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Great nurses have the courage to speak up

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Recently I read that every student should develop their own vision of nursing. Not just what the books or lecturers say but what it means to us personally, how it could enable us to fulfil our potential, and what distinctive contribution we could make with the talents we have.

This makes sense to me, for without that sense of individual vision, we will never become what we are capable of becoming.

Naturally, this does not mean that we should ignore the example of the distinguished nurses who have gone before us.

Great nurses are there as inspirations to us all. But they were great precisely because they refused to be slaves to custom.

They had the drive and confidence to pursue their own ideas.

It is in that sense that we should draw on them for inspiration – neither overawed by what they did in the past nor afraid to strike out in new directions ourselves.

After all, Florence Nightingale did not achieve fame by toeing the social or political party line. She fought the whole Victorian establishment to make her voice heard.

Similarly, Virginia Henderson, the great American nurse, incurred the wrath of college officialdom for speaking out of turn as a student. She remained unmoved by the reprimand that followed, privately noting that nursing was ‘not a profession that welcomed non-conformists’, and went on happily to develop the progressive ideas for which she became famous.

Of course, non-conformity is not a virtue per se, and it would be reckless for any nurse to deviate irresponsibly from established protocols.

However, it is surely desirable that we all evolve our own vision and act on it faithfully. This will not make us into great nurses but it will ensure that each of us performs to our optimum.

That’s not a bad second best.

Lesley McHarg is a third-year nursing student in Scotland

Want to read more Starting Out? Just click on the 'more by this author' link at the top of the page.

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