Last lecture… Surviving & Thriving in the Nursing Academy

Last lecture… lessons learnt in nursing academia

 Surviving and thriving – the things you don’t get to say as often as you should

 For almost ten years I have had the fantastic opportunity to be employed as a nursing lecturer in Australia.

Now, as I prepare to move to a new research position at another university, in another country, I can look back and take some very real and hard won personal satisfaction from the fact that I have been able to play a significant part in contributing to the addition of many hundreds of registered nurses to the health workforce in Australia – and beyond. That is a very cool personal experience – something that has challenged and inspired me everyday of my academic life… the quality of care people receive from the nurses I have helped to educate is linked to the quality of the learning and motivation I was able to inspire in my students… These are the building blocks of the contemporary nursing workforce in Australia… I played a part. I am proud of my contribution, and thrilled to have had the opportunity! I continue to take the responsibility seriously… and my service to the professional progression of contemporary nursing education is evident in my journal and nursing textbook publications – a service to the profession.

Nurse Academics improve the world one student at a time

Each year I have helped to educate a new wave of nurses who in turn each go on to provide excellent quality nursing care to thousands of people around the nation and throughout the world. That is a very good feeling! Lots of people have lots of fantastic personal outcomes underpinned by the work my colleagues and I do together. Together we make a positive impact in the lives of many people, and we act to improve the world a little bit! It’s true… we do! But there are some battle scars that come along the way… it is a thankless, invisible job in many respects… and it is getting tougher as many students increasingly expect to be treated as online customers and the retail-style churn gets murkier year by year.

I leave this post wondering about future of nursing and worried for the well-being of the nursing academy. Fearful of the plummeting decline in the higher education sector in Australia, where funds are too little, and opportunities for scholars are too few. Where the casualization of the nursing academic workforce is the sad and unsustainable state of sordid affair that leaves everybody feeling rather disrespected the morning after.

The analogy was intended… the higher education system and funding provided to it, in Australia in 2016,… is, to not put to fine a point on it… it is… well it is, frankly… F@#$ED! I don’t think this is set to change… the political will for progress does not exist… and the ‘white poor’ will have an increasing sway in politics in the future. This demographic are less likely to value the higher education sector, seeing it as an arrogant sector, pompous, unpractical, ‘pie in the sky’… waste of public funds.

I understand… Ironically… my own background is a mixed ‘black and white poor’ stock… I understand the sense of discontent that many people have about us – from both side of the fence. We have Brexit in Britain… Trump in USA… Hanson and other in Australia… the democratic mood has diminished for the higher education sector generally. It is a shame… and before we point too many fingers… it should be noted it is a shame on us academics as well. We have failed in our duty to effectively communicate the value of what we do; what we contribute, and why it is important to society. We have let the team down corporately. We have failed to engage with the disgruntled and left out majority in the democracy we live and work in … we have failed to translate our knowledge in accessible formats for the general public to be able to digest– and this is the kick back.

Yearn to Learn

I leave my post… hoping that nursing students will yearn to learn more and shop less (that is, be more concerned with nursing and less concerned with the retail transaction in the university ‘mall’). And, that curriculum writers will remember to set aside sufficient time for learners to reflect and think about what they are learning and how they will be able to apply it in practice. To me at least, it seems we have all become too busy, pressed on every side and less scholarly in the rush. The rush is well known… it is the push to put ‘bums on seats’ … that is the bread and butter of the university financial bottom line. The equation is: More students = less substantive staff and quicker throughput… Trimesters. We call it things like adaptive change and we try to work ‘smarter’ but no matter how hard we try – keeping out of the red is a near impossibility for all universities. It is not a great environment for innovative thinking to flourish…

Preparing to leave this role has also caused me to think about what it has been like to be an early career and mid career academic… at lecturer level in a regional university. If I could, what advice I would give my 10 year younger self… starting out in academia and crossing over from clinical practice. Would I do it all again?

 Saying goodbye to a chapter in my academic life is an excellent opportunity to give a Last Lecture that hopefully distils some of my lessons learnt… and maybe sharing them will to assist others to survive a transition from clinical practice to academia… and to go on to thrive. Here are are few tips to share:

Cultural respect

First and foremost, Australia is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural and traditional land. Colonisation has brought with it many challenges to first peoples. I think, nursing academics have a key role to play in the ongoing recovery journey for Indigenous people in Australia. For example, Nurse Academics can choose to role model an unconditional cultural respect that is authentic and genuine. In doing so, others can also learn the importance of integrating respect for country, place, people and culture into our curriculum, and ultimately as graduate attributes for all of our students. We can choose to position ourselves as caring people in a caring profession and lead cultural caring as well. This is critical for the social and emotional health and well-being of all people in the nation – we have a role to play – should be choose to accept the challenge. In particular, a trauma informed care approach to teaching and learning is vital. Therefore – my tip is…. start every class, commence every meeting, begin all collaborations with acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Country and people… and then follow thorough with making and sustaining a culturally safe approach to every action, every plan and each decision. This is how the gap will close…

 Kindness

Be kind. Just be kind! Nurses are ideally active champions of kindness. In fact – lets go further…. Lets take on a movement of kindness leadership… lets develop expertise in the delivery of kindness… demonstrating professional kindness to all. Practice kindness. Hard – perhaps…yes! Possible… YES!

Nurses and nursing academics can sometimes be unkind to each other… Why do we offer kindness to those we care for professionally (our patients and clients), BUT, we don’t extend the same professional courtesy to each other? What harm could there be in being extra kind to our own?! We could do it! If we put our mind to it… if we wanted too…

How would kindness look in nursing academia? Well, one thing…the unheard would feel heard… there would be good logic, reason and evidence to support our teaching and learning practices and decision making… no one would be left out… everyone could thrive… no one would feel threatened by be success of others… the success of others is in fact a great cause for corporate celebration. And… we would all share a capacity to succeed and excel, personally and colalborately. Tall poppies would flourish – and would not look out of place – because they would have plenty of company from all the other tall poppies around them… and the discipline of nursing would flourish.

Our ideas, teaching and research would be more creative… and the people we care for would benefit too… So…. Be nice I say!! Be kind… let’s care for our own. Academia is a brutal enough place without us making it worse… let’s ‘kill it with kindness’.

Build Networks.

Establishing and maintaining professional networks beyond the department and institution are essential. And… it is hard to do, with the geographical disadvantage of a regional university location. But do it you must. Create conversations, discussions and collaboration beyond the department… across disciplines… across the nation… and across the world. If you are serious about being an academic and developing an academic career – then these relationships will be critical to future successes. Social media is the best tool to overcome the geographical distance. Here is the ‘How To’ guide for beginners…

Attend and speak at conferences… and make sure you put yourself ‘out there’… And when an opportunity arises to participate… Say ‘yes’ … often enough!

Don’t Stay Too Long

This is a tough one… because it often impacts personally as well as professionally. Academia (everywhere) is a harsh landscape – it is a bumpy ride. To survive – you have to move a bit. Be prepared to relocate or you will inevitably stagnate… don’t outstay your welcome.

In the new era of Post-Truth the prevailing wind seems to be toying with the idea of a fixed false belief that better things/people/others comes from faraway places… Don’t fall for that lie! Don’t stay too long… If things are starting to sour around you –chances are, it is probably not you… just that you are not new enough, exotic enough… and way too ‘local’ – taken for granted in a sense. We humans seem to be tantalised by the myth that the local known quantities are never good enough…there might be something better out there, somewhere… in the universe… So, rather than promoting and supporting our own people, we look for unicorns in faraway places with promises of great things… and then we live with our disappointment when that poor unsuspecting unicorn turned out to be much more ordinary than was hoped for. The delusions of it all! We think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. The hard truth fact is: It’s not! But deluded, we persist in pursuit of the next exotic creature to grace our faculty doormat. So – don’t hang around too long… if you want to progress an academic career… you will need your CV to demonstrate international experience at some point… and a couple of universities will be handy to show a broad experience in academia. Stay long enough for an outcome… but not long enough to be hamstrung.

Take Risks

You will need to be prepared to take some risks… but the ones that you are OK to also take responsibility for … do your own risk analysis… some rules need to be challenged from time to time… some might need to be broken. If you have a good idea and you hit a brick wall… fine the work around. And – above all grab an opportunity when it arises. Some of them will be good! Occasionally, you will get it wrong – live with it and move on… grab the next good thing.

WriteWriteWrite

Did you read that headline carefully? Did you hear what I said? I’ll say it louder: WRITE. Publication is currency. So is a PhD – you need one… do it in the most timely way that you can – don’t delay the start…there will never be a better time. It is a horrid thing to have to endure – especially if you have a family and work as well… but you have to do it. You will be stuck, disgruntled, put-upon, and probably capsulized until you do…just get on an do it. And if you have one… write! Right?! Got it … Write.

Be Grateful

I’m thankful for many great colleagues and collaborations across almost 10 years at my university… I have embraced some good opportunities… I have taken some risks… and… I have learnt a great deal… I am grateful for all for the people that have shared their knowledge, enthusiasm and kindness with me… I am grateful that the university was established in my rural and regional home town… I am grateful for the environment in which I have lived nad worked … the country, the people… and especially my family who have been the backbone of my resilience… and have loved me unconditionally, no matter what – I am so, so, so grateful.

New Horizon

I am looking back with gratitude and looking forward with hope. On the horizon is a new country, and new research project, innovation in a greenfield area of research… it will be exciting and challenging – there will be hard work ahead… keep following to find out how landing in Denmark goes for an Aussie E Mental Health researcher…. Thanks Australia… Thanks Denmark… a new chapter begins…

If you are new to academia… I hope you have found a tip or two that will be relevant to you… and if you have been in academia for a while… I hope you are inspired to find new ways to thrive and opportunities to grab to enrich your career. Either way – the world needs us… people will always need nurses. We nurses are charged with the health promotion, recovery and well-being of all of the people in the world – it is a big ask… step up!

Would I do it again…? Yes… mostly… but… if only I had known…! and No… Somethings I have done… I would never do again… !

for more…. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rhonda_Wilson3

 

 

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