Birds of a feather should flock together

1 March 2014

NICOLA RUSSELL challenges each of the country’s 47,000 or so registered nurses to this year step up and take action – small or large – in a collective effort to make a difference for the patients they care for.

The summer sojourn is likely to be a distant memory for many of us. Blissful lazy days replaced with the daily grind of trying to skilfully manage the work/life balance…or at least giving the appearance of doing so.

It is tempting to insert an inspirational, if not slightly pipe dream-like, list of must do’s to aspire to, but resolutions for major lifestyle changes often get relegated to a list of ‘casual self-promises that one is under no legal obligation to fulfil’.

Instead, I look to broader ambitions for the nursing collective in the coming year – and trust that each and every one of us is fully aware of the need to altruistically care for ourselves as a pre-requisite to being able to provide quality nursing care to others.

It has been highlighted, ad nauseam, that nursing has the collective potential to effect great change – if only we could ditch our ill-founded reliance on being ‘too nice to create trouble’. Yes, we are a caring profession, but caring is more than just quiet diligence. When we work within a society that clearly requires a greater need for equality and equity for all health care consumers, then our silence and inaction equates to acceptance of the status quo.

But taking action can feel all too consuming, daunting even, when you think that you are alone. “What can I possibly do or say to effect real change?” you may ask. Fortunately, through the sheer will and determination of some amazing pioneers and leaders in our nursing community, there is a strong foundation of support for us all. We all need to make a concerted effort to recognise, utilise and capitalise on the wealth of knowledge that our leaders hold, and most importantly, we need to act and think like a 47,000 member plus strong team! We need to share the load, contribute to discussions that affect our patients and our working lives, and answer the calls for our knowledge when asked – and be brave enough to offer our input even if we have not been asked.

In the next year, if each of us picks just one issue, makes one contribution to a call for submissions, completes one survey, answers one call for nursing research volunteers, or challenges something they see or hear in their practice on just one day – that is a minimum of 47,000 acts of resistance and advocacy for our health care consumers! Imagine what we can achieve!

Many of you may be familiar with Dr Robert McNeish’s “Lessons from geese” (see sidebar). The lessons speak to the responsibilities of being an effective team member and the power of a collective effort towards a common goal.

So I challenge each and every one of us to evaluate what we can do this year to support the team. Whilst our key focus is the health and wellbeing of patients and communities we should also be mindful of our own health. Accepting frustration, turning frustration in on ourselves and each other, feeling we have not been able to deliver good care: these are all recipes for dissatisfaction and distress and are inherently unhealthy.

Myself? Well, I plan to take up Zumba, begin my PhD, do more things that scare me (feel the fear and do it anyway!) and actively seek opportunities to learn new skills of leadership. What about you?

About the author: Nicola Russell RN, BN, MPhil (Nursing) and member of the College of Nurses board.

What we can learn from geese

FACT 1: As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an up-lift for the birds that follow. By flying in a ‘V’ formation, the whole flock adds 71 per cent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

LESSON 1: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.

FACT 2: When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

LESSON 2: If we have as much sense as a goose, we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

FACT 3: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

LESSON 3: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each others’ skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talent or resources.

FACT 4: The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

LESSON 4: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

FACT 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

LESSON 5: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Attributed to Dr Robert McNeish (1972)