By Karen Roush, PhD, RN, FNP, AJN clinical managing editor
After years of work and sacrifice, last month I successfully defended my dissertation. In the weeks leading up to my defense I found myself overcome with emotion each time I imagined that moment when I would hear myself called “doctor” for the first time. And my breath did catch in my throat when the questioning was over and the chair of my dissertation committee turned to me and said those magic words, “Congratulations Dr. Roush.”
But then something funny happened. There was no incredible high. I wasn’t walking on air. For so many years I’ve been focused on the goal of achieving a doctor of philosophy in nursing. But now that I’ve accomplished that, I am faced with a new and no less difficult challenge—what I do from here and how I make those words, Dr. Roush, mean something.
Many of you graduating this month may have similar feelings. It is a powerful thing to be a nurse. What we’ve learned in the classrooms, in hospital halls, in the connections that pass between us and our patients in moments great and small, has given us tremendous knowledge. But it is what we choose to do with that knowledge and how we do it that gives meaning to our hard-earned credentials, not the other way around.
Yes, it is a powerful thing to be a nurse. But it is also an awesome responsibility. We witness and share in the events that define a life—birth, death, loss, and renewal. Many times it will be our actions that determine the outcomes of those events. We have a responsibility to each patient, every time, to be knowledgeable, skilled, thoughtful, and caring. To provide each patient with care that is inclusive and honors the humanness within us all.
But our responsibility is not just to each patient, one by one. It is also to the greater world—our local and global communities. To fight for equitable distribution of health care. To advocate for those who have been silenced. To protect the most vulnerable. We do it by being open and inclusive. Always questioning. Speaking up. Demanding that everyone is treated with dignity and justice. Becoming politically involved. Reaching beyond boundaries of race and class and geography. Yes, to be a nurse is a powerful thing, but we must be committed to using that power to advance the health of everyone, not just those who can afford it or who are most like us or have the incredible privilege of having been born into certain circumstances in a high-income country.
Long after the congratulations and the celebrations have ended, that is what we will carry forward—the meaning we give to the new credentials we’ve earned. The possibilities are endless. What will yours be?