Doctors and nurses stacking hands, concept of mutual aid
HealthSeptember 21, 2021

Building your nursing legacy: Lessons from a novel study

By: Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
The World Health Organization has declared 2021 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. As the so-called “most trusted profession”, it is important for researchers to understand legacy building within the nursing profession.

The authors of a new project, described in the August issue of Nursing2021, developed a qualitative research study on legacy building not just for experienced nurses, but for novices and even nursing students.

Defining a nursing legacy

As the study authors note, literature often correlates legacy with end-of-career accomplishments or monetary awards in honor of those who have died. But in nursing, legacy is so much more than that. In recent years, nurses have helped define legacy by investing in future nurses and using every available opportunity to promote and advance the profession.

The Building Your Nursing Legacy project was initially developed by researchers to showcase legacy as more than just monetary donations or end-of-career accomplishments. The study included novice and experienced nurse participants, as well as pre-licensure nursing students. Participants all received a survey intended to address a larger question: “What does building a legacy mean to the nursing profession?”

Data identifies legacy themes among nurses

In total, 84 nurses — ranging from students to PhD-level nurses — completed the Building Your Nursing Legacy project survey, which included five open-ended questions:

  • Describe your most memorable moment in nursing.
  • What was your most memorable patient moment?
  • What change do you expect in the nursing profession?
  • What thoughts would you like to share with a novice, graduating nurse?
  • What do you believe are the most important qualities of a nurse?

Data was collected over a period of three years, and three main themes were identified relating to who nurses are, who nurses help, and who nurses become.

Theme 1: Who nurses are

Data shows that nursing students begin to develop a professional nursing identify in nursing school, and this continues throughout their lifetime of professional practice. The authors suggest that increased awareness, dialogue, and programs on legacy building could help support these people in framing their nursing identify in terms of the people they serve and the legacy they want to leave behind.

Theme 2: Who nurses help

The second identified theme highlighted the vital role nurses play in the patient, family, and community outcomes. Nurses are involved in care both directly and indirectly, and they have a responsibility to advocate for and promote evidence-based change. Additionally, nursing extends beyond the bedside with research, health promotion, and healthcare reform.

Theme 3: Who nurses become

Participants emphasized their role as lifelong learners and educators. Nurses ultimately educate patients and their families. Many eventually become role models for future generations within the profession itself.

As the first qualitative study on legacy building, these results show how nurses view legacy differently from other professions. Who nurses are and who nurses help contributes greatly to career legacy, which, in turn, helps pave the way for successful careers.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
Freelance Health and Medical Content Writer, Wolters Kluwer Health
Sarah has over nine years’ experience in various clinical areas, including surgery, endocrinology, family practice, and pharmaceuticals. She began writing professionally in 2016 as a way to use her medical knowledge beyond the bedside to help educate and inform healthcare consumers and providers.
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