President's Message; Volume 17, Issue 6

The Courage to Lead

Susan Carlson, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, GNP-BC, FNGNA
NGNA President

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.1
- John Buchan

To put it another way, leadership is when you look for and find the strengths of others and mobilize them for action toward a vision. NGNA conventions illustrate these phenomena artfully and deliberately. In my experience, NGNA conventions have always included a blend of culture, entertainment, scholarly pursuit, and professional networking, all centered on our mission of improving the quality of nursing care provided to older adults.

The NGNA 25th Anniversary Convention added the historical perspective and our call to action for gerontological nursing’s future. There was no better way to celebrate our past, present, and future than to unveil our 2010 Gerontological Nursing Practice: Scope and Standards of Practice (4th ed.)2 and to hear the highlights of the IOM Report on “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health”3 delivered by Jennie Chin Hansen, IOM committee member and recipient of the 2007 NGNA Lifetime Achievement Award.

Wait, wait, I’m just getting started. We had fire pit discussions, poolside chats, music by the Dixie Cats Jazz Band, and we were privileged to hear from two Directors of the Hartford Centers of Geriatric Nursing Excellence (HCGNE). Dr. Heather Young had the tough job of setting the stage for the conference’s theme, “Celebrating 25 Years of Excellence in Gerontological Nursing” and she provided us with the clear message that things are about to change quickly with the onslaught of the Baby Boomers turning 65 in 2011. Dr. Theresa Harvath challenged our assumptions that nursing’s view of Maslow’s theory just might be something quite different than its original intent. Because nurses are by nature and necessity pragmatists, we sometimes try very hard to “make something fit” our paradigm. Dr. Harvath had us scratching our heads in anticipation over the clever title of her message, “What if Maslow was Wrong?” Did you just feel your lungs gasping for air? I did too… and then I listened carefully. By now your heart should be racing, anxieties raised. Relax. Dr. Rita Chow, the 2010 NGNA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, took the stage and in her own quiet and self-assured style reminded us that nurses have always stepped up to the opportunities presented. Nurses wear many hats and she brought all of hers! She served in the US Military and the US Public Health Service in places most of us will never see – the swamps of Louisiana, prison hospitals, and the power centers of Washington. Don’t try too hard to plan your career filled with deliberate moves, strategies, degrees, and positions, Dr. Chow advised us. Be still and let your life’s work find you. Isn’t that a refreshing thought? And what is more refreshing than humor? Probably nothing. And our Closing Session speaker, Diana Jordan, added this bit of insight. Life is really very funny so “pay attention” … soak life up one crazy moment at a time.

To borrow some of the language of the IOM report, nurses need to engage in lifelong learning, achieve higher level of education and training, and be full partners with physicians and other health professionals. The report challenged nursing associations “to provide leadership development, mentoring programs and opportunities to lead for all of their members” (S-12). NGNA has its marching orders for the future – it is no surprise that it aligns with our strategic plan and goals to provide greater support and education to our members and committee leaders.

NGNA will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, December 7th 1pm CST entitled “Advancing NGNA Committee Leadership: Tools for Achieving Outcomes”. If you are a committee chair, co-chair or NGNA member who wants to learn more about assuming a greater leadership role in NGNA, please register with our Executive Director, Brian Doty at There is untapped greatness within NGNA. Please accept the challenge.

Best Wishes for a Wonderful Holiday Season,

2 Geronological Nursing Practice: Scope and Standards of Practice (2010). American Nurses Association (ANA)
3 The Future of Nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Committee on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative on the Future of Nursing, at the Institute of Medicine. Accessed at: