1. Bean, Kathy B. PhD, RN, CNS, CGRN, APRN, BC Editor

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I recently finished reading what I consider to be the best novel I have ever read (and I have read a lot of novels). The book, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (Ballantine Books, 1996), tells the story of a young South African man's diverse life experiences from childhood to young adulthood. The story begins as the main character, Peekay, is sent to a boarding school where he is abused because he is the youngest child and light skinned. After several years at boarding school, he relocates to a new town to be reunited with his mother and grandfather. Traveling alone on a two-day train trip to his new home, he meets adults who reach out to him, share their wisdom, and affect his life forever. Once in his new home, he is befriended by other adults outside his family who recognize his potential and spend years investing in his life. The story addresses many of the historical issues associated with apartheid and World War II. As the novel comes to an end, Peekay's horrific experiences as a young child come full circle and he is able to bring some resolution to many of his profound life experiences.

Figure. Kathy B. Bea... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Kathy B. Bean, PhD, RN, CNS, CGRN, APRN, BC Editor

I was drawn to this novel in the bookstore because of the South African setting. I was fortunate to have traveled to South Africa several years ago and was greatly impacted by the people I met, the rich history of the country, and the many similarities I saw to our own history of racism and oppression in America. I have also been reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (Back Bay Books, 1995), and thought it would be fun to simultaneously read a novel also set in South Africa during the same time frame as Mandela's autobiography. I never expected a fictional book to have such an impact on me.


Perhaps part of that impact was my identification with Peekay, the main character in The Power of One. I, too, had adults throughout my life who invested time in me and helped me to realize that I had special gifts to offer the world. My parents of course invested time and effort in helping me to develop into a productive, happy adult, but I confess I really didn't "value" advice and perspectives from my parents the way I valued that from "nonfamily." I suppose I felt family had to say nice things, whereas nonrelatives weren't likely to devote time and energy to me unless they really wanted to!!


Reading both The Power of One and Long Walk to Freedom has prompted me to reflect on my own investment in others lives. I have wondered, "Have I helped others to see their potential? Have I invested time and energy in the things that really matter? Have I been open to the wisdom of others?" Nelson Mandela, who spent nearly three decades as a political prisoner, certainly demonstrated "the power of one." In his very detailed autobiography, Mandela shares openly his thoughts and convictions about all of the choices he made that led to his imprisonment as well as the suffering his family and friends endured because of his choices. I was amazed to find that even while in prison, Mandela and his associates continued to be committed to advocating for their human rights and those of other prisoners. Mandela never stopped advocating for fairness in how he and the other prisoners were treated. He never stopped believing in the power of one.


Nurses, I think, have great power, both collectively and individually. Through a trusting relationship with a patient, we can affect that person's healthcare choices and subsequent quality of life outcomes. By giving honest but kind feedback to a novice nurse (or gastroenterology fellow), a nurse can be a cherished role model and mentor. By offering leadership in the clinical or professional setting, a nurse can impact both the quality of patient care delivery and the environment in which nurses practice. Take time to talk with young people about the opportunity to be a nurse-the challenging day-to-day decisions, rewarding patient outcomes, self-satisfaction, and personal growth. This investment of energy and time to recruit a potential member of our profession can really make a difference. Although there can be great power through the influence of many, there is also a great truth behind the power of one. Have you exercised your power as a nurse to affect change in our profession and specialty? Are you a power of one that will leave a legacy? You can be.