March 13, 2006 – Promoting the positive aspects of nursing would certainly draw more people to the field, according to Mary Thomas Perkins, director of nursing operations at the Brenner Children's Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. She spoke Monday to a group of about 100 students and faculty members at the University of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas.
Perkins, who helped kick off UVI's annual charter week events, was the featured speaker during this year's Distinguished Nurse Lecture Series, sponsored by the Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation. The lecture series is designed to introduce local students to leaders in the nursing community.
"We want our students to hear from nurses who have been successful in their field, so they can see that they can do anything they set their minds to," said Dr. Edith Ramsay-Johnson, UVI nursing professor, after the lecture.
Perkins, whose presentation was titled "Nursing in the 21st Century," focused on telling students – including participants in UVI's Bachelor of Science and Nursing Degree Program – that the media has distorted the public's image of nurses, and "focuses on the negative aspects of the field."
She said people are often bombarded with reports of nursing shortages, poor healthcare and the increasing demands of an aging population.
"What is not highlighted is that nurses have a strong body of scientific knowledge and technological experience, and have to make critical decisions about patient care," she said. "We have to establish a relationship with our patients and assess them to know what their needs are – if we take the registered nurse away from the hospitals, then the vital formula for direct patient care would be lost."
Perkins added that once such a positive image is ingrained in the mind of the public, then the field of nursing would evolve into the "hub of the healthcare system," where nurses familiar with the specific needs of patients can connect those individuals with competent doctors.
"This is what will help us recruit more people to the nursing profession," she said after the lecture. "And it's not really a new image that we're promoting; it's just that we're highlighting parts of the job that people don't seem to see, and if we can show that the field is exciting, then people will move towards it."
In her presentation, Perkins gave students a list of positive attributes that characterize the modern-day professional nurse, including competency, integrity, being responsible and accountable, being intellectually charged and emotionally intelligent, and being confident in communication.
Perkins encouraged students to promote diversity, to take risks and to have a sense of humor when mistakes are made.
"Every day we deal with the uncomfortable realities and the frailties of the human condition," she said. "So you need to find a release – smile, laugh, have fun – and you'll find that will allow you to handle the matters at hand."
Perkins said that nursing professionals should get to know themselves before attending to patients. "That's what's going to push you from a novice to an expert, from a clinician to a leader," she said.
"Once you know yourself and can balance out your positive and negative behavior, then you can understand social dynamics and interact in any social situation, and you can create relationships which are empowering to you."
Some of those relationships, she added, should be with healthcare professionals who are now looking to leave the field. "We do have an aging population," she said. "Our nurses are getting older, and they're looking to retire. But before they leave, you should speak to them, document what they have to say. They're an untapped resource, and it's up to you to seek them out and benefit from their experience."
Perkins closed by telling students that they should also challenge the "status quo," by making their own discoveries and doing their own research. "The focus is always on outcome," she said. "Remember that, and if you stumble upon something that would be better for the patient than something that's currently being used or done, then research it, circulate your research, and effectuate change."
After the lecture, Ramsay-Johnson told students that Hovensa, one of UVI's corporate partners, has given a monetary donation to this year's nursing class, so they can attend a review session in Tampa, Fla., in preparation for taking the nurse licensure exam. She did not say the amount of the donation.
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