By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief
I’ve written before about the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) annual meeting, the National Teaching Institute (NTI). As a former critical care and emergency nurse, I’ve attended it almost annually. And I’m always amazed at how each year they step it up with new twists. One year, it was the helicopter and full MASH unit in the exhibit hall. Then AACN went to the TED talk style of keynote presentations. Last year, they had a contest for members to apply to be the guest co-master of ceremonies. So, what might possibly be a new twist in this year’s opening session?
I was sitting with leaders of the Canadian Critical Care Nurses Association, one of whom had never been to NTI before and had been told by her colleague that it would be unlike anything she had seen before. She couldn’t have been more on target—even by NTI standards. The session opened with a DJ and loud techno-rock music, followed by a very fit and energetic dance troupe and pop singers. Then, down from the ceiling came four acrobats and a bare-chested man spinning above the stage, along with a dozen or so men and women running up and down the aisles with large, lighted balls that the audience began batting around, all to the techno music. Was I really at a nursing meeting? Everyone was certainly awake and energized!
Awards. Pioneering Spirit awards were given to Paul Batalden (for his work with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and at Dartmouth) and researcher Ann Rogers, and the Marguerite Rogers Kinney Award for a Distinguished Career was given to Joanne Disch (educator and former American Academy of Nursing president and AARP board chair). Some notable moments: Batalden said one piece of advice he would give is to “avoid working with jerks”; Disch received a rousing ovation when she told how she almost didn’t get into graduate school “because she partied too much as an undergraduate.”
‘Focus the flame.’ On a more serious note, AACN president Teri Lynn Kiss addressed the “growing community of exceptional nurses” (AACN membership is at a new record high of 104,000), speaking about her experiences over the past year as president, during which her theme, “Focus the Flame,” guided her work.
She told of nurses who’d told her they were sad and tired and burned out, “drowning in a sea of negativity at work” because it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of the work nurses do. She gave examples—and I was pleased that, in this context, she also mentioned a recent AJN Reflections column (though she didn’t identify it as such) about a poignant nurse–patient encounter that she had shared widely with her network. She added that her inbox had overflowed with the many responses she received from nurses who identified with the author’s situation and conveyed to her their own special moments. She urged nurses to “keep their flames going,” and during times of stress to remember those important moments where they made a difference for their patients.
Another presentation by Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, noted that organizational ignorance of or stubborn blindness toward information we don’t like or are afraid to report—even if it is important and perhaps a safety hazard—is rampant. She said the vast majority of respondents in one study said that there were issues in their organizations that they would not raise because of fear of reprisal. It’s a sobering concept but one, I think, that all nurses have had some experience with.
Some important messages to think about . . . but while there were a lot of animated conversations as everyone made for the exit, the talk seemed to be mostly about the acrobats!