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Don’t wait for someone to pick you

I started volunteering in a local nursing home when I was 12 years old. I had barely stepped foot inside a nursing home before. And yet somehow I understood that the residents and staff needed my help. By the time I was 16, I launched a youth-led home care company called The Senioritas. Companionship, cooking, grocery…

I started volunteering in a local nursing home when I was 12 years old. I had barely stepped foot inside a nursing home before. And yet somehow I understood that the residents and staff needed my help.

By the time I was 16, I launched a youth-led home care company called The Senioritas. Companionship, cooking, grocery shopping and setting perms were popular requests. But I’ll never forget providing overnight respite care for a few elderly clients who were dying at home.

As a teenager, I had no authority to be doing that kind of work. But I saw it as an opportunity to take responsibility and help people in need.

What I learned from these early experiences was that I could make a difference by simply picking myself. I didn’t have to wait for someone to tell me what to do. I could decide.

It’s been seventeen years since my first taste of entrepreneurship and I’m finally realizing that the days of having a steady job, a job where you can just show up and do what your told, are over.

Thanks to the Internet and it’s marvellous tools, every single market is in chaos.

How we shop, where we eat, how we listen to music, where we access health care, how we travel, how we connect, how we work, and where we learn – it’s all changing. 

Technology is replacing the middlemen jobs faster than we realize. And it’s happening in health care too.

It makes no sense anymore to stick with a job you don’t like, to get paid to change who you are when there’s so much opportunity available to you.

Why bother applying to graduate or medical school and hope to be picked out of thousands of people, if all you want to do is learn how to help people?

If you want to start your own health care company, go ahead.

If you want to create a service, build it.

If you want to write a book, publish it yourself.

If you want to teach, you can teach.

If you want to improve health care, organize a group of people who want the same thing.

If you have a computer and access to the Internet, you own the means to learn and produce anything you want.

We don’t need directors, bosses, employers, managers, or publishers to make a living any more. Now is the easiest time in the history of humankind to go directly to the people you wish to serve.

Figure out what you love doing, what you’re good at and what the world needs – and go do that. There are so many problems that need fixing.

But first, pick yourself.

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The better way to make change

What do nurses do? Besides doing assessments, giving out medications and consulting with colleagues, have you ever thought about what nurses do every day, regardless of where we work? We try to make something or someone change. Many of us work towards educating people and helping them to make better decisions about their health. Some…

What do nurses do?

Besides doing assessments, giving out medications and consulting with colleagues, have you ever thought about what nurses do every day, regardless of where we work?

We try to make something or someone change.

Many of us work towards educating people and helping them to make better decisions about their health. Some of us work at influencing health care policy-makers and legislation. And there are some of us who work at improving access and reducing health care inequalities.

Seth Godin argues that,

for most of us, our job is to make change. Our job is to connect to people, to interact with them in a way that leaves them better than we found them, more able to get where they’d like to go.

We just don’t think about nursing this way.

Making change begins with realizing that culture influences everything we do. That the ways in which people think and act aren’t actually decisions at all. They’re cultural. A part of who people are.

The reason why people sometimes feel disrespected by us has nothing to do with our ‘nursing skills’, and everything to do with our cultural sensitivity.

Which means that anytime we want to help change something or someone for the better, we need to begin by understanding and shifting culture.

Most of us are used to teaching, helping or influencing one person at a time. In hospitals, clinics and legislative buildings, we meet with the people we seek to impact one by one, behind closed doors. Because this is the way it’s always been done.

But in the long run, this approach isn’t nearly as effective or efficient as organizing groups of people who want to change together.

When groups of people come together for a common purpose, with a committed leader and a way to communicate, they’re far more likely to reach their goals.

The most influential organizations make change not by influencing one person at a time, but by connecting, organizing and leading groups of people who want the same thing.

If you want to change the status quo, to help a population of clients improve their health, to improve the quality of care in your organization or to make your workplace a better place to be, start by finding and forming a small group of people who want to change.

You don’t need everyone. You just need a few committed people who share the same goals.

The hard part is to stop trying to change people who don’t want to hear from you.

Making change is much easier when you create a culture of people who believe what you believe, and want what you want.

Never underestimate the power of groups. They can change everything. Groups of families, clients, colleagues, businesses and lawmakers always have, and always will.

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“Don’t come to the ER”

If you have the flu and you’re otherwise well, stay away from the ER. There’s not enough room for you. North America is in the midst of the worst flu season in years and that’s the message we’re giving people. Hospitals from coast to coast are seeing unprecedented cases of the flu, bed shortages and overcrowded…

If you have the flu and you’re otherwise well, stay away from the ER. There’s not enough room for you.

North America is in the midst of the worst flu season in years and that’s the message we’re giving people.

Hospitals from coast to coast are seeing unprecedented cases of the flu, bed shortages and overcrowded emergency rooms. And yet what’s getting reported in the news across the continent is mostly unhelpful advice.

Read any North American news article and you’ll find that what gets written about are the urgent and interesting things about the flu. People who’ve decided that talking about overcrowding, numbers, and how many beds they’ve opened up is better than sharing important information that will help people stay healthy.

The virus isn’t the only problem

Contagiousness is one thing, but people who spread infections, and the environments in which they’re in are what tip epidemics and outbreaks. The most successful viruses spread because of certain kinds of people. In the case of the flu, people who most likely:

  • don’t wash their hands when they should
  • don’t stay home when they have the flu
  • don’t understand how the flu virus works
  • don’t know the signs and symptoms of the flu
  • don’t receive the flu vaccine
  • don’t care if they get other people sick
  • live or work in close contact with others

Despite working closely with people, I suspect fewer nurses and physicians get the flu than the general public. Not because we have super-human immune systems, but because we’re the kinds of people who have the knowledge and resources to avoid catching it.

The rest of the population at risk shouldn’t have to be at the mercy of what happens every winter. But they are.

Little changes can have dramatic effects

If PPE-donning nurses or physicians did home visits for people sick with flu symptoms, instead of seeing them in the ER. If schools and institutions got a little smarter about flu prevention.

If health care providers got a little better at persuading the general public to care more about preventing the flu. If people felt a little less guilty about staying home from work sick. If parents felt a little more strongly about keeping their children home longer when sick.

Then what would happen?

If only a small percentage of people of cause the majority of illness, the 80/20 rule would say that only a small group of people could cause the reverse.

The problem is, hospitals and most primary care settings are more interested in treating acute problems than preventing them in the first place.

Ask your non-nursing family and friends what they know about the flu. You’d be surprised what they don’t know, and what they don’t do to prevent it.

Telling people not to come to the ER if they’re sick with the flu isn’t the answer. Neither is telling the public to simply get the flu shot and wash their hands. Avoiding epidemics and outbreaks begins with identifying and influencing the kinds of people who start them and cause them to spread.

When you see preventable problems like the flu, look for the imbalance of power and knowledge, and the effort we make to maintain the status quo between us and the people we care for.

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Sick Care

It’s an attitude, not just a job we do. We’ve been brainwashed to think this way, to believe that’s what health care is. That hospital, emergency and long-term care work were the best and safest ways to make a living. That helping sick and hurting people is exactly what the world needs from us. Veer…

It’s an attitude, not just a job we do.

We’ve been brainwashed to think this way, to believe that’s what health care is.

That hospital, emergency and long-term care work were the best and safest ways to make a living. That helping sick and hurting people is exactly what the world needs from us.

Veer away from this kind of work and you’d ‘lose your skills’. Stand up against the status quo and people would think you’re nuts. Burnout from harsh realities of nursing and leave the profession altogether.

In 1860, formal nursing education was born because the modern world needed nurses to care for wounded solders. People who would train to become compliant workers in the hospitals of the Crimea War. And for the last one hundred and fifty years, we’ve persuaded more and more people to do the same.

Every year we educate thousands of nurses in the developed world to do the physically and emotionally exhausting downstream work of caring for sick people. But not just nurses. We’ve drilled, trained and reinforced physicians, physiotherapists, social workers, and every other health care professional to do the same.

There will always be sick and injured people.

But in the developed world, people aren’t dying from battle wounds and contaminated water. They’re suffering from mostly preventable problems: emotional traumas, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, vaccine-preventable infections, and so much more.

From the television shows we grew up with – General Hospital, ER and Grey’s Anatomy, to the billion dollar textbook industry, to big Pharma, and a system rewarding quick fixes to health problems. We’ve all been persuaded to believe this is what health care is. But I don’t believe it.

It’s no wonder we haven’t dedicated enough attention to the strategies of helping people stay healthy. But before we can begin to make change, I think we need to ask ourselves, what is health care for?

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Nursing with power

  When the scale is tipped in your favour, it’s easy to forget about the idea of power. Think about nursing school. Your college and teachers had power over you. They had the power to pick you, mark you, and graduate you. They taught, you listened. You did the work you were told to do…

 

When the scale is tipped in your favour, it’s easy to forget about the idea of power.

Think about nursing school. Your college and teachers had power over you. They had the power to pick you, mark you, and graduate you. They taught, you listened. You did the work you were told to do – or you were out. Most of us who succeeded in school responded well to that power, besides the stress that came with it.

That’s a bit different than how nursing unions and nursing professional associations market themselves. Most of them want to advocate for nurses. They want to be our voice, to take care of us. But do they give us powerI think you’ll find that most don’t.

And then there’s the type of power we have as nurses. We have more authority, influence, knowledge and access to information than clients do. We’re responsible for their outcomes and satisfaction. We have power over them. 

There’s a part in each of us that wants to be told what to do and to be cared for by others.

But this vulnerability isn’t sustainable when it comes to our health. The paternalistic attitude of “I’m the expert and you should listen to me” doesn’t work. And bullying tactics to gain power only lead to abuse.

Each of us has a choice to make about how to deal with the issue of power in our work. We can either choose to:

  1. Have power over people, or
  2. We can give people power

We tend to think nursing is about doing for. It’s not. Nursing is about empowering people to take responsibility for their health. The more people are involved in their care, the better off they are.

To overcome the inherent asymmetrical power in nursing, there are ways for us to give people more power. Instead of telling people what to do, we can partner with them – and let them make decisions.

How much time do you spend:

  • encouraging clients to independently take care of their health?
  • involving clients in planning their care?
  • understanding what clients actually need?

Preventable problems exist because of the imbalance of power in our culture.

Imagine what would happen if we were paid to help clients avoid needing us in hospitals, long-term care facilities and doctor’s offices? Or if nursing professional associations empowered nurses to speak for themselves?

Prioritizing someone else’s power is a different strategy for a different outcome.

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