Who are you?

Gargoyle by Dudley Pratt on UW's Smith Hall
Image via Wikipedia

This was the greeting Dr. Joan Shaver, PhD, RN, FAAN threw Theresa Brown’s (PhD, RN) way last night when I introduced them to each other. Theresa could, of course, have asked Joan the same question, except that we had both just finished sitting through Joan’s 90 minute lecture on the future of nursing—so Theresa knew the answer. Dr. Shaver is Dean of the Arizona State College of Nursing and gave the Soule Endowed Lecture for the University of Washington School of Nursing. Her lecture, entitled “Nursing Science and Practice: Working Together to Benefit Patients and Communities” included many PowerPoint slides—along with the seemingly required two-part:title. Her talk immediately preceded the Nurses Recognition Banquet, at which Theresa Brown was the guest speaker. Theresa Brown, as most of you probably already know, is an oncology nurse, regular contributor to the NYT’s Well Blog, and author of Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything In Between (HarperStudio, 2010). Especially with the national attention paid to her recent NYT’s Op-ed piece, “Physician, Heel Thyself,” Theresa is a major voice for nursing in our country. Dr. Shaver had no idea who she was. To bear witness to this collision of nursing worlds was one of the most interesting things of the entire day for me. It dismays me, since it highlights just how out of touch nursing academia is with the real world of nursing—and of nursing advocacy.

Hubris was present in abundance. At the beginning of the series of talks and awards, Dr. Marla Salmon greeted the audience and began to introduce herself as “Dean of the United States.” She caught herself mid-United States and corrected it to Dean of the University of Washington School of Nursing. Dr. Shaver peppered her talk with photos of nursing leaders she has worked with—all older white women. In contrast, Theresa Brown was grounded, humble, and gracious. Dr. Shaver’s talk focused on broad-stroke theories and recommended directions for nursing research and practice: scaling up nurse-managed clinics, group vs. individual patient clinic visits, and having a community-based vs. hospital care emphasis. Theresa Brown’s talk focused on bottom up vs. top down change, and a move towards universal BSN-prepared RN’s as a way of strengthening nursing. Theresa also admonished us all to hold each other and ourselves accountable for collegiality and to stop nurse on nurse bullying—to stop perpetuating the reality behind the saying “nurses eat their young.” She ended by stating that nursing needs more of a public voice and that is the responsibility of all of us—to speak up about what nurses do.

Dr. Shaver ended her talk with a cartoon showing a seated older, grumpy-looking woman. The caption read, “The reason you can’t fool all the people all the time is because half of them are women.” Beside this caption she had added, “and many of them are nurses.” She did preface this slide by giving an apology to any male nurses in the audience, “but nursing is still mainly a female dominated profession.” As if that made it OK? The old girl’s network of nursing leadership in this country has to change. We do not need the next cohort of old girls to perpetuate the path they are on.

At the end of the Nurses Recognition Banquet last night we toasted to nurses. Cheers. Salud, dinero y amor. Bottoms up. Secretly, I toasted to bottom up change in nursing.

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