Paying it Forward

Susan Bindon, DNP, RN-BC, CNE is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing


I am very lucky.  I have a job that combines my two professional loves, nursing and teaching.  Like other nursing professional development (NPD) practitioners, the chance to do both keeps me busy, interested, and on my toes.  I’m constantly reading, thinking, asking questions, and learning.  My days go quickly and the weeks fly by.  But I certainly have not gotten here by myself! I have had incredible help along the way, in the form of generous others who’ve provided guidance, feedback, opportunities and support.  How I wish I could pay them all back!  I would tell them how much they meant to me, and how often I borrowed their confidence to bolster my own, used their words to strengthen my spirit and pictured their successes when I could only imagine my certain failures.


I grew up a Pennsylvania dairy farm.  There I learned to work hard, persist, and appreciate the generosity of family, neighbors, and friends.  I watched my parents help other families and contribute to the community that had once welcomed them as newcomers.  I remember my mother explaining to us that people can either be contributors or consumers. Basically, she was reminding us to give more than we receive.  I didn’t understand it at the time, but I’ve come to embrace her idea.  Now I encourage my own children to contribute however and whenever they can, and I share stories of my own good fortune.


Thirty-five years have passed since I decided to become a nurse.  I can’t pay back all of the professional debts I surely owe.  But I can pay it forward. Paying it forward is the notion that the recipient of a gift or good deed repays it to others instead of to the original benefactor.  I can now help others in some of the same ways I’ve been helped in the past. 


I remember my first preceptor, Marcella, who told me in no uncertain terms that I was her last “project” before retirement, and that I had exactly six weeks to learn what I needed to know.  I cherish those six weeks from so many summers ago.  The real-life experiences and pithy advice she shared set the course for my career.  She sparked my curiosity and helped me recognize that learning never ends.  I’m grateful to a part-time faculty member, Linda, who took me under her wing when I became a new clinical instructor.  She went out of her way to help me, and answered questions I didn’t even know enough to ask. Following her example, I developed my own style as a teacher. I can never repay Liz, who took a chance and hired me, with no experience, into an education specialist role during a difficult time in my life. Her straightforward “West Virginia wisdom”, as she called it, guided me through countless situations and decisions as my career forged ahead.  I often think about Jim, a retired military officer and NPD specialist whose keen instincts led him to a remote classroom one afternoon where I was in a worrisome situation with a disgruntled employee.  I was never so glad to hear the words “You ok, boss?” Wendy, the veteran nurse whose undeniable “people skills” (we didn’t call them that at the time!) showed me how a charge nurse gets everyone safely through a busy night shift.  Joanne, who put down her bags on the way out of the office one evening and stayed late to help me sort out an incredibly complex clinical schedule. Carol, a trusted advisor who encouraged me to take a leap and seek leadership positions.  My children, who keep me grounded and inspired.  Friends who not-so-gently remind me now and then that I’m missing in action.  There are hundreds of examples that come to mind. Profound acts of kindness, perfectly timed opportunities, and invaluable pieces of advice have all come my way.  Peers, colleagues, friends, family members, and even strangers have contributed to and helped shape my professional path.

What does this have to do with teaching, nursing, and NPD?  A lot, I think!  All of us have benefitted from the contributions of others.  Regardless of where we are in our careers, there are opportunities to pay it forward every day.  I love talking with new grads during their nurse residency program, and imagining with them what they’ll be doing 2 or 30 years from now.  I enjoy working with new educators as they hone their teaching skills. I’m thrilled when students break through a real or imagined barrier. I share the excitement when a novice author gets published for the first time.  We can all look for ways to contribute (thanks Mom!) and help others succeed. What might this look like?  We can help staff submit a poster abstract, offer to mentor a new committee member, nominate a colleague for a well-deserved award, take a team member to a leadership meeting, volunteer to precept a graduate student, contribute to a specialty panel, share expertise via a guest lecture or webinar.  The possibilities are endless!  The important thing is to be mindful of who and how we can help, and what we can do to “pay it forward” to the next lucky individual.  Let’s do so with enthusiasm and a nod to those who have done the same for us. You never know whose career you may be influencing! 


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