A Leader Is Not Handed a Magic Wand; A Leader Steps Forward

May 19, 2014, 8:00 AM

National Nurses Week has ended, but several nurses are continuing the conversation, blogging about the reasons they aspire to leadership. Karen Rawls, MSN/Ed, RN, serves on the Georgia Nursing Leadership Coalition, is sitting chair for the Georgia Nurses Association Metro Atlanta Chapter, and is on the board of the Atlanta Black Nurses Association. Rawls is finishing her PhD in Education with a Specialty in Nursing Education and Research. She was named the 2011-12 Nurse of the Year in Education by the Georgia Chapter of the March of Dimes.

Nursing is a profession of opportunities, obstacles, and overtures.

Life as a nurse is very rewarding! I have always considered the profession to be a smorgasbord of delectable treats, with no limit as to how much one could partake. The nurse is one of the few people gifted with the ability to care for the sick, encourage the downtrodden, and support those in need of healing treatments.

So what does this have to do with nurse leadership? Leadership places the nurse at the helm of the ship, allowing ease in making decisions. Nurse leadership takes on a coat of many colors as diversity introduces opportunities to those who often are left behind or may have limited access to the boardroom. I frequently lament the unspoken ideas and unheard options of homogenous committees; imagine the possibilities if each leadership committee was composed of diverse members who collaborated according to care models and cultural competence.

Guiding nurses from different cultures, geographic regions, and ethnicities has allowed me to peer into a kaleidoscope and see our commonalities where others see confrontation and confusion. We truly are more alike than different, and this is particularly true for nurses—possibly more than any other profession. 

Each minority nurse has earned stripes of courage, commitment, and concentration. They move through day-to-day experiences and challenges that most others cannot even imagine. I once was with a nurse executive of a trip on the subway from suburbia to downtown. This nurse was traveling to the top community hospital in that area, which was located in the heart of downtown. The majority population was predominantly minority. The nurse executive shared her fear of the area and how the fear affected decisions made as a result of preconceived notions. Now let’s consider the minority having to live in a world where those in positions of power do not look, act, or believe anything associated with that culture. Nursing has much the same experience in leadership: the minority voice is very limited and rarely heard. We still live in a world of “firsts” when it comes to minorities.

My experience as a nurse leader spans from hospital beds to boardrooms. The common threads have been the community in which I have served and the compassion I have for the people. A leader is not a special individual who is tapped on the shoulder and handed a magic wand; rather, it is the one who steps forward and offers to use his or her talents for the good of all purposes in health care.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.