Say NO If You Don't Know

September 11, 2009
Colleen O'Leary

I have been able to take the opportunities that have been presented to me and I’ve used them to learn more about the subject. What better way to learn all you need to know about a topic than if you have to teach it to others?

You would think that I would learn by now that when a professional acquaintance or friend calls out of the blue to have coffee that there often is something other than coffee on the agenda. Once again I was in the position of having coffee with another oncology nurse to “catch up” and see how my new job was going. It was nice to see her again and we had a nice conversation but then the “real” reason for the meeting. First, although I have been an active member of the Chicago Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society (CCONS) for many years, my new position really put me in the parameters of a different neighboring chapter. This friend was very involved with that chapter and wondered if I was going to become involved in their chapter and attend their upcoming meeting. I had already decided to join this chapter and was eager to tell her that I had sent in my application and reservation for the upcoming meeting. That was easy. But there was more. She told me that they were having a fall symposium and were looking for a speaker on “nibs” and “mabs.” They were looking for someone who could do an overview of targeted therapies in a way that most nurses could understand. They had tried this topic before, but generally got a pharmaceutical company that was directing the talk to their products. They wanted someone that could give more of an overview and touch on all of the targeted therapies.

Well, I always want to help out so I agreed to do this. In the back of my mind however, I was thinking, “I don’t know enough about this topic to teach it.” I know enough to have a basic understanding, but to teach it to others and make it interesting, it was a bit scary. Once I could think more rationally about it, I realized this is how I’ve learned much of what I’ve taught in the past. I haven’t shied away from a challenge. I have been able to take the opportunities that have been presented to me and I’ve used them to learn more about the subject. What better way to learn all you need to know about a topic than if you have to teach it to others?

The same thing happened recently when a good friend asked me to write two chapters for an upcoming oncology nursing text book. The first chapter was to be on septic shock. That I knew. I’ve taught the subject before and knew that I could handle it. But then she asked if I could write the chapter on endocrine cancers. Hmmm… What did I really know about endocrine cancers? Not much. But I agreed. And boy did I learn. I had no idea it meant that I would have to write about more than six different cancers. And I learned so much about each of them.

Through the past few years, many opportunities have been presented to me to either teach something in a class or presentation or to write about a variety of topics in oncology nursing. Given these opportunities, I have learned a tremendous amount. Who then really benefits the most from saying yes? I certainly have benefited personally and professionally. Hopefully the people that I’ve taught or who have or will read what I’ve written will benefit from it. But the bottom line is that the patients for which I care will benefit tremendously. If I am willing to learn and grow and find out what is truly going on with my patients, then they can only benefit from it.

Now, I’m trying to pass that same idea of saying yes even though you may not be the expert on to the nurses with which I work. I’m encouraging them to take small steps by presenting an article at a journal club or doing a poster or even presenting to their peers at a lunch and learn. So, you should say no if you don’t know? In this case, I don’t believe so. By saying yes you will open yourself up to a myriad of opportunities to learn and grow.