I have had conversations with close friends about some issues around professionalism in forensic nursing, but I had not considered writing about it at any length until I had a frustrated email from an FHO reader who was wondering if I had recognized this problem for myself. Her concern was regarding a colleague’s behavior in multidisciplinary meetings and how it reflected on the rest of the team, and sure, I’ve seen breaches in professionalism at SART and MDT meetings before. But I also have seen them in court, at conferences, in classes I teach—lapses in professionalism have the potential to be pretty ubiquitous. (Of course, it’s not just in nursing—all disciplines have their issues. But I can only write what I know, so that’s the focus here.) What constitutes professionalism, though, is hard to pin down. Yes, there are some things that feel universal to me—try really hard not to don’t drop the F-bomb in professional meetings or on the stand; don’t use text abbreviations in professional emails (also: complete sentences are awesome); clean, unwrinkled clothing and good hygiene are non-negotiable in any professional setting (except on shift—then I’ll settle just for the hygiene part). But many of my views are deeply personal and represent my own particular set of values and ideals. So as a way to start the conversation on a larger scale, I figured I’d bring you a new 10 Things list: Professionalism Fundamentals. Many of you will have additional insight, so I invite you to add to the dialogue in the Comments section, should the spirit move you. And naturally, feel free to disagree in the Comments, as well—this is 100% the world according to Jen, after all.
What follows are my own basic tenants for professionalism:
- Cite your sources—always. In written work, in presentations, whenever.
- Apropos of #1: Hold presenters accountable—if sources aren’t provided, ask for them. I’m not suggesting shaming presenters if they are missing a citation, but letting presenters know that this is something you want and making sure it’s an expectation routinely is good for everyone. It elevates the quality of the conversation in public forums and it allows you to decide for yourself whether you agree with a speaker’s conclusions and recommendations. (Also, see #4)
- Make sure information you will apply to practice or use in public forums (such as conferences or in court) comes from credible sources. Wikipedia is not a credible source. I don’t mention that here as a joke. I mention that here because I continue to hear people cite it. If you see something that looks potentially useful on a popular/social media site, follow the footnotes/links and read the source information to make sure what you’ve read is an accurate representation of the information and that it applies to your own practice. Few things look more amateurish than a poorly informed opinion.
- Do not mistake an invitation for a wholesale endorsement. I love being invited to speak—usually I am invited because someone on the planning end of things has heard something positive about me. But here’s the thing—I have a lot of opinions that I share wherever I go. Not everyone agrees with me. I will give you the resources I use to support my opinions. Take a look at them and decide for yourself if you agree with me. But don’t assume that because someone has given me a stage, my view is the be all and end all on that particular topic. What you hear at conferences (and on webinars and in articles) is a great place to start—but then you need to do a little homework, talk to some trusted colleagues, take a look at the evidence in support of (or in opposition to) this new idea. Then proceed with changing practice or testifying to an opinion or what have you.
- Do what you say you’re going to do. Professionalism requires follow through. At the very least, communicate your inability to get something done on time (or at all), and try to avoid it next time. I can work with pretty much anything assuming I know about it. But drop off the grid entirely, that’s the kind of thing that makes people not want to go to you with future opportunities.
- Own your mistakes. In fact, embrace failure for its gift-giving potential. Seriously—I am obsessed with failure (soon to be the focus of a new project of mine—more on that in the months ahead). One of my primary mantras is Fail big. I do not believe there is such a thing as professional growth without failure, so I don’t think you can really elevate your professionalism without embracing your failures and making them work for you.
- Abandon the notion that there is only one way to be a professional. There’s no dress code; no one way of approaching the job that makes you a professional. Anyone trying to convince you being a professional means being just like them is forgetting that professional doesn’t mean losing one’s individuality. Trust me—I know. There’s nothing like having a nursing professor preface her lecture of why you don’t belong in nursing with “look around and see which of these things is not like the others” to really ingrain a sense of stubborn individualism into your professional existence.
- Share your knowledge. Being a professional means sharing what you have learned, your resources and tools of the trade. Hording your knowledge so that no one knows as much as you? Weak. The most professional people I know are surrounded by people as smart, or smarter than them. A more educated and knowledgeable discipline makes us all better.
- Learn to depersonalize professional conflict. I see this in court all the time—opposing counsel going at it during trial, and then grabbing a beer after trial is over. This is what conflict should look like in most cases. People disagree. Period. Shouldn’t be the end of relationships or the cause of agita on your end. Have it out and move on if that’s what’s needed. Holding a grudge in professional settings diminishes you.
- Do not make decisions from a place of fear. This one I learned from my spouse, and she’s 100% right. Say no to an opportunity because you are overtaxed, you need to be home with your family or you just aren’t interested. But don’t say no because you’re afraid to try. Walk away from a gig because it doesn’t work for you anymore, but don’t walk away because it’s getting hard or there are new expectations that leave you wondering if you can hack it. There is grace in flaming out spectacularly (see #6).