Have you read Part 1 of our interview with popular nurse influencer and nursing advocate Nurse Blake? Well, if not, read that here before reading Part 2.
Whether you know Nurse Blake from his Facebook videos, podcast, live shows, or cruises, he’s proven that he’s a force to be reckoned with!
Have you always wanted to be a nurse?
Yeah, I’ve always wanted to be a nurse. My dad has been a respiratory therapist for as long as I’ve been alive–31 years on the night shift. I remember hearing all his incredible stories about the people he helped and saved while growing up.
While respiratory’s really cool, nursing provides a few more opportunities and specialties you could get into. So, in high school, I started in the Health Academy. Then, the summer after I graduated, I was doing my prereqs for nursing. After that, there honestly wasn’t any other career I’d considered outside healthcare, specifically nursing.
I also started in healthcare early. When I was 17, I got my first job in healthcare as a patient transporter, and then I worked my way up. First, I worked as a surgical assistant in surgery, cleaning up all the rooms and sterilizing them before and after procedures. Then I also worked as a patient care tech in the neuro ICU during nursing school.
After you finished nursing school, where did you go from there?
I’ve gone all over. I got my first nursing job on a pulmonary care unit in South Carolina on the night shift, and that’s where I did my new grad residency programs. Then I moved to Houston, Texas. I worked at two of the large systems there in critical care on a liver transplant ICU floor. Then I also worked as an injury prevention coordinator for one of the busiest trauma center centers in the country at Ben Taub Hospital, Harris Health System.
I was part of the trauma team, where I would respond to all the traumas, see what mechanisms of injury came in, and then try to develop programs to prevent those injuries from happening in the community. Then I worked as a care coordinator in the trauma unit, where I worked very closely with social workers and all the teams, ensuring you were preparing patients for discharge and making sure they were ready to go home. Then I started getting into education.
I’ve been fortunate to work as a nurse in different states around this country and have different roles in nursing, too. I think it gives me a unique perspective of the nursing continuum–how we care for patients from before they get to the hospital until they go home, preparing new nurses to get into nursing, etc.
I take a little bit of every job I’ve had and put that into the work I do now. I tell stories in the advocacy work that I’m a part of. Because, so many times, we think the grass is greener on the other side, or you don’t know what other specialties go through. But we all pretty much go through the same shit.
Does Brett work with you?
Yes. I always bring him out on stage. People love Brett!
We run NurseCon, our education arm, where we provide nurses with free CNEs through our app. We have about 80,000 users. Nurses from all over can get their CNEs for free through us. We also have NurseCon at Sea, our nursing conference on a cruise ship.
Last year, we had 3,500 nurses. We take over a whole ship with Royal Caribbean, give nurses CNEs, and have parties and bring on dancers, drag queens, and educators. It was so popular that we’re doing two cruises next year. So, we’ll have about 6,000 nurses go through our conference next year
What kind of CNEs do you offer?
We do a wide array. We do get into specialties a little bit on our app. We are growing that library and have full plans to offer even courses for nurse practitioners in the future. At NurseCon at Sea, we’re going to have 35 CNE hours. We have 20 educators that will come on board, and we break it up into four different pillars and build our courses from there.
Why do you offer the CNEs for free?
Because it’s something I’m really passionate about. As nurses, we get our CNEs all the time, and I always hated paying for them. They were never very good. They were always, like, really boring. So some programs said, oh, we offer free CNEs, but it was typically for 1 or 2, or it was free, but then you had to pay to print the certificate.
So, I’m like, “Screw that!” If we’re going to NurseCon, all our CNEs will be free. So, it’s something I’m super proud of, and it’s totally worth it.
Check back next week for part 3 of our Q&A Blog Series with Nurse Blake and learn how he got into standup comedy and how he’s making a difference in nursing.
Whether you know Nurse Blake from his Facebook videos, podcast, live shows, or cruises, he’s the most popular nurse influencer on social media and a force to be reckoned with!
Well, at least helping the nursing community and making nurses laugh. And he’s doing that a lot.
He’s also, though, providing lots of educational opportunities for them as well.
Having graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2014, Nurse Blake, 31, has wanted to be a nurse since he was a kid. Born and raised in Orlando, Florida, he’s lived in many other states with his husband, Brett Donnelly. But now they’ve settled back where Nurse Blake came from in Orlando.
Nurse Blake talked with Minority Nurse about everything from how he started nursing to what he’s up to now.
Check back next Tuesday for Part 2 of our Q&A Blog Series with Nurse Blake.
How did all this come about? Now you’re a nurse influencer, but how did this start?
So, I was working in Houston, Texas, back in 2017. I was working in a critical care unit, and after I left my shift, I was driving home and had my first panic attack. Even before the pandemic, in nursing, we’ve suffered because of many of the same issues with staffing and lack of support, etc. I thought to myself that maybe nursing wasn’t for me.
I hadn’t been a nurse for four years at that point. I just felt alone and couldn’t do everything I wanted for my patients because there was so much red tape, policies, and documentation. So I needed an outlet to share my story as a nurse, and that’s when I started my Nurse Blake Facebook page.
And I realized, through everyone commenting and watching my videos, that I wasn’t alone and that nurses all over–no matter what specialty they’re in, how long they’ve been in nursing–go through the same thing.
When I saw that, through my videos, I helped other people keep going, and it helped nursing students get through school. I kept doing them.
As much as I love caring for and helping patients, I also love caring for and helping nurses. So it’s just kind of grown over the years, and I love bringing nurses together. I think that’s one of my favorite things about the live events and shows I do. It’s just so cool seeing large groups of nurses come to laugh and have the best night ever.
But it wasn’t like you thought you’d be a nurse or become a nurse influencer, and then I’ll go into comedy.
Yeah, I never thought I’d be doing comedy or anything on stage in front of thousands of people. In 2019, I started doing little live events. I would throw a party in Salt Lake City, which I thought was a little party, but then 2,000 people would show up, and there would be a long line of people trying to get in.
I teamed up with some MLB Baseball teams where we hosted “Nurse Nights.” I did a Nurse Night at the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park, and it was the largest event they’ve had there in Red Sox history. We had 9,000-10,000 nurses that came out. Then I realized that nurses didn’t only want to connect online. They want to connect in person. So, in 2019, I started doing little shows here and there in small, 300-seat theatres.
And then it kept growing and growing, and now I’m doing sold-out shows in 2,000-seat theatres and casinos. It’s pretty crazy and wild. I’m just so lucky to be surrounded by so many awesome nurses. I never, ever thought that my path would lead me here.
But I tell nurses that nursing can lead you in many different directions. So many times, we get stuck on one path. Like I’m going back to school to get my MSN, or I want to become a nurse practitioner. Sometimes we’re so focused on that idea that we miss other opportunities. Just keeping my mind and heart open kind of led me here.
Have you had experience being on stage before?
Being from Florida, I worked at Disney World because everyone works at Disney. I worked as Peter Pan at The Magic Kingdom while starting nursing school. That experience did help, especially doing meet and greets before or after my shows.
Check back next week for part 2 of our Q&A Blog Series with Nurse Blake and learn if he always wanted to be a nurse and what he did after nursing school.
Pho, who worked in New York City in the beginning of the pandemic, says the nursing community and his nursing work gave him a purpose through a distinctly challenging time. “You choose a place and you choose an environment to create the most potential for relationships,” he says. “The people and nurses I met are so phenomenal.” And while the pandemic did bring a fear of an unknown threat, Pho says nurses just did their jobs. “When you sign up for nursing, this is what you sign up for,” he says.
Nursing is Pho’s second career; he was in the software industry for more than a decade. “I didn’t want to do that anymore,” he says. “It was the same plot line and a different cast of characters.” Pho was accepted into the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing accelerated BSN program with the intention of returning to the Bay Area and working as a nurse. “But I met my tribe at Hopkins,” he says, and ended up staying to complete an MSN and an MPH there as well, working as an ED nurse and even working with an emergency medical residency program in Tanzania.
After Hopkins, Pho moved to New York City and became an NP at Weill Cornell Medical while also holding a teaching role. A lifelong advocate for LGBTQ health issues, Pho had a casual conversation with a physician who needed someone to develop the LGBTQ section of a curriculum on vulnerable populations and asked if he was interested. That led to a five-year teaching role at Weill Cornell Medical where he taught the first-ever LGBTQ health curriculum for the internal medicine residency program. In 2017, he left the role to pursue his PhD studies at Columbia University which he completed in 2020.
The spring of 2020 was a pivotal time for any nursing student, but for one in New York City, it was working in chaos. But for Pho, it totally cemented his dedication to his profession. Pho worked at Callen-Lorde Community Health in New York City, one of the largest providers of LGBTQ health care in that city.
“We staffed one of the convalescent hotels in Queens, and 50 percent of the patients were COVID positive from the shelter system and the remainder symptomatic,.” he says. “During that time I lived in a third-floor walkup in New York City, and I worked from 8 pm to 8 am while working on my dissertation,” recalls Pho, who also serves as a board member for GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality. “Nursing saved me. It was a horrible time, but my queer nurses–we were together all the time. I think about my nurses, my role, my identity, and how it all gave me a purpose. I know it saved me. We were helping save people who society didn’t want to help.”
Through it all–the uncertainty, the lack of solid information, the severe illness of patients–Pho said a guiding principle made all the difference. “I think about being a nurse,” he says, “and a sense of purpose. I knew this is what I was meant to do. It got me up every day.”
Pho says his career has been paved by taking chances and finding opportunity when he could, and making opportunities when he couldn’t. And each task he completed or each chance he took led him to be in the right place at the right time–and with the right skills–to be able to offer the help that was so needed. “You make your own luck,” he says, a lot of which he says is based on the grind of doing the hard work day in and day out. “It’s important that you show up, not because you think it’s good for your career, but because you are truly passionate about it. The rest will follow. You do it because you want to make the queer universe a better place.”
He remains enthusiastic about nursing and the students who aspire to roles like his. “New grad nurses are so inspiring to me,” he says. One new nurse was having a hard day, Pho says, and he could tell she needed the pep talk he offered. “She said to me, ‘I needed to hear that validation.'” The moment struck a chord for Pho. “I told her, “Don’t think for a minute that I don’t have those days.'” Despite his experience and education, Pho says nurses still sometimes need someone to let you know, yes, you are a nurse and look at all you are doing.
“I started to see my role a little differently,” Pho says. “Sometimes it seems like all the dots seem to connect perfectly, but I’ll tell you it doesn’t feel that way when you’re doing it.” In fact, the way a nursing career progresses is sometimes based on opportunity but, more frequently, it’s something else. “I don’t think it’s predestined,” he says. “You make choices–not right choices and not wrong choices. There’s grace in the work.”
Every June, the nation celebrates PRIDE Month and healthcare organizations can use the time to support and celebrate their LGBTQIA+ employees and patients. Whether you’re an LGBTQIA+ nurse, an ally, or someone who wants to learn more ways to offer support, this month encourages education, community, and celebration.
Pho, who is also a board member for GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, says that anyone interested in how an organizations supports the LGBTQIA+ community simply has to run a quick internet search and see what comes up. In that space, a lack of information speaks volumes, so organizations want to make sure they foster an environment that’s inclusive in words and actions.
Luckily, the collaboration and organization that helps advance important initiatives and bring the community together is a specialty of many nurses. “Nurses are all about committees and organizing,” says Pho, laughing. “Whether that’s the next delicious potluck or recognizing service excellence, it’s built into the nursing culture to have a committee for something.” While nurses connect with each other this way, it also creates a powerful group. “It’s one way for nurses to engage with the larger hospital system,” Pho says.
Nurses can join committees for diversity, equity, and inclusion (many organizations also add justice to that list), to learn about and work toward issues impacting many groups and including LGBTQIA+ nurses. “That’s one way hospitals can advocate for and support LGBTQIA+ nurses and patients from an equity point of view,” says Pho. “And making sure LGBTQIA+ and other groups are mentioned from an equity point of view is a first step.”
Organizations that have advocates who publically endorse and advocate for LGBTQIA+ issues and concerns are essential, says Pho. “The public part of that support is really important,” he says. “It’s important that the leadership all the way to the top provides that support.” Ideally, that means employees are able to show public support for LGBTQIA+ issues and therefore, colleagues and patients, and the top leadership of the organization has done the same–preferably through a medium like a video.
“When you see the dean of an institution or the leaders at the top of an institution making a public statement, that’s very powerful,” says Pho. And a visible statement is something that nurses can use to refer back to when they want to advocate for LGBTQIA+ issues. PRIDE Month is a great springboard for that statement.
Nurses may also look into the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI), which is “the national LGBTQ+ benchmarking tool that evaluates healthcare facilities’ policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQ+ patients, visitors and employees.” The HEI, says Pho, is the teeth behind any kind of health equality program as it offers evidence and evaluation on how organizations can become leaders in many areas.
And when organizations bring folks together for advocacy work, a mindful approach is needed. “It’s important to tap someone interested in health equity and then invite others who are representative of your organization,” says Pho. “That’s the key to amplifying those voices.” He notes that relying on underrepresented employees and making them responsible for DEI initiatives is detrimental as it is not only on their shoulders–it is an organization-wide responsibility and interest.
Two recent papers by UIC College of Nursing faculty found that microaggressions – common, subtle indignities – can be just as harmful as a major discriminatory event, contributing to negative mental and physical health outcomes in bisexual women.
Bostwick is principal investigator on a National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities grant which funded the Women’s Daily Experience Study, one of the first ever to focus on bi-identified women and mental health. Participants completed a baseline survey, followed by 28 days of e-diaries to capture microaggressions that they may have experienced during the previous 24 hours.
“The old saying goes, ‘sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you,” Smith says. “But you look at the data and realize that’s simply not true. Microaggressions that someone has experienced over a lifetime are correlated with mental and physical ailments they experience even today.”
The researchers looked at microaggressions related to sexual orientation, race and gender. Microaggressions could include denying a person’s bisexuality—suggesting it’s “just a phase”—or a rude or insulting comment about lesbian or gay individuals. A comment minimizing or denying the existence of racial discrimination is an example of a racial microaggression.
Participants reported an average of eight microaggressions of any type in the previous month, with almost all women—97%—reporting at least one microaggression throughout the duration of the study.
Gender-based microaggressions were reported the most frequently. Women reported being sexually objectified on more than 15% of the days recorded.
The papers also found microaggressions were associated with poor mental health and binge drinking, smoking and marijuana use. The most consistent finding was an association between microaggressions and anxiety.
“Our findings suggest that for bisexual women, the weight of denigrating comments about their sexual identity, gender and race can contribute to poor health outcomes—whether such comments happened last year or yesterday,” Bostwick says. “Of course, these comments are situated in a larger context of systemic inequities, which may render bisexual women with fewer resources to cope when confronted with dismissive and disparaging comments about core aspects of who they are and their own lived experiences.”
Bisexual women of color were a majority in the study—57%—a group that is notably absent in the literature, the researchers say. Latina bisexual women reported worse health outcomes than Black and White bisexual women in their daily diaries. Smith says the impact of microaggressions on bisexual women of color is an area where further research is needed.
“So often we focus on the large discriminatory events, like being denied housing or being fired from a job,” Smith says. “These subtle comments and slights can be just as harmful. That’s why it’s important to address it through education – understanding and recognizing what a microaggression is and then adapting policies to raise awareness.”
Co-authors included UIC Nursing visiting research specialist Larisa Burke, MPH, Amy L. Hequembourg, Alecia Santuzzi and UIC Nursing professor emerita Tonda Hughes, PhD ’89, RN, FAAN.
Nine years ago, I was so happy to have my first article published in Minority Nurse. The article was a discussion on whether or not it’s OK to be out at work as a gay person. Looking back at the changes I’ve seen over this time period, I decided to put together a few thoughts.
The county hospital where I work is rolling out some new intake questions for our electronic health record system. The impetus is to better serve our LGBTQ patients. A transgender person with residual breast tissue did not know he could still get breast cancer. A MTF person developed prostate cancer. These patients slipped through the cracks because they lived their true self but had body parts susceptible to illness that the caregiver was not aware of. By next month, we hope to have 10% of our patients properly classified using our new Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) questions. As the program rolls out, we will capture
more and more of our population so caregivers can better serve them.
As a gay man in my 50s, I have seen great changes in my lifetime on LGBTQ issues. There was a time when just being out was a danger. But we bring some unique perspectives to our job that shouldn’t be overlooked. We know what it’s like to be the underdog. We cherish family because we worked so hard to have our families recognized. Respect for minorities come easily to us because we have suffered discrimination. Fairness in treatment under the law was not free for us or other minorities so we always strive to protect our patients’ rights. We know that being gay does not give you AIDS, but we also know what those risk factors are and we are able to educate our patients on the facts without judgement.
Now that we are rolling out a campaign to identify our patients’ unique needs regarding sexual health, reproductive issues, and mental health, we are working to destigmatize these issues in our community. Just asking these questions can be a litmus test of our own feelings. When the program was being explained in an employee meeting, there was pushback. “Our patients will be insulted.” Or, “Our patients won’t understand the terms.”
It occurred to me that we might be projecting our own feelings and, in some cases ignorance, onto our patients. Of course, there are what seem like valid issues when trying to tease this information out of patients in the geriatric clinic. My feeling is that you just throw the questions out there and you get what you get. The elderly are just as much part of the world as the young (and in between).I can’t wait to get some real world experience in asking these questions:
What is the sex on your original birth certificate?
What is your gender identity?
What is your sexual orientation?
Some explanation might be needed with some patients. Sexual identity is not your sexual orientation. Sexual identity cannot be inferred from your birth certificate. We are looking forward to the rollout but with a bit of trepidation because we are not used to asking such personal questions. But,if you want to better serve this population, you have to identify them. The FTM person who never got a breast cancer screening because his caregivers never informed him of the risk—that can be preventable with better understanding of our patients. More information is better than less.
I take away two points from the SOGI questions that excite me. The first is that caregivers are going to be more aware of the disparities in health care that can occur with our LGBTQ patients. We are charged with the care of all our patients, not just the ones that fit into neat boxes. Just being aware of the differences makes us stop to weigh implications that might have been missed in the past. The second is that by normalizing this conversation, both patients and caregivers can talk openly about a subject that was once taboo. It’s OK to be gay or lesbian, FTM, MTF, something in between, or nothing at all. We all have health care needs.
Annette Smith, a nurse and coworker with 35 years of experience, has insight into changes in practice like the new SOGI questions: “At the beginning, there is a lot of pushback. The sky is falling, the sky is falling. But after a while, the process becomes normalized and it’s not a big deal anymore. We end up wondering what all the fuss was about!”
There was a time when just talking about sexual orientation was not even considered. Now we are required to ask! This destigmatizes the whole subject. To revisit my first question: It should never be a question of whether it’s right or wrong to be out at work. It’s just a question of you being comfortable enough in your own skin to let other people know.