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Meeting of the Minds

A time when people from all walks of nursing
come together, share a dinner,
and talk about what's on their minds.

The birth of a nursing salon

Six years ago, Marie Manthey, MNA, FRCN, FAAN, PhD (hon.), president emeritus of Creative HealthCare Management and adjunct faculty at the University Of Minnesota School of Nursing, decided to give back to the profession she loved for more than fifty years-nursing. Once a month, Manthey shares her home with a group of eight to twenty nurses and nursing students, where they engage in thoughtful conversation about the nursing profession. The only requirement is an interest in nursing and a desire to talk about it.

Much of Manthey's inspiration came from Meg Wheatley, Ph.D., a renowned leadership futurist and organizational development expert, who places a high value on conversations. Her mantra: "All good things of the world come from two people discussing their views over a cup of coffee."

Nuts and bolts

According to Utne Reader's 2001 book, Salons: The Joy of Conversations, salons are "lively gatherings where people engage in 'big talk'-talk that amuses, challenges, amazes and is sometimes passionately acted upon." The Nursing Salon is based on the Socrates Café, (a book by Chris Phillips), and guided by the meaning of philosophy: The love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.

The invite goes out to students and nurses, along with the date, time, address, and a reminder of rule number one-a meeting of the minds without any stress. Manthey's goal: To provide a comfortable and welcoming environment with plenty of good food, soft drinks, scrumptious deserts, and stimulating conversations.

Developing a forum

In the beginning, Manthey wasn't sure whether the conversations would lead to an action group, study group, or a book club. After a few meetings, the salon evolved into a discussion about current nursing issues.

Most conversations open with, "What's on your mind" and end with "let's wrap up our conversation with a summary of vital points." Manthey sets the tone and facilitates the meetings. She begins with a confidentiality statement, "What people say here, stays here." This enables individuals to talk freely about difficult work situations without worrying about repercussions.

Martha Lewis-Hunstiger, RN, BSN, MA, a staff nurse at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, has attended the Nursing Salon for the past three years. "It's all about networking," says Lewis-Hunstiger. "Someone invites you to the first meeting and then you're hooked."

The diversity of the group is what's unique: staff nurses, managers, administrators, to professors of nursing and life coaches. Discussions begin with the 'check-in' where participants say what's on their mind about nursing. A theme emerges during the first half hour and a discussion follows with a question and answer period.

The subjects brought up are diverse and highly energized, such as the value of a baccalaureate degree versus an associate degreed nurse. Lewis-Hunstiger understands the complexity of these topics and enjoys debating both sides of a subject whenever possible. She likes to think of herself as the voice of the staff nurse. "Yes, it's good to talk about all these theoretical things, but we must remember what's happening at the bedside."

Sharing of ideas

"You hear everything from, 'my nurse manager is destroying my soul' to a nursing grad asking 'how can you stand by while a child is dying,'" says Manthey.

The salon's format allows people to share their views using good conversational practices. Manthey, like a symphony conductor, guides the flow of conversation-making sure each participant has a chance to voice their opinion. "People may disagree, especially when talking about collective bargaining in the union," says Manthey, "but it's always done in a respectful manner."

A recent forum discussed "mandatory" overtime versus closed emergency departments. An evening supervisor, who works at a trauma hospital, talked about patients driving around the Twin Cities looking for an emergency center to accept them. Staff nurses joined in the conversation to discuss assigned overtime in relationship with safety issues. This, according to Manthey, is what our forum is all about.

Reenergizing the profession

Connie Thach, senior student nurse at the Minnesota-Twin Cities School of Nursing, received a personal invite to join the salon last October after she spoke with Manthey at an alumni meeting. "I felt a mixture of surprise, excitement, and some intimidation," says Thach. "Manthey's powerful presence draws you in. She's like a nursing dignitary."

Three other nursing students attended the salon, along with a student (pre-nursing), who wanted to hear nurses express their goals and concerns about the profession. The dialogue, which touched on a variety of controversial subjects, prepares student nurses for the reality of nursing. Thach believes she's more knowledgeable about staffing issues, nursing shortages, and safe environments because of information shared at the salon.

The salon's atmosphere has a calming effect on its members. Though there's no chanting or massage therapy available, the participants leave feeling better than when they arrived. "It's not only a place to grow," says Thach, "but also a place to share, unload your worries, and reaffirm your nursing career."

Robyn Bushinski, RN, BA, nurse manager in ICU at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview Minneapolis, Minnesota, was invited to attend Manthey's salon by a student nurse who works on her unit.

Bushinski values her involvement with the Nursing Salon. "It's an understanding of nursing as one collective voice-reflective and soul-searching," says Bushinski. "It's an opportunity to influence and to be influenced."

A perfect blend

What makes the salon special, according to Manthey, is an incredible mixture of educators, staff nurses, students, managers, and executives from different schools and hospitals. "A positive outcome is the surprise and delight of new nurses when they interact with nurses who have been around for a while but still remain passionate about their practice," says Manthey. "It's amazing to observe the enthusiasm in both new and seasoned nurses."

When asked if the salon has ever come up with an idea implemented into practice, Manthey is quick to say, "That's not what we're about. We're about connecting with hope and reveling in the deeper meaning of nursing."

It isn't unusual to have salon members arrive with frustrations and leave with a new grounding with their profession. A nurse manager recently admitted, "Today I decided to quit, tonight I decided to stay," says Manthey. "The salon gives people hope, which is a precious commodity in today's world."

How to start a nursing salon:

8-20 participants
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Facilitator (assertive and good listener)
Create a comfortable environment
Encourage participants to propose questions for discussion

Good rules of communication:

  • Equal air time
  • Confidentiality
  • Desire to talk about nursing
  • Dare to disagree

For more information: http://radio.weblogs.com/0149034/