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Jul2013 - ICHP 2013 Annual Meeting

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President's Message
Can We Change Course?

by Tom Westerkamp, ICHP President

I recently was invited to attend the college graduation of a family member from a prestigious military academy out east. While there, the family walked around the beautiful, historic campus and met several high-ranking officials. All were cordial and smiling on graduation day, but it was obvious these career military instructors were all about organization, respect for the chain of command and following orders. These are exactly the type of character traits one would like to see in our military leaders in charge of firing powerful weapons. But I don’t think anyone would describe these instructors as easy-going, laid-back or fun-loving.

It reminded me of a story I read about a highly decorated, well-seasoned captain commanding a large ship years ago in a storm at night. The captain spotted a strange light rapidly closing in. As his vessel plowed through the waves, the light rose and fell above the horizon. He ordered his signalman to flash a message to the unidentified craft ahead: “Alter your course ten degrees to the south.” Within seconds a reply came back: “Alter your course 10 degrees to the north.” Determined that his ship would never take a backseat to any other, the captain snapped a second order: “Alter your course 10 degrees; I am the Captain.” The quick response back was: “Alter your course 10 degrees; I am Seaman Third Class Smith.” The light was getting brighter and closer. The captain became enraged and signaled: “Alter your course; I am a battleship.” The quick reply back was: “Alter YOUR course; I am a lighthouse.”1

This is a humorous story, but do you know anyone at work that acts like the battleship captain – someone with many years of experience who is used to having things go his or her way? Do you know individuals who may not solicit input on important decisions but simply collect data, analyze, make unilateral decisions and expect those decisions to be implemented without question…in other words, managers with “attitude”? Or is it possible this characterization describes us?

Do we or someone we know ever make knee-jerk decisions about a new way of doing things, of solving a problem on a patient care unit or with Nursing Administration, without seeking guidance or input from other staff members? Are we so entrenched with some dosing regimen or treatment protocol that we are closed-minded to a different therapeutic approach? Of course there are times when a quick decision must be made, but often procedural changes are not time-sensitive, and a calm discussion with several individuals with multiple points-of-view can provide a more sustainable decision – one that will have a better chance of working out and benefitting multiple parties involved.

So as we head off to home, school or our place of employment, remember that every day there are multiple opportunities to interact with others, and make decisions. We all get a chance to act like either the enlisted man, or the decorated captain with attitude. So here is a question we can ask ourselves: 

Are we able to be flexible and change course when we need to, or are we a lighthouse?

Thanks for caring.


1.  God’s Little Devotional Book. Honor Books, Inc. Tulsa OK. 1995; p.143.

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