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Lessons for a Career©​​​​

Gloria Ferraro Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions 
Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 

Take your work, but not yourself, seriously. 
Know what you are talking about. Don’t fake it, use jargon, clinical or tech talk with patients and families. Be real, whatever that means for you including laughing at yourself and your tendencies toward self importance.

Don’t be stupid. 
Stupidity has nothing to do with intelligence. It is the inability to adjust your cognitive schemas to the changing contingencies of reality. Be open to change and to new ways of practice. Listen to others’ ideas and express your own. If you find yourself saying, “But we’ve always done it this way," you have achieved professional stupidity. 

Read outside your field and broaden your interests. 
Subscribe to publications such as Wired, Harpers or Foreign Policy. Get interested in the world and in the arts. Visit museums and imagine what it would take to produce a work of art. Watch musicals from the 1940s and 1950s to escape. Expand your vision and perspective beyond healthcare and you will be a more humane and creative practitioner. 

Google yourself from time to time. 
See what’s out there on the internet about you; some blog you might have posted, some lapse of judgment that is out there on Facebook or Twitter. Best to see how you are reflected on the internet before a potential employer does. 

Work within the system to create change. 
Do your homework before taking a position. Debate assertively and respectfully with whomever you believe can move change forward. Don’t just complain behind the scenes and stir the pot. Drama, whining and negativity are not strategies for improving the work environment. If you are feeling unhappy and ineffective, if you dread going to work more often than not, move on. 

Carefully launder angry letters, memo or emails before sending them. 
Sometimes a message needs two, even five rinses, and occasionally a bit of fabric softener before sending. The five-rinse message is an exercise in perspective building and getting at the heart of the matter. Focus on facts and constructive action when having difficulties at work. 

Rehearse with a cat before “telling someone off.” 
Cats with their inscrutable look have a way of letting us know when we are acting like fools. 

Value the work of your profession and of others. 
Don’t buy into false hierarchies of importance or health discipline turfs. Embrace the phrase, “It’s not about me.” Your work is about contributing to and improving environments where patients and families will get great care, no matter their status in life. Work well done by any professional health provider or assistive staff member in the service of people is all that really matters. 

Go with the flow, lose yourself in your work, and cherish the difference you are making in people’s lives. Remember, it is the journey that is most important, not the destination! 

Gloria Ferraro Donnelly, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, serves as the Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. She has held faculty appointments in the nursing schools at the University of Pennsylvania, Trenton State College and Villanova University and was the first Dean of Nursing at La Salle University, MCP Hahnemann University, and Drexel University. Dr. Donnelly speaks on the national level about nursing education and is the author of four textbooks, the winner of two American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year awards, and the editor of the journal Holistic Nursing Practice. 

The opinions expressed and recommendations offered within this article are solely those of the individual author and do not constitute legal advice or recommendations by the Nurses Service Organization (NSO) and Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO). ​
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