Once a Nurse

Always a nurse, or so the saying goes. Events of the past year, and especially of the last week, have taught me the truth of that saying, at least on a personal level.

I am and have been over the course of my 39-year career (counting from when I first started nursing school), a public health nurse (TB and hypertension control nurse with the health department in Richmond, Virginia), an inpatient stroke/neuro ward nurse, a rehabilitation nurse, an HIV/AIDS nurse at an LGBTQ community clinic, a Health Care for the Homeless nurse and family nurse practitioner. I have been (still am) a nurse researcher, a nursing professor, and a writer who happens to be a nurse. Always a somewhat skeptical/critically-thinking nurse (still am), questioning our healthcare system, our profession of nursing, and our socio-political system as a country.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality over a year ago, like many people throughout the world, I have reassessed my professional roles. What’s essential and what’s not? Essential: teaching population health and health policy as well as possible to our future nurses; becoming even more politically engaged to speak up on important issues like racism in health care, gender-based violence, and hate crimes against LGBTQ people/people living homeless/Asian-Americans; growing my network of politically engaged, progressive nurses across the country; spreading evidence-based public health information about the pandemic/pushing back against the cacophony of mis-information and outright lies; thinking and acting like a public health nurse, which I have realized is the kind of nurse I have always been. Not essential: university internal politics; worry about being productive with the usual expectations of grant-writing and peer-reviewed journal writing. My pandemic mantra has and continues to be: accomplish less, experience more.

This past week, the day after my two-week post second Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine dose, I began volunteer work as a COVID-19 vaccinator at a local public hospital. I asked for and received an excellent nurse practitioner mentor to shadow at first to get up to speed on the proper vaccination protocol, then sat down at my assigned station and began talking with patients and giving them the vaccinations. Yesterday, the vaccination clinic nurse supervisor introduced herself (both of us behind masks, of course) as one of my public/population health students years ago. She said she is an acute care nurse who has been working on the frontlines of the pandemic “since day one.” I thanked her for her work as a hospital nurse and as a nurse supervisor for the vaccine clinic, and gently reminded her that she is doing vital public/population health nursing.

I told my husband and family members (all, except my two-year-old granddaughter vaccinated now), that working as a volunteer public health nurse at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic feels like the most important and personally satisfying work I have done in my entire nursing career. Spread the word: These vaccines save lives and livelihoods. They give us hope.

(Please note: the photograph here was ‘staged’ and contains no patient or provider information.)

Teaching in the Time of Trump

As I prepare to teach public health to nursing students this fall, I am mystified by and angry at the absolute wreckage Trump has made of our public health system and of our country. How to teach in the climate of hate and discord and blatant disregard for basic human rights, for human lives, for the lives of our COVD-19 pandemic frontline nurses and other healthcare providers, for scientific evidence? How to teach in the time of Trump?

Back in January 2017, as Trump was being inaugurated President of the United States, white supremacist hate groups infiltrated our university campus. They spread virulent racism, hatred, violence, and intimidation across our campus, including inside our health sciences/hospital buildings. In some cases, they attached razor blades to the backs of flyers they posted in classrooms so that people who removed the flyers could be cut in the process. Two of our university students brought weapons–including a gun–to campus and shot and seriously injured a protestor at the ill-advised Milo event sponsored by the Republican student group–an event that was allowed to happen by our university administration. I wrote about this and subsequent white supremacist group activity on our campus in a previous blog post, “Teaching in a Time of Hate and Violence.”

I thought it couldn’t get much worse than that, but, of course, it has. Trump’s complete bungling of our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the deaths of over 200,000 people in the US and to the deaths of over 2,000 frontline nurses and other healthcare workers who were denied proper personal protective equipment in caring for patients with COVID-19. And, with Trump and Trump appointees politicizing/meddling with public health institutions including the Centers for Disease Control, there is now even more public distrust of and confusion over scientific, evidence-based public health individual and community level recommendations. Public health officials across the country are receiving death threats from Trump supporters.

I am dismayed by the decision by the current leadership of the American Nurses Association (ANA) in deciding to ‘sit out’ this election, in pretending to be politically neutral by not endorsing the clear choice of Biden-Harris to lead our country out of the current public health, economic, and social mess Trump has made. Shame on you ANA for being so spineless. History will not be kind to your choice.

Trump is now doing the theater piece of establishing the 1776 Patriotism in Education Presidential Commission to push for revisionist and white supremacist education throughout our country. Trump does not want the history of slavery in our country taught or anything else resembling (the truth) and having to do with anti-racism.

In addition to teaching the basic principles and practices of public health nursing, this year I will teach even more to civic engagement, the importance of being an informed citizen, of voting, of speaking up for what’s right–not only for individual patients our nursing students will care for, but also communities, our entire country, and our world. The two required textbooks will include one basic textbook on public health nursing and How to be and Antiracist by Ibram Kendi.