‘Guided by Why’: Notes from the 2017 AACN Conference

Clareen Wiencek, left, and Christine Schulman

AJN‘s clinical editor Betsy Todd recently had a chance to speak with outgoing AACN president Clareen Wiencek and president-elect Christine Schulman about their plans and accomplishments. This post includes her podcast conversation with the two critical care nurse leaders, as well as a summary of highlights from the annual conference. For other updates from recent nursing and heath care conferences, visit our On the Road page.

As always, this year’s National Training Institute and Critical Care Exposition (“NTI”), the annual meeting of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), offered hundreds of educational sessions along with thought-provoking “supersession” addresses. Five “visionary leaders” were honored on the opening day:

  • RN Kathleen Puntillo and physician Judith Nelson were honored with a Pioneering Spirit Award for their collaborative work integrating palliative care into critical care, where patients are seriously ill but not necessarily dying.
  • Filmmaker Kathy Douglas and photographer Carolyn Jones also received Pioneering Spirit Awards. Douglas, a former critical care nurse (and before that, a hospital housekeeper), was recognized for her work on the documentary Nurses: If Florence Could See Us Now. Jones interviewed nurses around the country for her book of photographs, The American Nurse, and its follow-up documentary film. (You can listen to our 2012 podcast with Jones here.)
  • Pamela Austin Thompson, CEO emeritus of the American Organization of Nurse Executives and the first nurse to hold the title of chief nursing officer of the American Hospital Association, was presented with the 2017 Marguerite Rodgers Kinney Award for a Distinguished Career to honor her long-time efforts in developing and supporting nurse leaders.

Outgoing AACN president Clareen Wiencek shared her thoughts on the association’s theme for the past year, “It Matters,” a phrase drawn from the work of Martin Luther King. Wiencek encouraged nurses to identify what really matters—to us as well as to our patients and their families—and use our collective voices to advocate for these things.

She also pointed out the unrecognized role of nurses as “architects of memory.” We are central not only in transforming patients’ lives; our care helps to frame what patients and families remember about incredibly stressful hospitalizations. To illustrate this point, Wiencek related the story of a patient’s unexpected stroke and brain death, and a nurse’s involvement with the family as arrangements were made to donate that patient’s heart.  The next day, the same nurse cared for the recipient of the transplanted heart.

Later in the week AACN president-elect Christine Schulman introduced the 2017–18 AACN theme, “Guided by Why,” by reminding us of the way children make sense of their world by constantly asking “Why?” This query, said Schulman, becomes a lost art for most adults—except nurses:

Why is really our professional and personal compass. When we reconnect with why, we reaffirm our core purpose and have a guiding beacon for what we can—what we must—do to ensure that every patient gets the excellent care they deserve, and that every nurse has the tools and skills they need to provide that care.”

2017-06-07T12:21:23+00:00 June 7th, 2017|Nursing|0 Comments
Clinical editor, American Journal of Nursing (AJN), and epidemiologist

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