I am both optimistic and frustrated about where we find nursing in the health care system of the 21st century. Of one thing I am fairly certain. Whatever successes and achievements lie ahead for the profession will be accomplished at great individual investments of time, energy, and commitment to nursing.
The roles that we take as individuals in the next few years will create our collective legacy of post World War II nursing. I sometimes wonder if those of us in the Baby Boom generation will be known as the generation of nurses who reaped the greatest rewards from the health entitlement programs of the 1960s, and also left the profession in its greatest crisis in history.
Without question, the Boomers inherited a proud tradition of nursing following World War II. Those of us in that generation were given a great gift and a bright future. Although we are a caring, nurturing, and well educated generation of nurses, we also made mistakes. Now our sons and daughters are joining the profession. Have we created a better profession for them? Collectively, it seems we did not see the warning signs or listen to the political debate that drives health care practice. The wise leaders among us could not speak loud enough to get the attention of the masses - until now that everyone recognizes a global nursing crisis.
I remember a story about an old woman who heard the enemy troops were approaching her village. The young able men and women were all off fighting the war. The children, older people, and disabled were left alone in the village. The old woman went about handing out sticks, rocks, and anything else she could find to throw or swing at the enemy. When asked "Oíd woman, what do you think you can do with a stick and a rock?" she replied, "At least they'll know what side I'm on!5* Each of us must have the same conviction for the survival of professional nursing.
It is often said that nurses represent the largest single group of health care professionals in this country. We should have extraordinary influence. We should wield such power that no decision about health care could be made without our input and support. But when I think about nursing influence, the lion in the Wizard of Oz comes to mind. Remember the lion? When he jumped out and roared at Dorothy he seemed so fierce and deadly. But all little Dorothy had to do was stomp her foot and the lion broke into tears and sobbed into his tail. And the poor lion whined, "If only I had courage. " Eventually, we all learned that even the wizard could not give the lion what he already had. For courage can really only come from within to do what is right and what needs to be done.
We have to give back to our profession all of the good that we have received. We have to find the courage to see that nursing survives and thrives in this new century. Feeling insecure and inadequate is something we all feel at some time. The trick is to speak up anyway, even when it scares you to death.
I guess the short version of my message is this. Be involved, carry a big stick, put on a courageous face, and roar (don't whine) as loud and as often as you can about professional nursing. We are the present and the future of nursing and of our gerontological nursing specialty. The work of creating nursing history is ours to shoulder.