Launette Woolforde, EdD, DNP, RN-BC is the Vice President of Nursing Education and Professional Development at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, NY.
It’s a New Year and with that comes a new opportunity for us to define what we will focus on in the months ahead. We can take the route of renewing our commitment to something we’ve already identified as important or we can work on identifying new goals. I think we’re all familiar with the usual suspects when it comes to New Year’s resolutions: lose weight, save money, spend more time with family and friends, or get organized. Those are great and I dabble with them almost every year, but with the dawn of each New Year I also like to focus on learning new things about people and about the world we live in and becoming a better me, if there's such a thing. One thing I’m always curious about learning is what year it is according to the Chinese calendar. I've learned that the Chinese New Year takes place on a different date each year because it is based on the lunar calendar. The 2018 Chinese New Year begins on Friday, February 16 and this year is the Year of the Earth Dog. The Chinese zodiac moves in a 12-year cycle, and therefore those born in 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, and 2018 are born in the Year of the Dog. Although each of the 12 animals gets showcased every dozen years, there are different varieties of the animals so, in fact, this will be the first year of the earth dog since 1958.
To me, this, and so much about cultures that are different from mine, is so amazing. I love to see new places, meet new people and learn about what makes us all unique. Very often our differences bring us together and the more we learn about each other, the more we find that we are more similar than we are different.
So I’ve coined this year, with nursing professional development (NPD) in mind, as the year to focus on N.I.C.E. I know... how simplistic. Being nice should be at the top of everyone’s list. And certainly being nice should yield nothing but niceness in return. But in this case NICE is my acronym for Nursing Inclusive Care Excellence. We’ve come a long way in terms of NICEness, but we still have far to go.
Just the other day, I met two incredibly smart unrelated people who work at the same organization. When I heard about these two individuals during their application phase they had typical American sounding names. Ultimately, I learned that the names they both introduced themselves as on paper, was not in fact their birth name, but a modification of their birth name which they use in order to defray any assumptions people might make about them based on their names. These assumptions led to perceptions about them and ultimately interfered with their ability to be objectively assessed, land a job, and ‘blend in.’ While it was disheartening to hear this, I understood where they were coming from and as I got to know them better, and the depth of their smarts and abilities, I was reminded about our collective journey toward being NICE and the constant source of stress that not being NICE creates for so many people every single day.
You may have heard about the “I” and the “E” in NICE—“inclusive excellence.” Several leading nursing organizations such as the National League for Nursing (NLN) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) have addressed inclusive excellence in their position or vision papers or other documents. I’ve added the “Care” in there because that’s what we do so well as NPD practitioners, and it’s the perfect word for the letter “C” to complete my NICE acronym!
So what does NICEness look like you might ask, and how do we resolve to get there? Well, here are a few thoughts:
1. Seek first to understand then be understood. Steven Covey identified this as Habit 5 in his writings about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He pointed out that communication is the most important skill in life. We know that communication is the single largest contributor to team failures and medical errors. We spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? According to Covey, if you're like most people, you probably seek first to be understood because you're focused on getting your point across. And in doing so, we may ignore the other person completely, not really listen, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation, or attentively focus on only certain words being said, thus missing the meaning entirely. This can be a huge impediment in nursing professional development. Being able to concentrate on understanding learner needs is crucial. All too often we as NPD practitioners may focus on teaching but not as much on learning. So one important goal can be to seek first to understand then be understood by shifting focus to ascertaining that learning is taking place rather than on what exceptional teaching we may believe we are doing.
2. Recognize that inequity is real. It can be hard to believe that inequity is real when it may seem that everyone starts off with the same ‘equal shot’ at achieving the goal at hand and when we might feel that we are fair in our approach and practice. But the more you interact with people who are different from you, the more the inequities can become glaringly obvious. Each of the people we interact with as NPD practitioners is dealing with their own realities and journeys that impact learning in different ways. For some, it could be the discomfort of being the only male; for others it could be managing English as a second language; for others still, it could be related to social determinants and implications including race and socioeconomics. Recognizing that all learners are not the same, and therefore our approaches with learners probably need some individualization, is an important aspect in order to get the greatest effect from our teaching and interaction. You may have seen the depiction below which can help us put into perspective why giving everyone the same thing may not be what's needed after all. So being cognizant that inequity is real as we approach and navigate our NPD practice is a great way to be NICE.
3. Engage in learning about unconscious biases. As the topic of bias becomes more prevalent, tools that help us all identify blind spots are widely available. I participated in a number of continuing education activities related to unconscious bias recently and utilized some unconscious bias tools. I found these to be so valuable. Bias gets in the way of how we educate, evaluate, and interact, and resolving to grow in this area is a win-win for all!
So, it’s a new year, and with that comes new opportunities to learn more about ourselves and about each other. We have a renewed opportunity to resolve that this is the year of NICE. We can resolve to learn more, not just about clinical decision making, but how we can maximize our abilities as professional development practitioners by increasing our awareness of that which makes those who we work with feel special—and that is why we take the time and the interest in being NICE to them.
Happy New Year!
Covey, S. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.