Stand up for your beliefs and values and you’ll improve care and gain peace of mind
One of the main qualities a leader must possess is courage. It is not by chance that one of the chief nursing officer’s 6Cs in the Compassion in Practice strategy is courage and it is a core value of my own organisation.
For nurses with true leadership qualities, this will include having the courage to challenge people when they see wrongdoing. It is about showing that there is another way to do things, thinking in extraordinary ways and finding solutions to challenges.
If you think that doesn’t sound like you, well, most people are ordinary and ordinary people only become extraordinary through their actions.
To speak out when you see something that is unkind, unjust or plain wrong is not extraordinary - it is the right thing to do. However, it requires courage.
If we have learnt nothing else from recent events it is that bad things happen when good people don’t speak out and doing nothing is not a neutral act.
How to be C for courageous
● You know what is good care and what is not
● Speak out when you see bad care, and challenge something that you know makes you feel uncomfortable
● Don’t worry about the people who don’t like you as a result of speaking out
● Having the courage to stand up will see you recognised as a nurse leader
Being brave does not make you popular with some people because it exposes their weakness and their desire to be a little bit braver themselves. I prefer to do the right thing for patients or my colleagues, rather than be popular. It is a choice.
As a first-year student, I witnessed healthcare assistants lining up older patients to be bathed, and drinking tea while patients were bathing - a bit like a conveyer belt.
My job was to help them but I kept thinking this could be my mum one day, so I refused to help and complained to the sister. It didn’t change anything immediately, apart from ensuring I had a difficult time on the ward, but it did raise questions about the quality of the care and I felt peace of mind that I stood up for my belief and values.
In my second year, I was helping to put in a chest drain for a patient. I had been taught that if it drains too much fluid at one time, the patient can go into shock.
The fluid kept pouring out so I asked politely if the doctor wanted the clamp; he said no. I waited another moment then clamped the drain. He was angry with me for undermining him. He complained about me and I had to report to the ward manager.
My defence? I was doing the right thing to safeguard the patient. No case to answer was the outcome. The doctor didn’t speak to me again, but I learnt to live with that.
As a trust director my heart still races, my palms still sweat and I say: “I don’t agree.” It is still uncomfortable and it still makes me unpopular, but I know it is the times I didn’t speak out, when I wasn’t quite brave enough, that keep me awake at night - not the times when I did.
Helen Lockett is trust director of Liverpool Community Health Trust. She started her career as an acute nurse then was a health visitor, before taking a number of operational and strategic posts in nursing and management