On January 24, 2009, at St. George's University in Grenada, keynote speaker Brenda Stutsky welcomed a new class of students into the four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program—only the second class in the University's history—by encouraging the 26 young men and women to begin their education as leaders. Drawing upon the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® and The Leadership Challenge model, she challenged her audience to incorporate these essential principles of leadership into their education and professional careers, noting that if they do, "I know you will be a nursing leader throughout your educational program and your nursing career."
Grounded in the belief that while many prominent leaders may have helped guide the way for these new students, Ms. Stutsky suggested that each individual was poised on that day to begin to lead nursing into the future. And to help them on this new path, she went on to outline how each young person in the audience could exemplify the Five Practices:
"Going first and setting an example, educating yourself, and doing what you say you will do, are examples of how you Model the Way…As you are only the second class to begin your nursing education at St. George's University, you will always be regarded as the ones who modeled the way. So make sure that you share your stories of being a nursing student with your sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews. Set an example for them, and let them know that with hard work and determination anything is possible.
To Inspire a Shared Vision, you begin by imagining what could be, by dreaming and creating something no one else has created. As students in a new nursing program, you are in an ideal position to establish a vision for your student body and this nursing program. Maybe your collective vision for this program is to be internationally recognized for producing extraordinary nursing graduates who are able to provide exemplary patient care not only here in Grenada, but around the world. I want my colleagues in Canada to know about you! Many know about your Medical program, but they don't know you have started a Nursing program. How are you as a student body going to become internationally recognized? Start with small steps. I think one of the first things you have to do is to let the international nursing student community know that you exist. Maybe you do that by starting your own student body Web site or wiki to share your own knowledge and stories with each other. Maybe you then ask nursing students in neighboring Caribbean countries to join in. Maybe your student body president attends a nursing conference in the Unites States, England, Africa, or Canada, and shares your concept of an online community of learning for nursing students in the Caribbean. Nurses in other countries love the idea and join your online community, sharing their own expertise, knowledge, and stories. However you decide to inspire a shared vision, start small but dream big, and follow that dream.
Kouzes and Posner say you must always ask, "Why are we doing it this way?" Since you will be one of the first students to complete the newly established courses, your faculty will rely on you to provide constructive feedback that will continually shape the nursing curriculum. Your clinical practice as students here in Grenada and other countries will challenge not only your own nursing skills and knowledge. It will be expected that you will challenge and question policies, procedures, and practices based on current evidence-based knowledge…Leaders take risks. And although risks can sometimes result in failure, we learn from our mistakes and continue to Challenge the Process.
With Enable Others to Act, Kouzes and Posner equate leadership with team effort. They also say that it is very easy to identify a true leader by how many times a leader says "We" as opposed to "I." It is impossible to provide quality patient care without working as a team, for each healthcare professional and discipline adds their piece to the complex puzzle. Learn about your role as a nurse and how you can support your healthcare team, and in return, you will get the support that you need.
Encouraging the Heart of your fellow nursing students is extremely important. This is going to be a very demanding time in your lives, and you will need to make sacrifices to be successful. It is without question that you will need the support of your family…but you also need the support of your fellow students. Providing positive feedback and ongoing encouragement to your fellow nursing students is crucial, as there will be many fun and wonderful stories that you will be able to tell for years to come. But there will also be tough and challenging times and you will need that "pat on the back" or that shoulder to cry on from someone who can really understand what you are going through…Your faculty also needs an encouraging word along the way, so don't forget to tell them when they did a great job, when they helped you understand a difficult concept, or when they helped you get through a challenging clinical day.
…In closing, I wish to show you the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper from Wednesday morning that shows Barak Obama as he became the 44th president of the United States, and the first African-American president in history. The headline reads, "A Dream Fulfilled!" You have much in common with the new president: you both have a dream that is coming true; you are both leaders; and you are both starting to write a new chapter in your life story."
Brenda Stutsky is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Manitoba and Director, Nursing Education at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, a major tertiary hospital in Canada employing approximately 7,000 health professionals and support staff. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.