When we think of a nurse, we absolutely and automatically think of a nurse who works in some capacity as a clinician. We may also think of a nurse executive or administrator, writer, informaticist, case manager, health and wellness coach, or many other roles that 21st-century nurses commonly fill. Nurses care for the sick and dying, provide primary preventive care, and participate in research that can impact the health of countless people.
No matter what role you find yourself in as a nursing professional, there’s something that you can be based on your ability and desire to do so, and that is to serve as an agent of change.
History-Making Change Agents
Being a nurse who is an agent of change is closer to the norm than you might first think. Nurses have often been at the forefront of change, with some making history.
In the 2023 book, The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurse Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis, author Maria Smilios relates the history of brave Black nurses who fled the Jim Crow southern United States to care for patients in a Staten Island TB hospital where white nurses refused to work. As part of the Great Migration, these nurses changed history as they contributed to the eventual cure of tuberculosis and they also helped to integrate otherwise white neighborhoods where Black residents weren’t welcome. Did they see themselves as change agents? Perhaps many of them did.
Was Florence Nightingale a change agent? Without a doubt. Her revolutionary biostatistical practices are credited with saving the lives of numerous soldiers as she uncovered and documented preventable causes of death that were all too common in hospitals during the Crimean War.
Congresswomen Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Cori Bush (D-MO) are nurse change agents who chose to run for Congress and advocate for their constituents and the American people in the policymaking world of Washington, D.C.
You Don’t Need to Make History to Make Change
While Nightingale, Underwood, Bush, and the Black Angels are nurses who’ve found their place in books, articles, and the history of nursing and the United States, you don’t need to make history as a nurse to make a change.
Nurse change agents can work anywhere, be any nurse, and bring about change in countless ways. No matter how large or small, any change can have significance. Here are some examples:
- A new charge nurse on a nursing home unit decides to leave behind the intimidation, harassment, and bullying practiced by a predecessor, instead choosing to lead with kindness, compassion, and a firm yet fair form of leadership.
- A nurse intent on helping provide food for members of their community meets with the mayor and city council members to present their plan for a new soup kitchen and food pantry. The plan is adopted by the council, endorsed by the mayor, and enacted with the help of volunteers from area houses of worship.
- Observing that nosocomial infections have increased significantly on their unit, a nurse proposes a new protocol that could decrease the infection rate by 25-50% with no additional costs incurred by the facility. Management agrees to try the plan, and infection rates drop by 30% in the first month and 55% by the end of month two.
- Tired of politics as usual in their state, a nurse takes part in a training program by a national non-profit that teaches women how to run for public office. After a long campaign, the nurse wins the primary and becomes the first nurse member of their state’s House of Representatives.
- Learning of the number of people around the world living without access to clean water, two nurses formed a non-profit organization that uses the funds it raises through public outreach to dig wells in impoverished communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Unhappy with the quality of preceptors available to fellow students, a nurse in their second year of an FNP program launches a shared database of fully vetted nurse practitioner preceptors willing to take on students each semester.
Nurse change agents don’t need to only push for change at work. They can create change that’s community-based, national, or even international in scope. Changes can be small, but they can also reach far and wide.
Be the Change
It’s been said that we can choose to be the change we want to see in the world around us. Many nurse visionaries have impacted the lives of millions of people around the globe. As educators, healers, and advocates, nurses can reach others through compassionate communication, critical thinking, and a desire to do good in the world.
If there’s something that you’d like to change, remember that the nursing process can be a helpful framework. You can assess the situation, diagnose the problem, create a plan of action or intervention, implement the work needed, and then evaluate the results.
Nurses have changed the world for hundreds of years and will no doubt continue. Like the Black Angels, Florence Nightingale, and Congresswomen Underwood and Bush, there’s no way to stop a nurse dedicated to their mission.
If you see something in the world around you that needs to change, you may be the one to make it happen. Be the change and create the world you want to see. Nurses have always done so and likely always will.