilling and also challenging on many levels. I have grown immensely in all areas of my life. I am still proud to be a nurse. I hope our newest nurses learn to understand what it takes and means to be a successful nurse much sooner than I did!” – Kathy Dreger
So, let me take you on my journey to finding my voice. Sometimes you find your nursing voice from a personal experience, health crisis or family tragedy. We learn from hearing other nurses’ stories because through them, we find our own. I caution you not to wait as I did, start early, start strong, be bold, in fact, Be Relentless!
My talk concluded with a series of slides that illustrated how I found my voice and the nurse leader within. My talk was not scripted for this portion. I spoke from my heart, but I think the slides tell a story!