Growing as a Nursing Professor & Administrator in 2018

I love New Year’s resolutions and letting go of the past. Resolutions are a bet with myself that I can make a difference. Starting around Christmas I begin to think about my resolution. This year is different because I have reached a point in life that I realize that my purpose may not be to make the change, but rather educate the one that will be the change. My concern is that I won’t recognize the gifts the person has and know how to nurture their calling. How did my teachers see in me what I couldn’t see in myself in my early twenties?

Nineteen years ago I spent the holidays working a mass migration in Guatemala. It was one of the saddest and most memorable moments in my career as a US Public Health Service nurse and one of the moments that I recognized how much I owed to my nursing professors. They taught us to adapt and use the knowledge and resources we had to provide the best possible care.

They taught us things I thought I didn’t need to know and would never use and of course did need to know and did use. They knew what we didn’t, life is not predictable and if you have a strong foundation you will be able to adapt to any situation.902683_10200964806901714_356566915_o

The beauty of the deer in the field as the fog began to rise was almost enough to momentarily forget that if I turned around there were 500 people that had been rescued from a ship that was helping them flee China for the freedom and promise the United States. The promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” had beckoned to them. I still wonder what it must be like to desire freedom and not have it. What must it be like to get on a ship that isn’t seaworthy and risk one’s life for freedom only to have it cut short in Guatemala? 

The feeling of helplessness as we told them they were being returned to China and having young women fall to the floor and cling to our legs asking for us to help them is life-changing. Never again were my views on immigration the same. Never again could I see that promise on the Statue of Liberty as anything other than an oath.

The trip from the air base where they were detained to the airport opened my eyes to the poverty all around. As we were on the bus the women were staring out the window and one commented that “these people should escape to China”. The poverty in Guatemala was so shocking to the Chinese women that they couldn’t imagine why anyone would stay.

Some people come to the U.S. for freedom, others to escape war and torture, and some to escape devastating poverty. All hope for a better life. All seek the promise we offer. This year I hope we live up to that promise and give the Dreamers a path to citizenship. I hope we find a way to open our borders rather than closing them. I pray for all those men and women I could not help and hope that in my lifetime we will recognize that when we turn away the poor, the hungry, the huddled masses yearning to be free we fail to recognize their humanity and we fail in our oath to the world.

In many of my experiences as a nurse, I wanted to reach out and thank those that prepared me. There were so many lessons that were both formal and informal. Lessons that taught me what was excellent work for one may be inadequate for another because they had different abilities, which was especially important as a supervisor of young officers. Or, the unspoken lesson that presentation and professionalism matters. Probably most important was to do with a smile what you know you are going to have to do anyway.

This year my resolution is to take the best of all the professors that taught me and use it to be the best possible professor and administrator. I want to reflect on the influence of others in my life and my successes and use them as a guide in my daily life and interactions with students and faculty. I want to be the example that I had. Each day I hope to reflect on my journey to grow as a nurse, a professor, and an administrator.

Mind

My door is open to any student that wants to learn more than what can be offered in the classroom. Every Wednesday I’m in town we will have coffee and discussion of nurses that have changed their communities, the profession, or inspired others to make the world a better place.

Body

We ask so much of our students we need to be healthy to give them our best. This year I intend to give up the things that raise my stress level or cause me to be sedentary or distracted. When I’m stressed, distracted, or moving too slow I’m not available to others. First on this list is to stop reading tweets from @realDonaldTrump. Life is just too short for that much dishonesty and nastiness. Meat isn’t something I need and I feel better when I don’t eat it. No animal needs to die for me to eat. Television is a time pump and mind-numbing (Lady Vols Basketball being an exception). If the television is on I need to be cleaning, exercising, or otherwise engaged in something that involves moving. Motion is lotion and especially as I get older.

Spirit

Let faith guide my career and my decisions. This may be in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas – faith, hope, love, prudent, just, brave, and temperate. Or, it may be through the acknowledgment that all the wrong karmas made by me were created from beginningless attachment, aversion, and delusion. Born of the body, mouth, and mind. I now repent all of them wholeheartedly.

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. — Albert Einstein


Some Advice for the Journey – Teachers Care

When I was studying to be a nurse I sometimes thought that teachers either did not care or did not understand. It was not until I was out of college for a few years that I realized they all cared. They cared so deeply that they were willing to come back semester after semester knowing that the new group of students would have similar complaints to the last group. The complaints are frequently about not being able to find the exact answer in the textbook, having to read too much, having too much work, or not finding the presentations exciting though I’m quite unsure how any of us ever thought a professor was going to make the Kreb’s Cycle exciting.

Looking back, I’m fairly certain that there were times when I was ready to give up that the person that cared most about my success was my teacher.  Some care because they see in you what you cannot see in yourself. Others care because they know if they can only get you over this hump you will be fine. Then there are those that care because if you fail they consider it their failure. Whatever the reason, looking back I never had a teacher that did not care about my success.

Caring does not mean that a professor will turn a blind eye to cheating, or pass you when you fail or stop pushing you just because you cry. As faculty members, we are not always good at letting a student know how much we care about them as individuals and as future nurses. As teachers and students, we can do more to understand each other.

HINT: Crying doesn’t work on other women. We all know what the tears mean. You are mad as hell and can’t say out loud what you are thinking so those words stream down your face.

Teaching feels like a gift from heaven. I cherish the opportunity to share my life and knowledge with others and am forever grateful when they share theirs with me. Each day I have wonderful opportunities to interact with future nurses and seasoned professionals. Sometimes I remember the rules I set for myself and other times I fail. Most days it is a mix of success and failure, but there is never a day I do not care.

Here are a few of my ground rules. I hope one day to master them.

1. Take the time to listen with your heart wide open.

Sometimes we are in a hurry and do not feel we have the time to sit and listen to the same story we have heard every semester. We too easily forget that the story is not new to us, but it is new to this impressionable young person that desperately wants to be a nurse. When a student asks to talk to us we should make the time and we should always encourage students to ask. Will it be the end of the world if we are late to a faculty meeting or another curriculum revision workgroup?

2. It is not necessary to offer advice

When I ask you to listen to me
and you start giving me advice,
you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me
and you begin to tell me why
I shouldn’t feel that way,
you are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me
and you feel you have to do something
to solve my problem,
you have failed me,
strange as that may seem.

Listen! All I ask is that you listen.
Don’t talk or do – just hear me.

Advice is cheap; 20 cents will get
you both Dear Abby and Billy Graham
in the same newspaper.
And I can do for myself; I am not helpless.
Maybe discouraged and faltering,
but not helpless.

When you do something for me that I can
and need to do for myself,
you contribute to my fear and
inadequacy.

But when you accept as a simple fact
that I feel what I feel,
no matter how irrational,
then I can stop trying to convince
you and get about this business
of understanding what’s behind
this irrational feeling.

And when that’s clear, the answers are
obvious and I don’t need advice.
Irrational feelings make sense when
we understand what’s behind them.

Perhaps that’s why prayer works, sometimes,
for some people – because God is mute,
and he doesn’t give advice or try
to fix things.
God just listens and lets you work
it out for yourself.

So please listen, and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute
for your turn – and I will listen to you.

–Author Unknown

3. It is never necessary to criticize another person to help the one in front of you

Anyone that has taught for any period of time has heard a student tell a horror story of a bad lecture, unclear assignment, or poor classroom management. It should never be the case that one teacher says something bad about another teacher to a student. It is much better to try and get the student to speak directly to the teacher. If that does not work then it is better to go yourself. You will build trust and respect. You might even help avoid a bigger issue down the road.

4. Teaching well must be a priority.

The purpose of the university is primarily creating prepared minds. Our research and service help enhance the education, but teaching is is why most universities exist. Just as strong teaching can enhance one’s research abilities, research provides fresh ideas for the classroom. All faculty must learn to balance the priorities, but students should never be shortchanged because of one’s research or service. Students must remain the center of the university.

5. Southern hospitality helps create a positive environment.

Teachers and students are both human beings. When they are upset or stressed they need to feel welcome in your office. That is often as easy as a cup of coffee, a cookie, or a candy jar. Keep your door open and keep the coffee, cookies, and candy flowing.

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (1 Thes 5:11)