What is a Worthy Celebration Nathan Bedford Forrest, A Racist

The first time I heard of Nathan Bedford Forrest was in Tennessee history in Junior High School. I’m not sure how much of his background was emphasized, but I also don’t remember him being presented as an honorable man. Prior to the Civil War, he was a repulsive human being who amassed his wealth as a cotton farmer that depended on slave labor and selling human beings into slavery among other business endeavors.

As a Civil War Army General, he was considered to be a good military strategist though clearly not an honorable one. Under his command, he ordered the massacre of Union soldiers, mostly black and some white Tennesseans fighting with them. Even at that time killing people who had surrendered was not honorable.

After the Civil War ended and all of those who had been held as slaves were freed Nathan Bedford Forrest continued a life that dishonored the state of Tennessee and the United States. Since he could no longer hold slaves he became the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan which terrorized people of color. He denounced the violence in his later life, but even then apparently lied about his role. All he actually did was change his focus to a different form of slave labor.

After he left the KKK he secured the use of people who had been convicted of crimes to clear his land and work the same land. He used 117 prisoners to grow his wealth. Forced labor of prisoners is a stone throw from slavery at best. It should not go without notice that the majority of those people were black and in that era, the chances they had a fair trial was slim to none. They took black men and women out of the illegal chains and put them in the chains allowed by the law of the time which was incarceration.

It is true that state law in Tennessee mandates an annual proclamation, but it states:

Each year it is the duty of the governor of this state to proclaim the following as days of special observance: January 19, “Robert E. Lee Day”; February 12, “Abraham Lincoln Day”; March 15, “Andrew Jackson Day”; June 3, “Memorial Day” or “Confederate Decoration Day”; July 13, “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day”; and November 11, “Veterans’ Day.” The governor shall invite the people of this state to observe the days in schools, churches, and other suitable places with appropriate ceremonies expressive of the public sentiment befitting the anniversary of such dates.

Tennessee Code 15-2-101

The governor has the ability within the law to interpret appropriate ceremonies expressive of the public sentiment and befitting the anniversary of such dates. It is clearly within his authority to add language to the proclamation that states that it is appropriate to use this as a reminder of the evil of racism, our history of slavery, and the disgrace of being the home of the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. He could use the proclamation to call for a day of service to promote racial justice or as a day he gives clemency to deserving prisoners. There are many ways the law could be fulfilled that don’t continue to celebrate the man that had no honor and does not deserve our respect.

Until the day the Tennessee representatives change what is clearly a law that celebrates our racist past we should all ask and expect the governor to act with honor by preparing an appropriate proclamation. And if he refuses to act in an honorable manner there is nothing that stops us from planning now to make this a day that addresses racial justice in our communities.

When the elected officials refuse to lead with honor it is should never be the case that the citizens remain silent and do not act. We have a year to prepare. Let’s get started.


Help at the Border

We can each find a way to help children at the border.  I remind myself often to give of my time, talent, and treasure. When I was young I had time and as a nurse a skill that many shelters needed. As my career progressed I had little time, but more money. We each have something we can do to help children at the border. What can you do?

Here is a list of some of the places that you can donate money or your skills.

Humanitarian Respite Care needs donations. They accept donations of time, money, or supplies through Amazon Wish List. If donating money it goes to Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and notes on the check that your donation is designated for humanitarian response.

USA Today published an article on how to assist, How to Assist Families and Children at the Border.  

Rising Together has a list of needs from lawyers wishing to volunteer.

Humane Borders has regular meetings in Tucson. They provide water drops and other activities and accept groups to join them. There was recent media coverage of a person being arrested for water drops and as provoked by the devil as I believe that arrest to be it is something that requires a person to consider the risk they are willing to take for their belief in humanity and justice.

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights provides a list of border advocacy groups. You will find a list of organizations actively working for just and humane border practices in the United States and Mexico. Many of them have volunteer programs while others provide advocacy tools and ways to get involved.

There are makeshift clinics providing care and volunteer physicians and nurses. The best way to find the clinics is to speak with local advocates.

The Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project has opportunities to donate, get updates, and apply for jobs and internships. Follow them on Twitter @asylumadvocacy.

The Women’s Refugee Commission improves the lives and protects the rights of women, children, and youth displaced by conflict and crisis. They research their needs, identify solutions and advocate for programs and policies to strengthen their resilience and drive change in humanitarian practice. They have a useful list of resources.

The National Association of Social Workers has a list of ways to volunteer to help children separated from parents. It is one of the better lists I’ve seen.

 


Scoop and Run: A Plan for the 4th on the National Mall

The first time I attended the July 4th fireworks in DC it was with a friend’s family who attended every year. As we were on the metro headed to the mall she informed me that when the final volley of fireworks began to “scoop and run”. Pick up all of your stuff and run to the metro as fast as possible to be on the train that would be waiting. Otherwise, we would be stuck in the crowds for hours.

My advice to anyone attending the July 4 celebration this year is to be prepared to scoop and run. Know your exits, know where the metro is, know your way to walk across the bridge if it is too crowded and for goodness sake don’t drive. But also know where there is a safe area close to you. What shops and restaurants are open where you can get through the door and out of the crowd? Be prepared that some places in the event of mass demonstrations will go into lockdown quickly. If you are in you will stay in and if you are out you will stay out.

Events of civil unrest in cities across the United States raise awareness of injustice in our society and they appear to be on the rise. Yet, it is those moments when civil unrest occurs that we often fail to recognize the human dignity of every person. Civil unrest can lead to physical violence as it did recently in Portland. Our instinct may be to respond as we would in a disaster and seek help from police and places like the medical aid stations. However, this may be the wrong action during the unrest. Because of heightened tension between the police and the general population they may view your rapid approach as a threat rather than fear. The presence of police in the medical aid station may not be possible and even if possible, it may only attract the unrest to the area and thus be undesirable.

I doubt there will be any civil unrest at the July 4th fireworks in DC, but if I were ever going to encourage caution this would be the year. Anytime a large, nationally televised event is politicized it increases the risk of clashes. Politization may include the “baby Trump” balloon, flag burning, and white supremacists. We also know that inequalities in society, culture, and finance have resulted in civil unrest, rioting, and intentional violence throughout our history. When one group is given special privileges at an event that has always been egalatarian it increases the risk of problems.

10 tips to a safe July 4th on the National Mall

  1. Stay hydrated and be aware that there are sometimes long lines at vendors. Dehydration alters your ability to think clearly.
  2. Wear sunscreen just because I’m a nurse and we remind you of the obvious.
  3. Dress appropriately for long walks and hot weather. Running or walking shoes will be better than sandals.
  4. Bring your fanny pack first aid kit or put a small one in a bag.
  5. It is always better at large events to carry your belongings in a clear plastic tote bag so that everyone can see there is nothing of danger in it.
  6. Do not bring anything with you that could be perceived as a weapon.
  7. If you see people with weapons other than police move away as quickly as possible and notify law enforcement.
  8. Be aware of your surroundings and know where the exits are located.
  9. Do not engage people who are protesting. Even if you think you agree with them sometimes people surprise you with what offends them and when you are hot and tired your own response may even be a surprise.
  10. Be cool, be calm, be alert, be gone if trouble begins.

I hope everyone has an enjoyable July 4 and remembers that the day is a celebration of our independence. It is a time to celebrate a great nation and remember that children will be present.

Nurse Leaders’ Response to Civil Unrest requires preparation. It is a good time to go through your checklist before the events begin on July 4.

 


Book Review: Voices of the Dead

I received a free copy of Voices of the Dead by John Babb, a retired U.S. Public Health Service, Rear Admiral. I read his first book Orphan Hero which I enjoyed, but this one is different. It is a historical novel set in 1878 and tells of Yellow Fever in Memphis and New Orlean. I could feel the humidity as I read of the nurses and physicians responding to the deadly virus and risking their lives to serve others.

There are plenty of nurse heroes in this book, but also everyone from physicians to Sisters, from Priests to Madames stepped up to help their neighbors and some lost their lives in the effort. Whether you are a lover of historical novels, or epidemiological investigations, or an infectious disease nerd this is a great book.

Of course, it could be that I liked it because it had all the things that fascinate me, steamy southern cities, infectious diseases, legislation like the Quarantine Act, selfless physicians and nurses, and the Marine Hospital Service which lead to the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. It dealt effectively with the fears of quarantine and what citizens do when quarantine is ordered. In many ways, it is a case study of epidemics prior to modern healthcare.

I don’t want to spoil the book, but if you are a public health worker I think you will love it.


Is Anyone Called to Work in A Concentration Camp

When I was young I wanted to work with what I thought of as the poor and underserved. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked in four types of facilities: mental health facilities, homeless shelters, prisons, and detention facilities. They all share similarities.  I was excited when my first job out of college was at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC working on a unit for those who had a mental illness and “no fixed address” which was the systems euphemism for homeless.

The unit and the hospital was largely still as Ervin Goffman described it in Asylums. While the harshest of treatments had long ago ended they were still given donated clothing or hospital purchased clothing to patients and generally not returning their clothing. The food was dismal and best. There were times when the food was so limited that patients checked out against medical advise. The conditions for staff were also not what most would expect. Nursing was chronically understaffed and depended heavily on per diem nurses. There were long periods when nurses were forced to work overtime that could be an additional shift or even an additional day or more. Anyone who thinks forcing people to work multiple shifts of overtime a week improves quality of care or compassion is delusional. I don’t know if any of us complained about or filed protest through official channels or even thought to do so. I do know that many of us donated our used clothing and brought food that we cooked and shared with patients.

I volunteered in shelters and tried to understand what could be done to change a society that allowed so many people experiencing homelessness to go without the medical, mental health, and social services care they needed. There was only one answer, we are still a puritanical society that sees the plight of those experiencing homelessness as just punishment for sloth. I suspect many believe mental illness is a myth and so when the mentally were deinstitutionalized under President Regan with the promise of outpatient care that never materialized people complained and shouted at the wind, but we still don’t have adequate outpatient care?

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of but stigma and bias shame us all. – Bill Clinton

After three years I ask for and received a transfer to the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Tucson, AZ leaving the care of one group of people held against their will to care for another. FCI Tucson was in many ways a model facility. It was clean, efficiently run, had fully staffed medical and dental clinics, lab, psychology, and pharmacy. The food was good and most of the staff ate the same food as the “inmates”. Those that worked in UNICOR were paid and a commissary was available to purchase things that were not provided. In fact, many of those who were there for illegal reentry into the U.S. would send some of their money home. It wasn’t what I had in mind when I thought of working with the poor and underserved, but there were many similarities to large psychiatric facilities through the prisons seemed better funded and better staffed. We seemed to treat those in prison with more respect and compassion that either those with a mental illness or those experiencing homelessness.

I was in prison and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
(Matthew 25:36, 40)

It was at FCI Tucson that I began to realize that to make big changes one had to be able to change national policy. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is not luxurious, but most of their federally run facilities comply with the American Correctional Association and National Commission on Correctional Healthcare guidelines. In fact, while I was at FCI Tucson we sought and were accredited by the Joint Commission. If one wanted to be an administrator there was a training program that had to be completed and thus there were standards. Every person working there had to complete annual training and sign off confirming they knew the rules. There will always be bad actors, but they were the exception. In my time there if I ask for anyone to be sent out to the local hospital it was not debated. It happened and generally happened quickly.

In 1997, I became the Health Services Administration at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center. Medical care was run by the Division of Immigration Health Services (DIHS). Many of the people were pending deportation after serving time in prison. When I arrived the medical clinic was still under construction. I hired a physician, two nurse practitioners, an RN, an LPN, two medical records techs, a pharmacist, and a pharmacy tech. We had a dentist and a psychologist that came in on a regular basis. Additionally, we invested in telemedicine equipment which at the time was new and gave us access to other providers. Within fifteen months of opening, we were accredited by the ACA, NCCHC, and Joint Commission. In my time there we had no deaths and provided high-quality care. My biggest complaint was the inability to get patients brought to us in a timely fashion and too often being told someone had been removed from the facility when in fact they were still there.

I became the Chief of Field Operations responsible for administrative oversight of the eleven health clinics in Immigration detention facilities (not contract facilities). I visited most of them and did a thorough review of any deaths. Most of the healthcare staff were U.S. Public Health Service officers and so most were passionate about their work and caring for those in detention. There were exceptions and some people over time became judgmental about the plight of those detained, but in my worst nightmare, the worst case I reviewed, the worst thing ever reported to me doesn’t equal what is happening today with the detained children. More importantly, if any of what is happening now was reported Immigration and DIHS would have immediately sent teams to investigate.

I left DIHS in 2001 after 9/11 when to run the command center for Secretary Thompson’s at the Department of Health and Human Services. I never returned to DIHS and was grateful as I had become increasingly concerned about what I saw as a push to limit the care provided and a move to more contract facilities and more contract staff. Physicians were feeling overworked and nurses were being asked to take on more and more of the care. While I didn’t think nurses were being asked to do anything out of their scope of practice it was a constant battle to not cross that line.  I also knew I was pushing the envelope. I was told at one point, “You will do the right thing no matter the consequences.” It was not meant to be a compliment. The person was angry and my life was becoming more difficult.

In 2007, I went to work for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) as the director of the Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness. I worked closely with the Office of Refugee Resettlement( ORR). The reason for the visits was twofold, assess their emergency preparedness and see how they did case management. ORR was considered to have an excellent case management program that moved people from being a new refugee that didn’t speak English to being fully self-sufficient in six months. It was a huge effort that was supported by faith-based organizations. I visited a few of the facilities for unaccompanied children and I did find them depressing, but they were clean, each child had a bed with linens and blankets, age-appropriate clothing, plenty of food, medical care (which I didn’t think was at the level I would have liked), and education though it certainly was not equivalent to elementary or secondary schools in the community. There were around 40 facilities and 1600 beds. They were chronically underfunded even then. What they could do was limited by the funding. Congress and the White House knew it. In fact, the faith-based organizations that ran many of the facilities also knew about the underfunding.

This is my long way of saying I could not believe what I was hearing when the detention facilities were referred to as concentration camps and there was inadequate food, no basic sanitary supplies, inadequate medical care, and children taking care of children. The places I worked and visited were not great, but I called the people working there colleagues and friends. Would we have ever allowed this to happen? I even argued with people the term “concentration camp” was inflammatory and not helpful. When I saw the court recording, the pictures, and heard statements of lawyers I was shocked.

How could healthcare people not speak out? I hope that some of this information is getting out because they are leaking it. Yet, I don’t want to be too quick to forget what it is like to be the nurse in the facility. Each day you go in and see as many people as you can thinking if you aren’t there who will be there to provide the care. You go home and you pray for your patients. Yet the most obvious thing to do is sometimes the hardest. How do stand up to those in charge and say, not on my watch?

I’m outraged, but my outrage doesn’t change the current situation. CDR Jonathan White testified before the Energy and Commerce Committee on February 7, 2019. In his verbal responses, he was clear that people were warned about separating children and parents. He did not address all of the unaccompanied children that cross the border, but I’m sure he was equally concerned about them. Then in April 2019 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, there was further testimony from CDR White and others.  He appears to care about the welfare of the children and is trying to reunify children that came with parents or family member. In fact, for over a year ago HHS officials have warned about the situation. CDR White clearly states that the problem isn’t of data exchange, but that children were separated. The ORR program was designed for the truly unaccompanied children and not for children separated by the U.S. when apprehended. You can see the disgust on CDR White’s face when he says the issue is that it happened at all. Since July 2018 HHS has been warning the administration and Congress yet there is no positive action.

The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities–to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.

My question to all of those screaming about the atrocities is what have you actually done to change it? Have you actually written a letter to your representative? Have you donated money to one of the not-for-profits that provide the care at most of the facilities for unaccompanied minors? And to Congress, other than the horrific legislation offered by Senator Graham that ignores the dangers faced by the asylum seekers, Senator Cruz’s Protect Children and Families Through the Rule of Law Act which is more about removal quickly back to the danger they fled, and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) who proposed the HUMANE Act has anyone drafted legislation that would actually address the problems in the “concentration camps”?  Is there anyone in the House or Senate that is working together to fix laws that allow this to continue?

If you really think this is inhuman, a concentration camp, and must be stopped then why not work day and night to pass legislation that will stop it? Isn’t that more productive that tweeting? I want to see a Tweet with a link to the legislative fix. I want to see posts about people volunteering with their local churches and community organizations to help support the needs of refugee families. In our parish, it took the hard work of five families to get one family to self-sufficiency. More volunteers are needed in almost every city in the country.

As for the rest of us, here is an interesting fact, anyone in the U.S., any citizen can draft legislation and a member of Congress can introduce it. I will write it if AOC will promise to introduce the legislation. I bet she even has some aides that could help. Likewise, what about all those running for President, where is your draft legislation to fix this?

We don’t need more hypocrisy. We need action that recognizes that our Puritan history must be weeded from our hearts, laws, and policies.

For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in. (Matthew 25:35)

 


Nurses on Twitter

Whether you like it or not social influence now matters in your professional life. You can stay stuck in the past and ignore Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and ResearchGate, but you do at the risk of becoming obsolete. I recently saw a post by a philosopher who thought it was better when all of the intellectual discussion stayed within academia and peer-reviewed journals. What he didn’t realize is that elitism is no longer acceptable and is a view largely held by the privileged who never had to fight to be heard. The days of predominately white men controlling what is discussed, studied, taught, and identified as important are over.

While there are politicians that think social media has too much influence I would argue that what they may be objecting to is that we can now be heard by the masses and politician, clergy, and the famous no longer are the sole owners of the bully pulpit. The average person on the street can reach as many people as the pastor of the church. The elementary school teacher can use social media to let the entire community know there isn’t enough money to buy all of the school supplies. The healthcare community can spread the word about healthy lifestyles and policy that may adversely impact your access to care unless you act.  Who of us doesn’t get posts in our neighborhoods about break-ins and crimes so we know to be on the lookout? Each of us can call out politicians for their lies. We are able to form a community with people we would rarely if ever see and we are stronger and more equal as a result.

Social media also matters in your research influence. It is impossible to attend every conference and network with all the people you would like to meet, but almost every conference now has a #hashtag. If you look it up you can follow the tweets of the conference and network with people even when you can’t be present. It grows your network of people with whom you share a research, policy, or practice interest. When you do meet people in person they will know your name. In emergency management, we always say you don’t want people to hear your name for the first time in the middle of a disaster. As a researcher, you don’t want people to hear your name for the first time when you need their help.

The various platforms have their limitation but they each have their strengths and purposes. For example, I only used LinkedIn for professional contacts. I will accept any professional request. I use Facebook mostly for friends and people I want to stay in touch with from previous jobs and neighborhoods.  I only accept a friend request from friends, colleagues, and people I know or have met at conferences, events, or interacted with in other ways. ResearchGate is only about my academic work. Twitter is like a huge town hall or community meeting. I can connect with people that share interest across nursing, disaster research, health policy, public health, politics, faith and all manner of social activism. Each platform has a purpose and I use each in a different way. I now regularly run into people at conferences that I know through social media. That connection has improved my networking at conferences and the attendance when I’m presenting.

Understanding and maximizing tools are important. Almost all of the social media tools have limits. The limits on Twitter make management important and it also makes etiquette important. Twitter only allows individuals to follow 5000 accounts unless you have more than 5000 followers. Once you reach that number there is a metric that essentially allows one to follow 10% more people than follow them. The result is that some people reach the 5000 and then can’t follow anyone else even if it is their research partner unless they first unfollow someone.  Here are some quick tips to maintain your numbers

Follow

  • People that will follow back – the truth is if they aren’t following you back they probably think the relationship is less important than you do. A less kind view is that they only care about their own success and not about the success of anyone else.
  • Those that share an interest and will interact.
  • Those who have influence in your profession or provide information you may not otherwise see.
  • Those you may want to connect with related to work, research, and social issues.
  • The people that are trying to make the world better even if they may never follow back. Some days you need to be inspired and know there are people out there that try hard.
  • Key influencers in your area of interest.

Don’t Follow

  • Large accounts and news media. Those accounts will most likely show up in your timeline anyway. It is the Donald Trump phenomena. Unless you block him he will show up in your feed so why follow. He certainly doesn’t need the followers to be able to follow anyone he wants and unless you are famous he probably never sees your replies.
  • People who have mistaken Twitter for Tender or another dating app. If a man or woman has to tell you the are honest, or God-fearing, or loyal they probably aren’t.
  • Don’t be afraid to unfollow or block people that are rude, believe conspiracy theory over science, or generally make your blood pressure rise. I should want to convince anti-vaxxers of the error of their ways, but God either didn’t give me that level of patience or I have failed to develop it.
  • Don’t follow people or companies that follow/unfollow/follow/unfollow… It is an effort to get you to follow back or they are using it as advertising. That is different from people that follow you and accidentally hit unfollow and refollow within minutes or people that are unfollowing non-followers because of the limits.
  • Don’t feed the trolls. Block them.
  • I also block people that keep getting recommended to me by Twitter, but who clearly have no interest in collaborating or interacting. It is the only way I’ve figured out to get their names to stop popping up.

Maintain Lists

  • The accounts you don’t want to follow but want to check on a regular basis.
  • People you NEVER want to interact with because of their behavior online.
  • The hashtags that are of interest to you.
  • Researchers or leaders in your area.

My Favorite Nursing Hashtags

  • #VolForLife
  • #NurseTwitter
  • #NursingEducation
  • #NurseEd
  • #NursePractitioner
  • #NP
  • #FullPracticeAuthority
  • #CRNA
  • #NPsLead
  • NursesWhoTweet
  • #NurseLife
  • #FutureOfNursing

Nurses to Follow

I wanted to add nurses to follow, but there are so many amazing nurses involved in policy, research, practice, and social justice that I didn’t want to leave anyone out. If there is a downside to nurses on twitter is that many are not good about following back. If they don’t it is fine to unfollow and then check their pages from time to time.

I wish we were as good about making lists of people to follow as some other groups are because there is power in numbers and we are the largest healthcare profession. If we all joined together we would make nursing issues trend on a daily basis and bring our special talents to issues that matter to us. Imagine 100,000 or 500,000 nurses tweeting about immigration health in the detention facilities, or full practice authority, or NINR funding or the unacceptable infant mortality rate in the US. Imagine.

 


When You are Ready to Retire: Teach

A friend recently called for advice about making the move to academia. Many nurses and other professionals in government civil service and uniformed services have doctoral degrees in their chosen professions and of those, a significant number have worked in policy, research and development, and administration. If they entered public service right out of college they are relatively young when they reach the years of service necessary to retire. I was 48 so I had time for another 20-year career and I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do than teach.

Why Make the Move

A life of service is hard to leave. Any person that has dedicated their life and professional career to the service of the country is unlikely to be fully satisfied in corporate America or staying at home. When you chose government service you clearly do not do it for the money and that is a characteristic that is unlikely to change. You may like having money, but most likely it is not the key driver for making a decision. The retirement check gives you the freedom to follow the heart and the ability to take a salary less than what you were making in the government and still break even.

When I left active duty I applied for four jobs. Three jobs were in academia and one was with the state government. I almost immediately had three interviews and three job offers. I took the one that paid the least but was most likely to be an easier transition. As my husband told me, I was used to people “kissing my ass” and doing what I said without question and in academia neither would happen. That would turn out to be a very pleasant change. There is little that is more limiting to personal growth than blind loyalty or loyalty out of fear of position.

You may have given a lot, but a lot was given to you.  If you are retiring you have given your entire adult life to service to the country. But, your country has been giving too. My Ph.D. was fully funded, every training course I took was paid for by the government, and every effort was made to help me succeed. I may have given, but I received in equal or greater measure. When the Ph.D. program in nursing began at the Uniformed Services University one of the hopes was that after completing service to the country those they educated would then teach as a way of giving back. Never forget the country you served also served you.

There is a difference between what is taught and what one needs to succeed. Senior officers and government official hire and train hundreds if not thousands of young people fresh out of college. They have seen what makes those young people successful and what leads to difficulties in their professional lives. It is true that what is taught in college is essential knowledge and if done well gives a young person the necessary skills to adapt, but in many cases, it is the skills of listening, respect, professional presentation, and teamwork that are missing. As an officer or a senior official, you know how to blend this information into impactful lessons in a way a person who spent their life in academia will not.

I am easily able to explain to students why it is important to always be early for work and to think before you speak. I have a dozen real-life stories of things that have happened. I also have stories of people that thought they were on the right path but didn’t recognize that they had strong talent that would take them further if they had the courage to chose a different path or make a career change. One of our Presidental Management Fellows who was a nurse turned out to be the best champion of the Combined Federal Campaign our office ever had. She was missing her calling in fundraising and went on to be very successful. Not every student in nursing wants to be a nurse. It is okay to point out other paths they may take after finishing their degree. It isn’t necessary to change majors. It is fine to take a nontraditional path.

Academia needs people with well-developed leadership skills. There are things universities do well, but teaching leadership is not one of them. From day one as an officer leadership is taught and emphasized. It is not about learning to administer, which is definitely emphasized, but about leading. Don’t misunderstand, there are some amazing Deans, Provosts, and Presidents of universities, but there are even more that have little formal leadership training. What makes a great researcher isn’t always what makes a great leader.

If you work for the federal government until retirement you will have been sent to courses on strategic planning, financial management, personnel management, and leadership. You have probably managed large numbers of people, large and small budgets, grants, pilot projects, policy development and implementation, and a plethora of special projects. You have in your toolbox things the average academic does not have and in addition, you have been tested under different leaders and multiple administrations with all the political appointees they bring with them who may are may not have any knowledge of the area they oversee. Most importantly you have grown a thick skin and learned how to work fast and under pressure.

I was privileged to work with an amazing President, Provost and Graduate Dean when I first came to academia. They hired me for my leadership skills and not my academic history. The department had been without a Chair for a couple of years and the one before me had left quickly. I had looked for the job that needed my skills and was also willing to let me teach. When those three job offers came in there was no doubt which one I wanted and which was the best fit. It was the small school where I could learn academia and help them to address several years without a department chair. It was a win-win.

Transition Planning

It is a good idea to start your transition plan one to two years before you retire. Here are 10 must for your transition plan:

  1. A curriculum vitae is a must and it should look like one in academia. There are many things in government that are the same as academia, but academics will not understand government speak and if you don’t use academic terminology you will hurt yourself.
  2. If you are not publishing you need to start. I would highly recommend two to three peer-reviewed articles a year. It may seem intimidating, but it is easier than it sounds.
  3. Never turn down an invited presentation. All of the invited presentations you did now need to be on your CV. You are most likely going to have to search for them.
  4. Make sure your CV includes the number of people you supervised, budgets managed, and major accomplishments by position.
  5. You didn’t get to retirement without serving on many committees, task forces, and probably at the national level. You need them all on your CV.
  6. Start teaching by working as an adjunct instructor or lecturer. You do not need to be paid but you do need a letter of appointment. If you have ever taught a government course, precepted students, or developed training it needs to be on your CV.
  7. If you haven’t practiced clinically in a while you may want to renew that skill. Most places will want to know that you still understand the clinical setting even if they will not expect you to teach clinical courses. Volunteering is a good way to make sure you are current.
  8. Attend professional conferences where you are likely to run into academics. Use all of the skills you ever learned about networking. You need to start a new Rolodex.
  9. Start looking at university requirements for tenure and rank and make sure you are writing to those requirements.
  10. You need a good mentor for the transition and you need to reconnect with your dissertation advisor. Both can couch you on negotiating rank, salary, and start-up packages. If any university tells you that a retired Captain O-6 or senior executive service needs to start as an Assistant Professor you need to look elsewhere and this is especially true for women as it is more likely to happen to you than your male counterparts.

Teaching is a great opportunity to continue your life of service and it will remind you on a daily basis why you chose your profession all those years ago.