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Help From an Experienced Colleague: Don’t Miss an Opportunity

Two women sitting at large wooden table conversing.

Professional development is more than just earning credits or passing tests or getting credentials. In fact, it’s more than just getting a new job. It’s finding and taking on self-made assignments that push you out of your comfort zone. You could do this alone! But you should never miss the opportunity to get help from an experienced colleague.

Writing: A few minutes from a near stranger

My first article was published after many drafts were salted with frustrated tears. In fact, after writing the first 18 drafts, I stopped counting. Eventually, the article published. I felt elated. And I suddenly realized that normal nurses with decent writing skills could get an article published.

I felt a little cocky after that.

So, a year or two later, I submitted a different article to a different journal. The editor rejected my paper after peer review. I felt devastated. I longed for help from an experienced colleague, but I didn’t know any nurse who had published.

One morning, I went to the hospital cafeteria for breakfast and pulled up a chair next to a colleague I scarcely knew. She was an oncology clinical nurse specialist. But come to find out, she had written a few articles, and a chapter in a book.

My whole story of the rejected manuscript came tumbling out of my mouth.

She immediately began asking about other journals that might be interested in my topic. Not satisfied with the two or three that I could immediately verbalize, she pushed until I could generate a long list of possibilities. Eventually I asked, “Do you really think I can get this thing published?” She swiftly and convincingly replied, “Oh God yes! Somebody will publish it! Never give up!”

I was skeptical, but I tried to believe her. And yes, several months later, my article was published.

That same morning, she gave me a key to not being rejected. She emphasized the importance of exercising your “writing muscle.” Her message was to start writing the next article as soon as you finish this one. Otherwise, she warned, your writing muscle will get weak. I did what she told me to do, and  guess what? I’ve never had a rejection since.

Linda Jones gave me less than an hour of her time, but that help from an experienced colleague was priceless. She had a life-long influence on my thinking about writing and publishing articles, and even my first book.

Providing nursing education: Mentoring and lifelong friendship

I’ve always been good at teaching others on an informal basis. But all of the formalized teaching stuff? Yeah, I didn’t really know much about that. I knew I’d need to do a lot of objective-writing and paper-pushing before getting a course approved for continuing education (CE).

Luckily, we had a NICU nurse who had been a teacher in the city school district before she had earned her nursing license. I told her I wanted to create a day-long course that carried contact hours for nurses. And, I confessed I didn’t know anything about writing objectives, or, for that matter, anything related to getting CE approval.

I remember her response, verbatim. “No problem. I’m Robert Mager’s sister!” I knew that author Robert Mager was the father of performance-based objectives. And I also knew she most definitely was not his sister! Nonetheless, she taught me how to write objectives. And she taught me loads about planning and delivering good education.

I recall once when I had written an objective like, “Compare and contrast …” I asked for her help on how, exactly, to help attendees meet that objective.

In those days, we used slides, set up in carousels. She suggested showing two sets of slides simultaneously — a set that showed normal conditions and another set that showed pathological conditions. I was hesitant, and I asked how much practice she thought I’d need before my big teaching day. I remember her verbatim response to that, too!

“Double slides are damn hard.”

She was right about that, too, but it’s a great teaching technique I never would have thought of without help from an experienced colleague.

Kathy Della Porta spent many hours over many years, giving me tips on how to teach. She was a wonderful mentor, and she became a lifelong friend. Since then, I’ve learned much on my own, but she gave me the inspiration and practical tools I needed to get started.

Stepping onto the national stage: The door swung open

I answered the phone one day and recognized the voice of my colleague, the great living legend, Dr. Ruth Lawrence.

She said she was giving a lecture for the National Perinatal Association (NPA) and one of their other speakers had just canceled. The NPA was wondering if she could recommend someone who might be able to give a lecture related to breastfeeding. She asked if I was interested.


It was Tuesday. The conference was on Friday. I had no topic in mind, no slides, no bibliography, no handout, no nothing. And no plane ticket to Florida. So, I replied, “Yes! Tell them I’ll do it!”

I scrambled to get the next few days off from work. Honestly, I didn’t have a glimmer of an idea of what to talk about. I didn’t feel ready to face an audience attending a conference run by a national organization. Not at all. But I knew I might never have another opportunity.

Sometimes, you get help from an experienced colleague about gaining information or skills. And many times, Dr. Ruth Lawrence did that for me, too! But this time, she merely opened a door that might have otherwise taken decades to swing open for me.

Was I ready? No. Not at all. I just walked through the open door into a room that looked very scary. But after delivering a successful presentation, I exited that room, and my life changed forever.

Since then, I’ve spoken for AWHONNILCAICEAHealthy Mothers Healthy Babies CoalitionLamazeACNMCAPPA, and probably a bunch of other nationally-based organizations I’ve since forgotten.

Help from an experienced colleague: Find it, use it, love it

Never shy away from a self-made, tough assignment. And never hesitate to accept help from an experienced colleague. That person might make the difference between your stagnation, and your professional development.

Have you received help from an experienced colleague? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

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