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New nurses look to the future

Five participants in a national nursing leadership program speak to Linda Belardi about their first year as trainee leaders

The profession faces a significant loss of leadership and experience in the next decade as 40 per cent of the nursing and midwifery workforce is older than 50. To help address this brain drain, the Australian College of Nursing’s emerging nurse leader program is supporting five student nurses over five years to develop their leadership capabilities. Each year five students will join the program. The aim is to produce 25 emerging nurse leaders by 2016. As the first participants in the program prepare to enter the workforce, Nursing Review asked them to reflect on leadership, ambition and the future of the profession.

What makes an effective leader?

Elyse: A nursing leader needs to have enthusiasm, commitment and a good work ethic. Leadership is about having the passion and commitment to motivate a team, the enthusiasm to make changes happen, and the dedication and energy to work hard for what you believe in. We have been privileged to meet some amazing leaders already in the program and they have all been very personable people and open to new ideas and concepts.

Laurelea: I believe a true leader helps others find and follow their own path; they don’t expect to be followed. A leader listens without judgment and aims to facilitate others figuring out their own solutions. A leader seeks to continually improve themselves, and realises there is always a better way.

Patricia: I believe an effective nursing leader is someone who can motivate their team through their ability to lead by example, along with an open and approachable nature. It is important to get people to feel that they are all part of the team and, above all, to put the patient first.

Sherrie: I believe that all the experiences people encounter in their life aids in being an effective nursing leader. I also believe that personality plays a part. Being able to stand up when it counts is an essential quality. As a nurse, it is required that you are an advocate for both your patients and work colleagues, which demands strong leadership.

Catherine: The emerging nurse leadership program has highlighted to me the different yet effective approaches to leadership. However, a common thread has emerged that nurse leaders must be people who are respected, calm in challenging situations and have confidence in their capacity to lead. The emerging nurse leader competency framework summarises that a nurse leader must be creative and innovative, set goals, plan, effectively communicate, motivate, solve problems, have initiative and integrity, and seek self-development. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to develop in these areas as we move into our nursing careers.

What lessons and experiences will you take as you begin your nursing careers?

Elyse: I have learnt so much from a wide range of patients, nurses and health professionals. In particular, I will always remember an experience I had when I was on my first clinical placement in the cardiothoracic ward at Canberra Hospital. It was with a man who was my very first patient and I was trying really hard to get my vital sign observations correct and to apply the knowledge I had learnt in the first six months of my nursing degree. I took the time (it’s easier as a student) to do extra research on his condition and treatment options and to go through them with him so that he understood why things were happening to him. It was a very rewarding experience and I saw first-hand how important it was to talk to your patient and to explain what you were doing and why you were doing it. At the end of the week I went in to say goodbye. At this stage he was unable to talk so he wrote on a piece of paper “You must keep nursing.” It confirmed that I was on the right journey.

Laurelea: I hope to always see my patients as the people behind their diseases. Sometimes in nursing we are time-poor and so overloaded with tasks that we can lose sight of the person in front of us. An extra few minutes, a kind gesture and a smile can make the world of difference to your patients. A leader needs to always have the best care of their patients as their primary focus.

Catherine: In the same way that the emerging nurse leader program has nurtured leadership in future nurses, I hope I can inspire student nurses to take on leadership roles. I think it is important that leadership is identified and progressed at a student level so that early career nurses can grow into leadership roles.

Patricia: One of the main lessons I will take with me is to always listen to what my patient is telling me. They know their body better than you ever will and not everyone presents the way the textbook suggests. It’s important to learn all that you can from other health professionals because the more personal experience you can tap into, the better your knowledge. And always make time for a good coffee before work because you never know when you may get 10 minutes for another one!

Sherrie: Throughout my five clinical nursing placements I have seen both positive and negative aspects to nursing. I have observed how registered nurses conduct their clinical practice to identify strengths and weaknesses to improve my own clinical practice. I will definitely be taking these with me into my nursing career. I have had a lot of support from many people at CQUniversity and I will never forget the advice they have provided me.

What are you passionate about in nursing and why?

Elyse: The future in nursing. It is such a rewarding and skilled profession and I am excited about seeing nursing specialties become more advanced. I am passionate about providing excellent patient-centered care and contributing to positive patient and nursing experiences.

Laurelea: Encouraging nurses to join and remain in the profession. I want nurses to support and encourage each other and to lose the reputation we have of eating our young. If nurses could work together to improve our workplaces and the health of our patients and communities, we could make a big difference in many people’s lives. We need to recruit top-performing students into nursing and to continue to push for nursing to be recognised as a strong profession.

Catherine: Remote area nursing – the autonomy, lifestyle and landscape of small remote Australian communities. Upon joining the workforce next year I hope to increase the opportunity nursing students have to participate in remote nursing placements. I am passionate about preventive health and the capacity of Australia’s health care system to reduce chronic illness as our hospitals continue to be placed under increasing demand. I am passionate about ensuring that the voice of nursing continues to grow through representation by our professional bodies, particularly the Australian College of Nursing.

Patricia: The more I learn about nursing, the more my passion is ignited. Regardless of the area I choose to work in, the main thing that I am focused on is taking the time to build therapeutic relationships with my patients. In my experience these relationships are not just rewarding for my patients, but rewarding for me.

Sherrie: I am passionate about midwifery and helping developing countries. In 2011 I travelled to Nepal with CQUniversity and experienced a nursing placement in a third-world country. Since this trip I have the hunger to assist in developing countries and to improve their health care systems. I have plans next year to travel to Tanna Island in Vanuatu to provide assistance to the Tanna community.

The recipients of the 2013 ENL program were announced in Sydney on October 4.

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