By Timothy Landers, RN, PhD
Ohio State College of Nursing
and Gennit*, 9th grader from Atlanta, Ga.
*Gennit is not her real name but the story is true. Her mom gave us permission (from the row behind us) to use this story and photo. Hopefully, this counts as her “What I did over summer vacation” essay when school starts.
I’m sitting on the plane with Gennit, a 13-year old girl who was born in Ethiopia, but now lives in Atlanta with her brother and parents. Gennit is a nice and articulate 13-year girl, and we chatted during the 13-hour flight about our experiences in Ethiopia.
She had a lot of things to say, and I noticed that she was somewhat soft-spoken making it difficult to hear her at times. I asked her about my observation that many Ethiopian girls and women speak softly and what she thought about that.
Gennit told me she thought is was more “ladylike” to speak softly and, in Ethiopia, children are taught that it is wrong for a girl to talk loudly.
She spoke in her own dialect – the American southern teenager — and said, “Like, it’s like wrong for a girl to speak like that. Ok, like, it’s just like, everyone has, like, their own traditions and, like, it’s just how a girl is raised.”
At the same time, she had some very interesting and important opinions to share. It’s, like, totally cool that a 13-year-old gets this linguistics lesson.
I started thinking about what this means for nurses and for nursing. It is often difficult for us to articulate our contribution to health and health care. We are trained to be reserved and deferent. It’s considered respectful, but it means that our voices are not heard. This can be especially true at the table of health care decision-making.
As we work with our colleagues from the University of Gondar, we need to encourage them to represent nurses in a way that is culturally acceptable and to advocate for nursing’s contribution to patient outcomes — to speak up for what nurses mean to patient care.
This is true for us in Ohio, too. We should learn to make our voices heard.
What nurses do is, like, totally awesome!