The realities of being a millennial nurse leader
|Nursing advertisement published by the
American Association of the Red Cross in 1918
People may well think that being a millennial only has something to do with social media, selfies, travel, make-up tutorials, impulsiveness, recklessness, carelessness, or freedom. But as the world keeps getting smaller through interconnectivity and constant mobility, leaders in many disciplines are also younger. Businesses, organizations, and even governments often capitalize on the vigor and innovations of the young.
I was twenty years old when given a managerial position in a private hospital, the youngest and newest among my colleagues. As a manager I was expected to accomplish certain tasks, but leadership demanded even greater ability in managing people and problems as they arose.
Becoming a head nurse of a unit brought about many challenges. It was not about more free time, less workload, and easier tasks. It meant spending more time on paperwork, budgeting, and staffing. There was more work, fewer days off, and less time for vacations. Concerns and issues occupied the mind day and night. You may receive phone calls at 3 AM about problems in the unit; friends may become enemies; many people will criticize your performance; and you will have less peace of mind.
When I moved up to a supervisory position a few months later, I found that many issues could now be left for the head nurses to deal with, but the liabilities and responsibilities were even greater and often more frightening. Most of the phone calls and messages I would receive were either problems, meeting reminders, or obligations. All of a sudden I felt l was getting old. I thought that the higher my position, the more proud I would become, but in fact I became more insecure. I sometimes thought that other people deserved this position, some older and wiser, more talented and more qualified. A managerial position magnifies one’s weaknesses and challenges capabilities. It makes one more vulnerable to criticism, to rumors, and to being blamed by other people.
Why bother to lead?
So why assume a managerial role when there are so many drawbacks? Why take the lead when everything is so difficult? When first asked to be head nurse of the unit I refused, confounded and overwhelmed by the offer. I thought I was too young, too inexperienced. Given my age, I knew that I lacked experience compared to my colleagues. I had to be persuaded by my supervisor and encouraged by my fellow staff nurses. After a few weeks I accepted the position, and looking back I cannot even remember why. There was not even more money in it, but maybe I was moved by the trust of my colleagues.
Maybe I wanted to make a difference. Maybe I wanted to make the best out of the experience. Or maybe, because I knew someone had to take the lead.
The joys of leading
Of course, not all things are bad in management and leadership. Once in a while you will get positive feedback and appreciation from patients that your staff is doing a great job. You get the chance to initiate programs and activities. You can also plan recreational activities and getaways for your staff. You will be invited to lunches for new product demonstrations of pharmaceutical companies. If you have a painful back you do not have to worry about doing bed baths and repositioning your patients. You have flex-time privileges. You get the chance to meet different people. And there is truly a sense of fulfillment every time you lead.
Different people to deal with
Some subordinates will look up to you; others will simply express disappointment about being managed by someone so young. Some will consider you their advocate, a shock absorber for all their complaints and grievances. These are the ones who rely on you to get their message across to the boss. Most importantly, they are the ones who inspire you and mold you, not only as a manager but as a leader.
The bosses are the people who impress on you that your staff will not be getting what they want. They set deadlines, schedules, and define rules. They set the limitations and draw the line. They are the ones who can build you or break you. They will give you a budget or not; add or remove manpower. These people will either inspire you or terrorize you, motivate you or demoralize you.
Co-managers are the people who understand your sentiments. You are all in the middle ground, being pulled by two opposing forces: people below and people above. But all you can do is stay in the neutral position. Most of the time, these people are the ones who challenge you to become a better version of yourself.
But how do millennials handle such an erratic workplace? Sometimes we ourselves can also be unpredictable. We are innovative and fearless in exploring possibilities, but sometimes we are restrained and indecisive. Sometimes we are hard-headed, but most of the time we seek advice. Sometimes we are emotional about what other people think…but we easily move on and prove them wrong. We also need the guidance and advice of mature and tenured leaders, for we can never disregard the truth that there is a priceless wisdom in gray hairs. And the young will achieve nothing without the help of these seasoned leaders and well-experienced managers.
What millennials need
To grow as future leaders, we need support from the elders. We need to be constantly challenged and stirred. We are full of energy and we need space to keep our creative juices flowing. We need a training ground to hone our capabilities and people who will follow-up on our work. And although some of our ideas are irrational, a word of advice will straighten us away.
That is what we are. We are young, leaders, and definitely millennials.
VICTORINA T. MALONES graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing in 2013 and began her career with The Medical City in the Philippines where she has rose through the ranks to her current position as the nurse supervisor of the intensive care unit and acute stroke/neurological intensive care unit. She is also currently pursuing graduate studies in International Health at University of the Philippines.