Raising the Voice of Nursing through Stories -- I helped write a book!

voice of nursing celebrating our legacy building our future kate thompson

A few years ago while nursing at Group Health, I had the pleasure of collecting stories from nurses for what is now Kaiser Permanente, with the purpose of compiling them into a book.   I'm thrilled to say the book is now a reality! I wanted to share with you my story in The Voice of Nursing: Celebrating Our Legacy, Building Our Future. 

In my forty-plus years of nursing I have always yearned for a greater sense of community and a way for my colleagues and me to share and hear our voices.  The role of a staff nurse can be isolating, and even lonely, with little time to get to know peers, build community, or innovate together. I’ve always believed that if this desire for community is in my heart, it must be in the heart of other nurses as well.

At Group Health, I found an opportunity to enrich my vision. When I arrived here in 2005 the Group Health mission was To Transform Healthcare. I was on board with that. I felt like I was coming home.

While working as a consulting nurse, I was thrilled to be nominated to take the six-month Clinical Nurse Leadership program. On the first day, while sitting in circle with thirty-two staff nurses, the Chief Nurse Barbara Trehearne, and Nursing Operation leaders, the room was buzzing with anticipation.  A large syllabus full of new knowledge sat awaiting us at each desk, designed to bring us the cream of vital and current trends, news, and practice in nursing. All was ready to emphasize our role as nurse leaders and help us increase our influence. The program’s message was clear: our voices mattered; all nurses are leaders.

This felt groundbreaking to me. I had several main takeaways; one was from the book From Silence to Voice by Suzanne Gordon, who said, “Nurses must go beyond describing nursing in terms of dedication and caring and begin to articulate nurses’ specialized knowledge and expertise.” This reinforced what I had always believed: nursing voice is necessary and we are more than a heartful hand.

In the document “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” I read that The Institute of Medicine had identified a vital role for nurses in collaborating and creating a more effective and efficient health-care system. My longed for vision of community, culture, and voice in nursing was being recognized and encouraged by medical and nursing leaders. Maybe as nurses, we are not so alone.

Chills ran through me when we all stood at the end of the program and said, “I am an RN and I am a leader.”

I knew that it was time for me to go to work!

Returning to my work, I co-designed an initiative called The Nursing Voice Forum in Consulting Nurse Service. It was designed as an online community space for telephonic nurses that would help foster a collective sense of purpose, influence, community and innovation. It offered nurses a place to swap stories, practices, and information. The community of staff nurses moderating it devised the goals, norms, and function of the site.

The second initiative came several years later when I met with our chief nurse Barbara Trehearne, whom I respected so much in her capacity as a true leader of nurses. I asked, “How can we celebrate our seventy years of nursing voices and stories at Group Health, before we transition to Kaiser?”  She handed me a book that Kaiser nurses had compiled, Caring: Making a Difference, One Story at a Time, saying, “We could produce a book!” Ta Da! The book, The Voice of Nursing: Celebrating Our Legacy, Building Our Future was birthed!  Later, she hired me and my colleague Sally Fox to gather vibrant, diverse, and powerful stories from the Group Health nurses. What a joy to recognize and honor these great nurses.

I find that developing my nursing voice is a practice that requires me to continue to listen deeply, follow my heart, and speak up. Even though I’ve retired from Group Health, I still feel called to work to strengthen the voice of nursing. We are three million nurses strong in America today. It’s time for us collectively to come home to our voices, magnify our strength, and be seen and heard as the leaders of influence that we are.