Don’t tell yourself, “I can’t do that.” You can!
The author didn’t know where nursing would take her but discovered that by being open to possibilities, learning from others, and working with integrity, anything is possible.
When I began my nursing journey, I had no idea where it would take me. I was just looking for patient care options. I thought that, after nursing school, I would take a job in orthopedic nursing, a natural fit with my background as a certified athletic trainer. Until then, however, I needed to explore more nursing possibilities, so I applied for and was offered a job as a technician in a very busy emergency department.
I hit the jackpot! I learned so much in that setting—about people, collaboration and teamwork, integrity, nursing, and leadership. Every day, I learned new things. In addition to gaining a better appreciation for nursing, I was given opportunities to step up to new challenges—nurse intern, nurse extern, and, finally, as a nurse in the emergency department.
People believed in me and my abilities. Several of my mentors embraced the philosophy of “I can train people to do anything, but I can’t train them to be good people. So, I hire good people and let them learn the skills.” Those mentors were amazing role models. They weren’t afraid to do the daily work—in the emergency department, teaching, and patient care. True partners, they were willing to walk with me as I grew.
My love of teaching was reinforced in nursing school. I knew I wanted to teach nursing, so I went back to school for my MSN and family nurse practitioner certification. I was fortunate to have a work schedule that allowed me to complete my degree in a short time without having to stop practicing as a nurse. During this time, I also worked as a teaching assistant. That opened the door to clinical teaching, which was so fulfilling and further fueled my passion for teaching.
After completing my master’s degree and starting a teaching job in a new nursing program, I realized that, although I had been trained as a clinician, I was not qualified to be an educator. I wondered if I could learn to be a good teacher with the help of mentors, but one of my mentors wisely encouraged me to pursue my PhD in nursing education. Because of that mentor’s faith in my abilities, I once again returned to school. The confidence and support mentors have shown me in the workplace is very similar to what I have experienced as a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma).
I was inducted into an honor society that was petitioning—and was later accepted—for chartering as a Sigma chapter. As I became involved, I learned from others and was mentored by people with more experience than me. To encourage me in leadership, the chapter sent me to a conference in Indianapolis to learn more about being a volunteer leader. That experience started me down my leadership path with Sigma, and I ran for roles of increasing significance within the chapter. Working with a diverse group of amazing people, I learned how to navigate conflict and transition and made wonderful connections.
Somehow, as people kept believing in me, I grew in my Sigma roles. When asked to be a volunteer on a task force—I had no idea how they got my name—I said OK. I don’t remember if I did a good job, but I tried and was open to feedback and learning. My Sigma colleagues wanted me to grow, and they provided opportunities to do so.
As my Sigma responsibilities grew, I advanced in my nursing career and had several job changes, which led to joining other chapters and experiencing membership in different places. Again, people believed in me and asked me to serve in a variety of ways. During this time, my name was submitted to the Leadership Succession Committee as a potential candidate for Region 3 coordinator. Although I didn’t truly understand the role, I applied, was interviewed, made the ballot, and was elected, all because people believed in me and my abilities. And I didn’t have to figure out my new role on my own because, once again, I was mentored, and my mentors were wonderful!
I served as a regional coordinator for four years, which gave me an opportunity to learn so much more about Sigma, including its global reach and potential. This amazing organization makes so many resources available to its members!
Next, I considered running for chair of the Regional Chapters Coordinating Committee. In contemplating that option, I asked a lot of questions and sought support from outside of Sigma. Many encouraged me to apply for the ballot, and I was truly honored to not only be chosen for the ballot but elected. It was because people believed in me—mentors, friends, peers, teachers, collaborators, and colleagues.
Collaborating to make Sigma better
As a member of Sigma’s board of directors, I have learned even more about the organization. Although I had gained a better perspective of Sigma as a regional coordinator, I still knew very little about the depth of the organization. Prior to serving on the board, my thoughts about Sigma were conjectural—not concrete—and board membership changed that. I am humbled to sit at the table with so many smart people who believe in me and want to see me grow—want to see all of us be successful directors. It has been gratifying to realize that no one on the board has a personal agenda. If we did, it would be difficult to collaborate. All of us are on the board because we believe in Sigma. Our agenda is collaborative—how to make Sigma better for each member.
When I began my Sigma journey, I had no idea where it could take me. I never considered I would become a member of the board of directors. I viewed those nurses as much more intelligent than me. But I’ve learned that by being open to possibilities, learning from those around you, and working with integrity, anything is possible.
As you consider your Sigma journey, don’t limit yourself. Take advantage of learning opportunities. Become a chapter volunteer leader. Consider volunteering at the regional or national level. Think about running for a board position. Don’t tell yourself, “I can’t do that.” You can! You are a member of Sigma. You have been recognized for your excellence in nursing. You can do anything if you daily learn from those around you, operate with integrity, and realize the power of true leadership. (Note: Leadership is not the same as management.) RNL
Karen L. Gorton, PhD, MS, RN, chair of the Regional Chapters Coordinating Committee and a member of Sigma’s board of directors, is an associate professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (USA).