The Air Force Core Values: A Foundation for Optimizing Perinatal Care

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Submitted by
Rebecca L. Cypher
MSN-PNNP, RN, BSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM

I want to share with you a set of values that will prepare today’s perinatal clinicians for the challenges we face every day in healthcare. Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all that we do. Colleagues may recognize these as the U.S Air Force’s core values. While I shared some of these words in a convention speech several years ago, I firmly believe they are even more appropriate for today’s healthcare workforce.

Integrity First

Nurses are people of integrity, courage, and conviction. Integrity is an essential component of professionalism regardless of the level of practice or specialty. Integrity is not just being honest, truthful, or accurate in your actions. It’s not just a part of who you are but is something that is built upon throughout your career. One definition I found for this concept boils down to consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. The keyword is consistency. Let’s be honest we all take a misstep or miscalculate something that ends in a mistake or oversight. But, in the end, you stand up, admit your mistake, do what it takes to come up with a solution, and move on because no one is perfect.

Integrity is often mentioned as a requirement for leaders in healthcare. Integrity is an essential component of all of us here today. You don’t need a fancy title. You don’t need a lot of letters after your name because each of you is a leader clinically, in academia, or in business. In fact, John Quincy Adams once said if your actions inspire people to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader. We must be willing to control our impulses and exercise courage, honesty, and accountability to do what is right for not only our patients but for one another. In adhering to this attribute of integrity, we must treat everyone fairly and professionally, regardless of differences we have as human beings. How can we expect everyone to be excellent if we don’t show them respect as a person?

This leads to courage and conviction. Courage is a mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. And this directs us to conviction which merely means you hold on firmly to your personal and professional beliefs. The pandemic forced to the surface that you have courage and conviction, an extraordinary level of resilience, strength, compassion, and expertise. Of course, these unique qualities are integral to what you do every day, and the world has seen even larger proportions of your dedication, and nothing has deterred you from providing the best care possible.

Many of you have stories that you could share about how integrity first influences your practice.
Many of you are already meeting this core value simply by providing care to a perinatal population or through different endeavors. These not only impact our patients but our profession. Each of you has the courage and conviction to do what is right in healthcare because you took an oath to do everything in your power to maintain and elevate the standard of our profession.

Service Before Self

Service is simply defined as “an act of helping or doing work for someone. Service before self is figuring out how to align personal goals with that of the team you work with every day. Sometimes, our professional duties take precedence over personal desires.
Military members are expected to have discipline to follow rules, exhibit self-control and possess respect for the beliefs, authority, and worth of individuals. But isn’t this applicable to all who work in a perinatal setting? Sometimes it means you’re sacrificing personal desires for the benefit of others. Realistically, if you think about it, don’t you feel more empowered and positive once you put service over self.

Think about how you feel when your patient is likely to give birth right after you leave.
You’ve been at the bedside holding this patient’s hand and being supportive with encouraging words. You have a strong and commanding presence in this room. But change of shift happens, and you have plans. This is where service before self comes into play because you know in your heart that sometimes the right thing to do is to stay and be a part of what will be a lifetime memory for this patient and family. Each of you has put service before self some time in your career. Think about examples, whether your personal story or something you observed in a colleague.

How did these simple actions inspire you?

Excellence In All We Do

We strive for continual improvement in self and service to propel ourselves further in the continuum of professionalism. No matter what, nothing is handed to you—if you want something, you have to work for it. You have to be flexible. You have to be willing to make sacrifices. Opportunities come up because you want them, even if it means you have to make small sacrifices to your families, friends, and even finances when you want to pursue opportunities that will make you a better clinician. If you don’t succeed, you try again, and you figure out how to make it happen. And if you fail, you don’t give up.

No one expects perfection because, as human beings, we are inherently fallible. We all strive for continuous improvement in everything we do in our career, whether it’s learning how to perfect your exam skills, be better at shared decision making, or excelling in management. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once gave his perspective about excellence: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great sweeper who did his job well.'” Innately, we want to excel professionally because it isn’t just something you read about in textbooks.

Closing Thoughts

By incorporating these simple values, we will be a part of a solution in providing optimal care. We must work together, not against each other, to ensure that we can make a difference in the lives of the patients we care for daily. We have much work to do in the future, whether the focus is diversity, equity, and inclusion, reducing maternal and neonatal mortality, conducting research, educating those around us, or simply being the best clinician you know how to be.

About the Author:
Rebecca is a proven nursing leader with over 35 years of perinatal nursing experience. Her expertise spanned from initially working at the University of Michigan Women’s Hospital, followed by a 20-year Air Force career. Highlighted positions include the role of Perinatal Nursing Consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General and a deployment to Iraq. After serving in a variety of nursing and management roles, she moved to the Pacific Northwest as a perinatal nurse practitioner in a maternal-fetal medicine division focusing on high-risk obstetrical care and research. She is presently the owner of Cypher Maternal-Fetal Solutions, a consulting and education service where her expertise is focused on electronic fetal monitoring, low risk and high-risk obstetric issues, as well as liability subjects.

She has held multiple leadership positions in AWHONN, including two Board of Directors terms, and was the 2020 Past President. Being passionate about her profession and education, Rebecca lectures on a variety of obstetric topics. She has published in many peer-reviewed journals and textbooks. Notably, she is co-author of Mosby’s Pocket Guide to Fetal Monitoring: A Multidisciplinary Approach and a contributing editor to the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing.