To the Nurses Today… And The Nurses Yet To Be

In early May, I had the pleasure of giving the virtual commencement speech to the graduating class of the University of Illinois College of Nursing. It was an honor to speak to the next generation of nurses as they step into a world forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a normal year, it takes hard work to complete a nursing degree; during a pandemic, it takes extra dedication to pursue your studies online.

As a nurse myself, I’m proud of the accomplishments of these 400 new nurses and look forward to providing them with resources and information as they start the next phase of their career, and for many years to come.

Please join me in wishing a warm welcome to these new graduates as they enter a world that needs and appreciates the hard work of nurses more than ever.

Video Transcript (below):

I’m Patti Brennan, Director of the National Library of Medicine. I want to add my congratulations to the choruses of friends, families, and colleagues on your accomplishments being acknowledged this day of the graduation at the University of Illinois College of Nursing.

Almost 200 of you are entering the profession for the first time, and another 200 are receiving graduate degrees in recognition of your advanced education in nursing specializations.

I want to speak today to the nurses who you are right now, the nurses who you will become, and the nurses who you will need, and finally to the nurses,  yet unborn,  who will serve society in the future.

To the nurses who you are today:  

Your nursing education experience was like no other over the past 100 years!  You’ve learned how to learn via Zoom and TikTok, transform nursing interventions into telemedicine delivery, and develop novel skills engaging patients not only as informants but as partners in care. One of the few positive outcomes of this coronavirus pandemic is the societal recognition of the essential value and contributions of nursing. So, you are entering a world that both needs you greatly and is readily accepting of the contributions you could make. 

I hope you will take with you the joy of friendships you made during your educational time here at U of I College of Nursing: the excitement of learning, the meaningful contributions of patients who accompanied you on your learning journey, and the hope that suffused your faculty members as they guided you on your journey. I trust that the foundation of your education here will give you a firm basis, grounding you in trust, supporting your explorations.

You are entering a world that needs nursing more than ever before. I urge you to use the professional education you have had to support doing the urgent tasks in front of you while remaining true to nursing’s social contract. The hallmark of a professional is doing a task that looks like something someone else could do, but is done with the sophistication of specialized knowledge and skill that grows from the deep foundation, the future vision, and the broad perspective that we draw from our profession. It’s not enough to act, we must BE nurses.

To the nurses you will be in 2031:

What do you see when you look back across the decade since graduation? Have you achieved pay equity? Did you accomplish the next level of education that you envisioned as you completed your degree today? Did you find satisfaction and depth in the area of nursing you originally selected, or did you explore several areas before finding your niche? Or maybe, did you find a way to express the values and knowledge of nursing through another profession such as law or design? Wherever you are in ten years, I hope you look back in wonder, awe, gratitude, and satisfaction.

How does the world around you look in 2031? Has our treatment of Mother Earth improved so that the UN’s 17 Goals for Sustainable Development have actually been met? Have we achieved social equity and removed health disparities engendered by structural racism? Was the coronavirus pandemic the last pandemic of the decade or was it the start of a pandemic decade? Has someone made driverless cars practical or figured out how to get rid of all of those cords on our computers?

To the nurses you will need in 2071:

Right now, I’m just about the age that you will be in 2071. I am so confident of the importance of our profession to society and of our value to it that I am sure there will be nurses out there in the future ready to serve society.

These are the nurses who will be there to care for you—I will be long gone by then. So, I’m going express my hopes for the ways nurses approach patient care and knowledge discovery with some personal reflections. 

I hope that these nurses will remember that confidence is often accompanied by uncertainty, and that nurses must consider both as they diagnose and treat the human response to living.  

I hope they will remember that many of my age want nurses to know that we feel like we did 30 years ago, think we look like they did 20 years ago, have had meaningful and interesting career and life contributions, and bring the wisdom of aging and the freedom of age. All of this makes us even more desiring of good nursing care. Nurses should let us know how to find them, how to recognize them, and how to benefit from their expertise.

I’m less afraid of dying than I was earlier in my life in part because I feel like I could live forever, or at least another 30 years, in good health with the love and support of my friends and family.

I want the nurses who care for you when you are my age to respect that goal of mine and use it to shape their practices. Like the future you, know that even now I want your guidance to help me live as fully as I can.

I don’t want nurses to be afraid to bring up hard topics—social disruption, social isolation, loss, loneliness, hopes—because all of these shape how we approach my health. We can be better partners if nurses are as brave as we need them to be.

To the nurses of 2121 yet unborn:

These are the nurses who will be there to bring nursing into the future. What legacy will you leave them? How will you help shape the future nurse? What can you do to create in them the very excitement that you feel today?

Can you share your experiences, remove barriers, open pathways of influence, give them shoulders to stand on? Can you help those nurses yet unborn know that it is better to ask a question than to answer any single question?

Can you inspire them to discover and not just remember? And more importantly, can you help them build partnerships and pathways with people who bring the best of nursing to complement and extend the best that is in that person?

What can you do to prepare the world for nursing? To make the very best practice environment for nursing? What ways can you engage with architects, home builders, city planners to make the world not only a place that nurses LIVE in, but is livable because of nursing? Over 30 years ago, a great nurse thinker identified that it is a critical function of nursing to create an environment that supports development. What will you do to build that environment so that the nurses of 2121 can live as nurses, being nurses?

Congratulations and celebrations to all of you—faculty, students, administrators, family, and friends. Another journey is complete, and another is starting.

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine