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An Introduction to Millennial Nurse Leadership - Stepping in Before You Think You’re Ready

By Danika Meyer, Clinical Nurse Educator, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

“Oh, I can’t do that. I don’t have enough experience.”

I remember uttering these words to my nurse manager after she encouraged me to pursue an open position as a clinical nurse educator. This came after I requested a meeting with her during a time that I was trying to navigate a period of restlessness, eagerness to contribute to my unit, while simultaneously experiencing a feeling of career confusion.

The joys of being a bedside nurse are endless. There is nothing more satisfying than delivering care that you would hope your family and friends would receive during tender times. There is an immediate satisfaction in knowing that you are advocating for your patients and families in the moments they need you most. Every patient was my brother or sister, every mother or father was my own.

I would arrive at my shifts ready to work and give everything my patients and their caregivers deserved and more. I was involved in my unit, eager to find solutions to problems, and was enthusiastic about making my work environment better. I felt ready to do more.

However, I often felt limited because of feelings of self-doubt and because I just felt so… new. While I had taken my fair share of difficult assignments, trained newer nurses, and taken on informal leadership roles within my unit, I was still what you would consider newer in my nursing career. I had these self-imposed ideals of what it meant to be a leader in a healthcare environment because I worked with so many of them: someone who had decades of experience, had “seen it all,” was tough as nails, and inexplicably knew the answers to every problem. I was simply a newer nurse with a few ideas and an optimistic attitude. On the outside, I’m sure the perception was that I was a stereotypical, bright-eyed “millennial.”

Millennials in the workplace have received quite the reputation, gaining much more attention in the media. Millennials have perplexed leaders in the workplace so much that it has inspired over 12 million search results when anyone searches for the terms “Millennials in the Workplace.”

I’ve been told that we are a generation of contradictions: wanting positions of higher responsibility, but entitled to our days off and fearlessly asking for things that we shouldn’t. I’ve been told that technology has corrupted us and social media even more so.

Regardless of these preconceived notions and my anxieties of not being taken seriously, I took that manager’s advice because I figured, what have I got to lose? The worst thing that someone could tell me was “no” and I could go get those decades of experience I always thought you needed to do the things I wanted to do eventually: teach, inspire, and support nurses transitioning into and developing themselves within the endless potential of the nursing profession. One where you could improve the lives of your patients, but also inspire real changes in healthcare.

I have since been in the role of a clinical nurse educator for over three years now, and I’ve struggled in the last few years to reconcile the reality of what society thinks of my generation as a whole with the person that I truly am and the kind of nurse leader that I want to become. Throughout my journey, I have learned a few things…

Defining Professional and Personal Boundaries 

While this is no novel idea for any new leader, it has been an especially new experience during a time when social media is omnipresent. As someone who essentially grew up in the world of social media before “social media” was even a term, I found myself navigating the terrain of professional boundaries in the workplace and the internet, too. While there have been many challenges to doing both, the resources are endless now on how to do this skillfully.

Professional Development is Invaluable

I love taking advantage of opportunities that help me not only be a better leader, but also help me to connect with our frontline nursing staff as well. Continuing education and really committing to personal and professional growth is what helps me come back every day. Finding ways to make things better for my peers and the people that I serve is exciting and that would be impossible without equipping myself with the tools necessary to initiate and support change.

Work/Life Balance is a Real Thing

No, I don’t mean I need a ping pong table in our lounge, but I do need to make it a personal commitment to step away from work that can seem never-ending. In healthcare where services are literally provided 24/7, it can be easy to get caught up in feeling like you need to be accessible all of the time. However, after my first year of nursing education and working a traditional 40 work week with employees calling me at 2 a.m., I simply realized that it wasn’t a sustainable model. Everyone needs intentional rest and time away to be able to come back and be at 100%. It has been especially important to work with executive leadership members and supervisors who are supportive of this notion.

Experience is important, but so are many other things.

Of all the lessons I have learned, this has been the most important. I do not want to discount experience – a strong foundation is necessary in order to speak to and have insight on the needs of the people you serve. However, leadership doesn’t rely on experience alone. A willingness to serve a purpose greater than yourself and the willingness and optimism to work towards solutions are even more important. A commitment to the people you serve is important. The willingness to listen more than you speak is even more invaluable.

Intentional Authenticity

I recently went through an old journal and found a quote that I had written down that stated, “am I failing or am I being refined?” There were many times through my first two years where I felt like a complete failure. Were educators supposed to feel that way? We are, after all, seen as “clinical experts.” However, I’m not anything if not honest. There were times throughout those years that I simply acknowledged my shortcomings, apologized, and addressed it in the best way that I knew how. I wasn’t always the expert, but I was committed to being resourceful. This is what I’d like to call intentional authenticity. I commit to being myself and honest always and being myself within the scope of my role.

I want to commit to always be a learner. It’s why I wanted to be an educator in the first place. And although I’m a “bright-eyed millennial,” I’m thankful for the opportunity to make a difference in whatever capacity I can, ready or not. I don’t believe we are defined by the broad generalizations of our generation. Instead, I’m more interested in what our generation has and will continue to contribute to everyone’s future.