Anne M. Panik's Address to Graduates, January 2014

by Anne M. Panik, MS, BSN, RN, NEA-BC | Jan 18, 2014

Thank you all.  I am honored to share this day with you, at the 34th January commencement ceremony celebrating the DeSales University Class of 2014.

Congratulations to you all.

Through your dedicated efforts over the last few years, maybe one… two… or dozens of sleepless nights, along with a googol’s-worth (that’s a ‘1’ followed by 100 zeros) of SnapChats, Tweets and InstaGrams, you have completed bachelor degrees, master degrees and doctorate degrees.  I’d like to make particular mention of one group of 5 graduates here today: the first class of Doctor of Nursing Practice nurses to graduate from DeSales University.  Congratulations on that accomplishment - you make our profession even stronger! 

In the world of healthcare, there is a bright future for masters-prepared RNs and DNPs.  Advance practice nurses are critical to implementing population health strategies, in order to deflect the effect of declining reimbursement and seek to improve patient care quality.  DNPs will play a major role in physician practices, clinics and hospital settings working with patients and families, not only on treating their disease, but more importantly on prevention of illness, maintaining healthy life styles, and assisting patients and families in making a safe transition across the care continuum.   At our facility alone, it is projected there is a need for 100 nurse practitioners within the next five years.  I applaud DeSales for being a regional pioneer in implementing this program.

Over the course of my career as a nurse, and currently as a chief nursing officer, I have had the great opportunity to witness the blossoming of the nursing profession from one that was, at times, somewhat diminished in the hierarchy of medicine.  Today, the nursing profession not only maintains a spot at the top of Gallup Poll’s most trusted professions in the U.S. (achieving this for 14 years running), it has also earned the respect of medical colleagues who view nurses as critical co-partners in patient care.  

Achieving that level of collaboration took a lot of work, believe me; but I think the transformation achieved by my profession holds lessons for each of you, whether you are a computer science graduate, a criminal justice graduate or an education graduate.  While you have a brand new degree that is either going to kick-start your first career, or a new advanced degree that will act as a catalyst to propel your career further, your future is ‘in your hands.’  And speaking to you as a nurse, as well as someone who has been around the block once or twice, I believe I am qualified to provide you with a Health and Wellness check-up.  This check-up is one you can return to throughout your life to help you reflect on where you stand in your career and life.

I first suggest that you check your vision…that is, your vision of the “future you.”   There is a great power in future visioning.  It can help you plan for the “next act” in your career, or even your life.  Actor Christopher Reeve once told an audience, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”

Just recently, nearly 200 of my nursing colleagues at LVHN took part in an intensive future planning and goal setting retreat that was completely focused on the future of nursing at LVHN in 2020.  We discussed where medicine was 100 years ago and where it is today, as well as trends we expect will take root in the next 20 years. 

The point of all of this was to develop actionable goals that will provide a map for my nursing colleagues as they work toward measurable outcomes in patient care and professional growth.  Having conducted a similar goal setting 5 years ago that achieved successful outcomes earlier than expected, we knew first-hand the power of goal setting and envisioning the future.  

Use your own vision to dream and set goals.  And once you start hitting those marks, you will be inspired to set new ones to achieve even more.

The next step in your self-exam is to check your ears.  Or more precisely, check your listening skills.

Have you ever caught yourself wondering what you might have just missed in a class or a meeting?  Your mind may have been elsewhere – tweeting, perhaps?  Or you were just focused on another distraction? 

TV personality and interviewer Larry King reminded himself every morning: “Nothing I say this day will teach me anything.  So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening."

As you develop active listening skills, your boss and colleagues will notice that you are truly taking in and acknowledging their information.  And in your off-hours, your family and friends will be gratified – maybe even shocked –that you care enough to listen and converse, instead of ‘acting’ as if you are, but truly being somewhere else in your thoughts.

I urge you: work on active listening.

Step three of your exam involves your reflexes and specifically the reflex to adapt.

The demise of dinosaurs is often described as a failure to adapt.  Species that don‘t adapt become extinct.  Even businesses that fail to adapt are doomed.  Think Bethlehem Steel… Kodak… and most recently, Blockbuster.

Adapting to new technology, and societal shifts caused by it, is an imperative.  In today’s tech-savvy world, technologies are constantly and unceasingly changing.  Laptop computers have morphed into hand-held devices, which are now morphing into wearable devices.  What’s next? Whatever that next tech evolution is, you must stay in sync so you can not only use the new technology, but find ways to adapt it to your own career needs.

Another way to adapt and stay relevant is to find educational opportunities that will help you understand where younger and newer colleagues are coming from.  In fact, an educational goal is something the nursing profession has taken to heart, with an objective to have 80-percent of registered nurses earn their bachelor’s degrees by 2020.  While some of you may already know you need to pursue a higher level degree for your career, for others, alternative opportunities for learning and skill building can help you stay ahead of the dinosaur’s, and Blockbuster’s, fates.

Do not close your mind to unexpected opportunities.   If you do not get the dream job or promotion or award, learn to be patient; stay focused; excel in your specialty; take advantage of situations to learn new things.  Become active in your professional organizations; attend your specialty conferences; read your professional journals to stay current in your field of expertise.   And they’re a great resource for job opportunities!

When the “Tin Man” meets the “Wizard” in Frank L. Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” he asks for a heart.  But, as it turns out, the Tin Man had one all along because he had the capacity to love and to be loved.  For this part of your self-exam, listen to your heart and find volunteer opportunities in your communities.

Aesop is credited with saying, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted,” and I thoroughly believe that.  You may not have the capacity to change thousands of lives on your own, but if you can impact one or two people, your caring will make all the difference to them.

One volunteer effort I particularly like was initiated right here at DeSales.  As a class project, students in the physician assistants program started a free medical outreach to homeless men at the Allentown Rescue Mission.  Seven years later, this initiative is still going strong and relies on volunteers, many from our hospital network, to continue providing this medical care.

Not only that, members of the original group recently started another free medical clinic, this time in Easton at the Safe Harbor shelter.  Their volunteer work is changing lives for the better.

So, you may be wondering, “What can I do if I’m not a nurse practitioner or physician assistant?”  Computer science majors, how about using your skills to set up a website for a non-profit group?  Education majors, you can provide after-school tutoring in neighborhood schools or after-school programs.  Communications majors, how about helping an organization spread the word about the services they offer?  And Finance majors, you can use your dollars-and-sense-expertise to help a non-profit group develop a sustained funding source.   These are just a few examples.   Whatever your major is, your skills can help these organizations succeed in their missions to serve.  Rely on your heart to find volunteer opportunities that can make a difference to your life and other people’s lives.

And finally, double-check your balance.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of “living to work.”  This is particularly true when you start a career.  Begin to make conscious choices about your time, so you have a life outside of work.  I have seen far too many people in our hospitals who thought they had more time.  Don’t let this happen to you.

If you haven’t done this already, make time for relationships and invest in them.  The person or people you are closest to will be there for you, to share joyous days or difficult nights. 

As much as I believe you need to keep up with technology for work, don’t let technology intrude on personal time.  The digital world is pervasive and unless you keep it in check, you won’t be ‘present’ with your family or friends because of the incessant call of the internet or text messages.

And as you transition into new work roles, make sure you are doing something you truly enjoy and have passion for.  Spending decades in a job that doesn’t bring you satisfaction will simply drain the life out of you.  Have the courage to re-evaluate your personal satisfaction with your work. Finding your passion can re-invigorate a stale career, or can kick-start a new one.  When your work is aligned with your talents and calling, you will find your job, even on difficult days, provides challenging meaningful work that makes a difference in a client, customer, colleague, student or patient’s life.

Now that we’ve checked your vision, listening, flexibility, heart and balance, we will wrap up your personal check-up.  That didn’t hurt a bit, did it?  Keep you and your career healthy by reviewing where you stand every year or so.  It’s enlightening and inspiring.

And again, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you upon your graduation.  You have the capacity to take your degree and learning capabilities into fields that will impact all of our lives.  I wish you all the best as you embark on your futures.

Source: 2012 Gallup

2013 Gallup

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