Heather Hightower’s Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nursing Journey

Heather Hightower’s Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nursing Journey

Like many nurses, Heather Hightower, MSEd, RN, CPHON, didn’t plan to become a nurse. But they’ve found a career in pediatric hematology/oncology nursing that fulfills their passions for science and for working with an adolescent and young adult population. For today’s celebration of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses Day, Hightower shared some thoughts on this career path.

Hightower is now the office practice nurse for the Adolescent and Young Adult Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and their nursing path started with an undergrad degree in religious studies, a master’s degree in education, and some time as a high school science teacher in New York. Hightower says they realized nursing was a field they were interested in pursuing.

headshot of Heather Hightower in a green top with white pattern for pediatric hematology/oncology nursing

Heather Hightower, MSEd, RN, CPHON

“I love education and teaching students,” they say, and their current role helps a younger population navigate a cancer diagnosis while grappling with essential life questions of “Who am I?” and “What can I be in this world?” The work is Hightower’s sweet spot. “That population needs additional support because they are navigating so many things at the same time, and then they have a cancer diagnosis and everything gets derailed,” they say. As a nurse and an educator, Hightower pulls on all of their experiences and skills each day. “It’s so human and so science-y at the same time,” they say.

From Job Fair to New Specialty

Thinking they’d like to be a midwife or a labor and delivery nurse and playing with the idea of returning to New York, Hightower says a conversation at a job fair unexpectedly led them to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The hospital didn’t have a labor and delivery department, but they did have a women’s health department, and Hightower eventually began working there with gynecology oncology and breast oncology patients as an inpatient bedside nurse. “But I missed working with a kids,” they say.

A mentorship program led them to pediatric oncology and eventually to their current role where they work with adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 39. The Adolescent and Young Adult Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering supports patients from all angles, and Hightower makes personal connections with their patients and with all the other departments they might need. “We consider what are the supports they need,” they say. “They need counseling, social work, vocational and school support, but also nursing that supports health literacy development and supports social development.”

Helping Patients Through the Cancer Journey

For Hightower, the unease and struggle to find a place in a new situation hits home. “I remember what it’s like to be a new kid and try to make new friends,” they say. “So I see them come in and feel this is so foreign to them and they just want to find someone they can connect with so they aren’t doing this alone,” they say. “It’s the same idea, just a different location.”

Within a specialty that is focused on cancer patients but encompasses a wide age range and all different cancers and treatment modalities, Hightower has found nursing support as a member of the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses (APHON), the professional organization for pediatric hematology/oncology nurses and other pediatric hematology/oncology healthcare professionals. “I can say so many wonderful things [about pediatric hematology/oncology nursing], but at the end of the say it’s really tough,” says Hightower. While nurses celebrate the many successful treatments and healthy patients, they go through real lows as well. “APHON is there to support nurses,” they say and bring together nurses who are driven to advance treatment and quality of life for their patients.

With so many moving pieces to treatment, Hightower says having excellent communication and critical thinking skills is essential. They need to be able to talk with their patients (often either very chatty or very quiet) and help them understand, but also communicate with families and other medical teams. “It’s often saying the same idea in different ways, and it’s a real skill set,” they say because it all has the same goal of supporting the patient and understanding how each step will ensure the best possible care. Hightower must be agile to synthesize all the medical information into words a parent, caregiver, or patient can understand while also working with researchers, labs, and other nurses.

Representation Is Key for Patient Relationships

Hightower is also mindful of how diversity and representation holds a big place in caring for any population, but especially an adolescent and young adult one. “I feel like diversity is my second job,” they say. Hightower says their identities as Black, queer, and nonbinary help inform everything they do with patients.

“It’s important, particularly for patients of color and patients who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ communities, to find someone who can understand them and who can respect them,” Hightower says. “It’s hard to show up as your authentic self, so it’s important for me to show up as a queer person of color and say, ‘I am here and you can be here too. You can be here comfortably and safely. I am here to support you however you show up.'”

Professional Organization Offers Support and Education

Hightower says APHON is an excellent resource for pediatric hematology/oncology nurses. APHON members are dedicated to promoting optimal nursing care for children, adolescents, and young adults with cancer and blood disorders, and their families.

Recent advances in cancer treatment are exciting, says Hightower, particularly in CAR T-cells and in immunotherapy. Members share information and strategies to see what else they can do to integrate into their own practices. Conferences are an excellent opportunity. “It’s bringing minds together around this really important population,” they say, “and figuring out how do we support that nationally.”

Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Blake Lynch, AKA Nurse Blake

Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Blake Lynch, AKA Nurse Blake

Blake Lynch, aka Nurse Blake, loves caring for and helping patients and caring for and helping fellow nurses. As a popular nursing influencer, internationally touring comedian, healthcare advocate, and keynote speaker, Nurse Blake uses humor to bring nurses together.

Working in trauma centers around the country, Nurse Blake started posting original comedy videos aimed at his profession to cope with the stress of his nursing job. His lighthearted videos connect with nurses, nursing students, and healthcare workers worldwide, and he entertains almost 4M followers on social media while lifting healthcare workers across the globe.

But Nurse Blake is about more than comedy.

He always wanted to be a nurse and started working in healthcare as a patient transporter at age 17 and graduated with a BSN in 2014 from UCF in Orlando, Florida.

Advocacy has always been a part of Nurse Blake’s life. During nursing school, he was the President of the Florida Nursing Student Association, and in 2013 he started Banned4Life, to end the permanent FDA gay blood ban, which ultimately contributed to the lifetime ban being lifted in 2015.

Now Nurse Blake uses his online content and comedy shows to advocate for underpaid healthcare workers.

He’s also the creator of NurseCon at Sea, one of the largest and most popular nursing conferences, and the NurseCon App, which provides free continuing nursing education courses, and author of the #1 best-selling children’s book “I Want To Be A Nurse When I Grow Up” just like the nurse from his favorite TV medical drama. Blake learns that it won’t be easy, but if he puts his mind to it, he can become a great nurse.

Nurse Blake is an important nursing leader, and we’re pleased to profile him as part of the Champions of Nursing Diversity Series 2023.

The series highlights healthcare leaders who are prominent figures in their organizations and are making transformational impacts in nursing.

Meet Nurse Blake, a nurse, creator, internationally touring comedian, healthcare advocate, and keynote speaker.meet-a-champion-of-nursing-diversity-nurse-blake

How long have you worked in the nursing field?

I’ve been a nurse for nine years now. I stepped away in early spring 2021.

Why did you become a nurse? 

I knew a hot hospice nurse caring for my grandfather, and I’m like, he’s a hot nurse. I want to be a hot nurse. (Nurse Blake jokes).

My dad’s a respiratory therapist. He’s worked on the night shift for over 30 years. So growing up, he would tell me the coolest stories about him caring for others. So I think that’s what inspired me. I haven’t considered any other profession. I was in the healthcare academy in high school. When I graduated that summer, I was doing prereqs. So it was a no-brainer for me.

Do you miss being a bedside nurse and getting more content for your shows?

Yes. To some extent, people may call me crazy, but I miss the camaraderie of working in that team environment and patient interactions.

I stay up-to-date with all the evidence-based stuff and what’s going on. I get a lot of feedback from nurses who watch my videos, and we get their stories and stuff. Based on my time as a nurse, I have stories for years and years to come because so much can happen in a 12-hour shift, right? Like so many stories and things that can happen in 12 hours, I’ve had that experience multiplied by a few years, so I have endless content.

What are the most important attributes of today’s nursing leaders?

Equality and inclusiveness. Nursing leaders ensure their staff and their patients are safe. Many leaders care about making the higher-ups happy or just looking at a certain number instead of really caring. It’s truly caring about the patients and their staff. I tell nursing leaders that you should treat your staff the same way you want your staff to treat patients. The lack of bedside staff nurses in those leadership roles is the problem. That’s the huge disconnect.

What does being a nursing leader mean to you, and what are you most proud of?

It would be NurseCon at Sea, the nursing conference I have on a cruise ship. Seeing the nurses have their best life and feel so safe and just let loose to have nursing students who are 20 dancing on the dance floor in crazy costumes with a 70-year-old retired nurse. That’s what makes NurseCon at Sea so special. And that’s what makes me the most proud.

What is it like to watch NurseCon at Sea grow to become one of the largest nursing conferences?

It’s cool to see that community grow and thrive. I provide the ship. We have education, but the participants make NurseCon at Sea feel and vibe that it is.

What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?

Staffing, staffing, staffing is the number one issue and affects nurses and patients at the end of the day. But it makes me so happy to see nurses going on strike. And record numbers like they are. Big hospital system striking like they haven’t seen it in decades. It’s inspiring to see nurses coming together over that.

As a nursing leader, how are you working to overcome this challenge?

It’s just giving them a venue and a community to let loose to forget about the stresses of their job. I tell nurses all the time you’re not going to be perfect. You’re not going to get it all done within 12 hours. You’re not going to do it. Just try to be the best nurse you can be. Do your best for your patients, knowing you won’t accomplish it all.

What nursing leader inspires you the most and why?

It was one of my professors. It was Professor Angela Renton. She was one of my professors in health assessment. I remember how she made me feel to this day. She would start every class and come in and say hello, future nurses. And just by saying hello, future nurses made us realize we will get through it. And that one day, we’re going to be nurses, and that she sees as not being lower than her. We’re all in this learning process together on a learning journey. So she’s someone I think about all the time. She made me feel just so warm and so safe with her. I try to take that energy and feeling into my show and NurseCon at Sea. How do I make people feel? How does the show make people feel? How do the people on this cruise feel? 

What do nurses tell you after seeing one of your comedy shows?

I’ve been following them with a hidden camera because we all go through the same thing. They’re not alone. Some nurses say I considered leaving the profession because I’m so stressed out, and they just really needed this night. What’s so cool about my shows is nurses come in party buses. So they come in groups of like 30 and 40. They make t-shirts and posters, and the energy is unbelievable and wild. And again, even at my shows, you got the younger and more experienced nurses of all ages and backgrounds coming together. And that is just, like, so cool. So I think it’s just relatability. I’m telling my stories, how they happened in my life and my years as a nurse, and seeing what others went through is my most common feedback. Like we’re all missing a bladder scanner. Like we’ve all had the patient that’s pulled their flexi seal out.

What inspirational message would you like to share with the next generation of nurses?

Know you have a voice. If there’s ever something you’re passionate about and want to change, do it because if you don’t, who will?

Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Cara Lunsford

Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Cara Lunsford

Cara Lunsford is the VP of Community at Nurse.com, fostering a community where nurses can find peer support, allies, professional opportunities, resources, and education. She’s also the host of Nurse.com’s NurseDot Podcast and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, highlighting a variety of voices within the nursing industry while also speaking to her personal experiences as an RN and founder of HOLLIBLU, a social networking app exclusively for nurses (acquired by Nurse.com in 2022).

Lunsford is an important nursing leader, and we’re pleased to profile her as part of the Champions of Nursing Diversity Series 2023.

The series highlights healthcare leaders who are prominent figures in their organizations and are making transformational impacts in nursing.


Meet Cara Lunsford, RN, CPHON, VP of Community at Nurse.com.

Talk about your role in nursing.

Beginning my career in pediatric oncology, I witnessed firsthand the effects such a stressful job can have on a nurse. I observed my peers experience burnout and abuse on a daily basis. I heard their stories of adversity, trauma, and hope and joy. With my fellow nurses at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), we started the first Supportive Care Committee to ensure nurses had an environment available to help cope with job stress. However, there remained a greater need for resources like this committee at every hospital and nurses throughout healthcare sectors to improve retention and recruiting.

Realizing there was a broader need for a safe and supportive community and the potential technology had to solve this issue, I had the idea to found HOLLIBLU, the first social media network for nurses. The app was designed to provide peer support, professional advice, and connections with other nurses. In 2022, HOLLIBLU was acquired by Nurse.com, where I was brought on as vice president  of community to oversee the Nurse.com app platform. 

To continue amplifying voices within the nursing community, we launched the NurseDot Podcast late last year. I sit down with my nursing peers to discuss their stories, industry trends, and professional growth advice.

How long have you worked in the nursing field?

I have been in nursing for over 15 years, working in the acute setting as a pediatric oncology, home health, and home infusion nurse. Throughout the past five years, I have used my clinical knowledge as a registered nurse (RN) to take on an entrepreneurial role delivering technology solutions to my fellow nurses to help with everyday challenges. Most recently, I have been using my voice and platform in the nursing space to elevate other nurses, fostering a supportive community for nurses of all specialties and settings. 

Why did you become a nurse?

I started my career as a nurse in pediatric oncology back in 2008 at CHLA. Before that, I worked as an American Sign Language interpreter at Cal State Northridge, where I discovered my interest in oncology. For two consecutive semesters, I interpreted the Biology of Cancer class, and as I was listening and interpreting, I became more interested in oncology and the nursing profession in general. Ultimately, I was so intrigued that I was motivated to embark on a career in nursing. From there, I went to Los Angeles County College of Nursing and Allied Health, where I received an Associate of Science degree and became an RN. 

What are the most important attributes of today’s nursing leaders?

Successful nurses and nursing leaders are empathetic, drawing from personal experiences and truly listening to others from different backgrounds. Having navigated the healthcare system as a queer family put me in the patient’s shoes rather than the clinician’s, with which I was very familiar. My wife and I had a child with two HIV+ gay men, and we all continue to co-parent together. To have our son, we had to meet with multiple IVF clinics and experienced professionals who were either unfamiliar with our family situation or had stigmas around HIV and LGBTQIA+ healthcare issues. I understand what it is like to be rejected from care because of the stigma around your sexuality and hurtful preconceived notions. As a queer nurse, it’s important for me to share my experiences with patients and fellow nurses to create a better care environment for everyone and foster the best possible results for all patients, regardless of background.

With this experience as a patient, I can relate to the struggles my patients are going through. Similarly, as a nursing leader, I understand the struggles of my peers. This knowledge allowed me to create an app to best support nurses and care for their needs. To care for patients you do not know, sometimes nurses must put their own mental health and personal life on the back burner, requiring nurses to be extremely caring and understanding. While this means caring for patients of all backgrounds, it also means putting yourself in their shoes.

What does being a nursing leader mean to you, and what are you most proud of?

It’s important to acknowledge that nurse leadership brings a tremendous amount of responsibility. Nurses have faced unprecedented challenges in the past few years, resulting in a staffing crisis. The solutions nurses seek will require that people across healthcare get aligned on the reasons behind this crisis. Nurse leaders are being called to use their voices and platforms to ensure these messages reach the decision-makers within this industry. I had spent most of my career being the squeaky wheel, speaking up even when it was unpopular. I have taken huge personal and professional risks to create a safe space for nurses and bring awareness to their challenges. But with risk came great reward. Nurse.com believed in my mission and vision. In March 2022, they acquired my company, brought our small but mighty team into the Nurse.com family, and are helping us to continue our mission of providing a vibrant community where nurses thrive.

Tell us about your career path and how you ascended to that role.

After years of nursing and founding HOLLIBLU, I was drawn to Nurse.com given its 30+ year legacy. The biggest thing that pushed me to collaborate with the company was its mission, which completely aligned with mine. Nurse.com aims to improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of society and those who care for them. As a nurse, this resonated with me deeply. It is a company I wanted to associate myself with and help build toward this mission by including the app I was so passionate about creating. 

What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the broader public became abruptly aware of nurses’ important role in the healthcare system and their daily challenges. In this post-pandemic world, with severe nursing shortages putting increased pressure on healthcare staff, nurse burnout, and professional stress are incredibly high, not to mention the grief and trauma that comes from caring for patients.  

As a nursing leader, how are you working to overcome this challenge?

Nurses need resources and support to equip them with the skills to deliver better care. The last few years have proven that nursing is one of our society’s most demanding and crucial jobs, so we must do something about it. It is vital to provide nurses with adequate resources and a supportive community to deal with burnout and improve their mental health. Nurses need accessible and effective training to help them advance in their careers and targeted job postings to help them find the best roles that fit their interests and experience. At Nurse.com, we put nurses’ needs first, providing them with a community of peers, reading materials, continuing education courses, and the ability to take control of their career paths. 

What nursing leader inspires you the most and why?

A few nurse leaders come to mind, but I would start with Rebecca Love. Rebecca has been working to empower and elevate the nurse profession, whether it’s through grassroots initiatives, like founding the non-profit SONSIEL (Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Educators, and Leaders) or giving TedTalks about how nurses can drive healthcare innovation. Most recently, Rebecca has set her sights on a significant issue, the insurance reimbursement of nursing services. The Commission for Nurse Reimbursement explores the history of how the rates of nursing services were once set by the nurses themselves and how changes made over 100 years ago has resulted in nurses now being a cost instead of a benefit to hospitals. I just interviewed her on the NurseDot Podcast, and you can listen to that episode here

What inspirational message would you like to share with the next generation of nurses?

Nursing is a marathon and not a sprint. If you want to work in this profession for decades, it is important to prioritize your personal needs, practice professional boundaries, and know when to say “no” or “not right now.” Remember that you are human first. Practicing awareness will help you identify when it’s time to make a change, so don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone and try something new.

Meet the Author of Journal of a Black Queer Nurse

Meet the Author of Journal of a Black Queer Nurse

Britney Daniels, RN, MSN, is a Black queer ER nurse from Chicago who is passionate about social justice and healthcare equity. She’s also the author of Journal of a Black Queer Nurse, a memoir about her experiences navigating the inequities she faced as an ER nurse on the front lines of COVID-19.

Minority Nurse spoke with Daniels to learn more about her memoir and what she hopes readers can learn about what nurses of color experience at work.meet-the-author-of-Journal-of-a-black-queer-nurse

What made you decide to enter nursing, especially in the ER?

I decided to enter nursing after being fired from my job as an ER tech for applying Dermabond to a patient’s laceration. Before being fired, I pushed back against attending school to advance my career. After losing my job, I quickly realized that I should be working to advance my education and professional career. I started my nursing career in the emergency department because I enjoyed seeing patients from different backgrounds of all ages. I did not want to limit myself to any specialty because I craved experience in all body systems.

Can you tell us more about your book, Journal of a Black Queer Nurse? What can readers expect from the memoir?

My book, Journal of a Black Queer Nurse, was born from years of journaling during and after ER shifts. It was important for others to view and understand my perspective on healthcare. The intersection of my identities gives me a unique perspective and experience with patient and healthcare professional interactions. Readers can expect to walk in my shoes throughout the book and truly understand the implications of being a racial and sexual minority in medicine.

How did it feel to publish your memoir about your experience navigating the COVID-19 pandemic as a Black queer nurse?

Publishing this memoir felt simultaneously liberating and nerve-wracking. The COVID-19 pandemic changed how we, as nurses, experienced our day-to-day workflow. At the same time, racial injustices and violence against Black people in the United States wore me down psychologically. Being able to share the stories that impacted my life so deeply felt healing and gave me hope that others would realize the importance of their unique experiences.

How has it felt navigating the pandemic? Did you feel like you had more pressures and responsibilities from your coworkers as a nurse of color?

I felt hypersensitive and hyperaware of everything happening around me. As a nurse, I feared contracting COVID-19 and being unable to work. As a Black woman, I was terrified of being pulled over or harmed outside of work because of my skin color. My coworkers during the pandemic were wonderful for the most part. I was surrounded by people who cared about me, valued my work, and respected me. However, a few coworkers made my job much more difficult during the pandemic by refusing to communicate or help me in difficult situations. It was a difficult time for so many reasons. George Floyd was on my mind, Breonna Taylor and the disproportionate number of people of color dying from COVID-19.

In your book’s synopsis, you gave your extra clothes to a homeless man during a shift. Can you tell me more about that?

I gave my clothing to patients on many occasions. Most were houseless, but some were in situations where their clothes were cut off for a rapid assessment. While working in California, I realized how drastic the wealth gap was. I realized that most people not part of a multigenerational household, multiple income households, or born into money could not afford to live comfortably in California. I quickly realized how fortunate and privileged I was as a travel nurse to afford housing, a car, and food. My responsibility as a nurse does not end when a patient’s symptoms are cured. My job as a nurse is to ensure the best possible outcomes for each individual I encounter. So if someone departs the hospital and does not have proper clothing, and the hospital does not have their size, I will give them my clothing every single time.

If you could have readers take one piece of advice from your book, what would it be?

It would be to lead with love in everything you do. In every encounter, in every situation. If you open your heart and mind to other people’s stories, you will better understand the why behind everything they do and say. We all have a story. And every single story matters. Yours too.

After going through the experiences in your book, do you have a new outlook on life? How does your life look different (if at all?)

I continue to go through these experiences to this day. Unfortunately, the world is still full of racist, homophobic, sexist individuals who need medical care. However, writing my book has started difficult and uncomfortable conversations that must be had. These conversations will be life-changing.

Where can readers buy your book?

My book is available for purchase at all major bookstores. It is also available through my amazing publisher, Common Notions.

To learn more about Daniels and her memoir, visit her website, or connect with her on Instagram or Twitter.

LGBTQIA+ Community Nursing Representation Is Essential

LGBTQIA+ Community Nursing Representation Is Essential

As LGBTQIA+ nurses celebrate June’s Pride Month, they continue to advocate for  accessible and safe care for the LGBTQIA+ community and for a nursing workforce that represents the populations they serve.

Jeff Day, DNP, AGPCNP-BC, CNEcl, who is chair of the nursing section of GLMA and a medical provider at Callen-Lorde a New York City-based community health center and a global leader in LGBTQIA+ healthcare, says a diverse nursing workforce is essential to good patient care, but it also makes an impact on nurses who want to feel their work is meaningful.

Day, who began his nursing career in 1990 and eventually earned his DNP in 2015, says LGBTQIA+ nurses offer a common link to their patients in the LGBTQIA+ community.

“I believe it’s important to have LGBTQIA+ nurses in the workforce to offer representation to LGBTQIA+ patients who they are taking care of,” says Day. “LGBTQIA+ patients who are dealing with the disparities all day every day and especially in healthcare deserve a soft place to land and that’s not always the case in healthcare. If we can get good representation in a healthcare settings, LGBTQIA+ patients will be more comfortable in accessing care.”

A New Journey

A recent career change brought Day out of academia and into direct primary healthcare with patients. While teaching as a full-time assistant clinical professor at NYU’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing, he spent one day a week in clinical work in post-surgical transgender care, and the experience inspired him to take a new path.

“I always had an eye toward teaching,” he says, and he began teaching full time in 2016. But the clinical work pulled him. “I fell in love with that population, and I knew I wanted to work in some way with them,” he says. “I thought full-time work would be wise. It’s difficult when you are working one day a week to gain any traction, and if I am really going to deliver expert care to not only that population, but to all the other LGBTQIA+ patients there, I thought full time would be the right thing to do. And it is extremely rewarding.”

Day says his current role in primary care means visits with patients are fairly short, but they also offer opportunities to build important connections. For patients who come for repeat visits for gender-affirming hormones, for example, Day says he’s able to see direct results from the acceptance offered at Callen-Lorde. “There is a trust and comfort. There’s an empathy built in that you don’t necessarily find in other healthcare settings,” he says.

Building a Comprehensive Nursing Curriculum

Eventually, Day sees himself returning to academia where he could continue to build LGBTQIA+ curriculum content. Day was able to start an LGBTQIA+ health elective course while teaching at Meyers, but he says the tendency for a nursing curriculum in general is to present information that will be on the board exams and not always the information that students will necessarily encounter in populations when they are nurses. “The boards haven’t caught up with the need for LGBTQ content,” he says.

That information is crucial for future nurses to provide high-quality care and understand nuances in LGBTQIA+ healthcare. Even at Callen-Lorde, a healthcare center known for LGBTQIA+ healthcare, patients aren’t always immediately comfortable.. “There’s so much medical mistrust,” says Day. “Patients have been burned or turned away from places so that even if someone comes to a place known for its care, there’s still mistrust. But when you see that overcome, that’s really powerful.”

That mistrust can permeate a nurse’s day in other ways, he says, and it’s up to nurses to recognize when it poses a challenge so they can take steps overcome it. As a new nurse, Day says he could get caught up in a patient’s anger or wariness and take it personally. With years of experience behind him, he says he now often uses an apology to diffuse a situation. “Even if I’m not the person causing the upset, like if we are running late, the willingness to apologize goes a long way. I don’t think that’s something people see in healthcare.”

And Day says it’s important for nurses to be aware of disparities so they can advocate for patients. If a colleague misgenders a patient, the nurse is the one who should offer a correction, he says. “It’s not up to the patient,” he says, “They’re here to get care.”

Focus on Hope

With so much upheaval in some areas of the world around LGBTQIA+ rights, Day says perspective is essential. “I think it’s important for nurses to not get discouraged,” Day says. “With some pockets of the nation, it looks bleak, but we’ve seen the pendulum swing back and forth before. I pray the same happens with trans rights and trans healthcare. I want to remain hopeful.”

As LGBTQIA+ nurses continue to provide needed care and advocate for patients, they offer hope in their work. The common experiences between LGBTQIA+ nurses and patients make for authentic connections that are felt on both sides, says Day.

“Part of what makes an encounter more comfortable is a shared language which comes in a community,” says Day. “It’s affirming to walk in to a provider’s office and have them speak the same language.” And Day says healthcare providers who aren’t part of the LGBTQIA+ community absolutely can take good care of patients, but there’s an undeniable layer of comfort when that common experience is present. He notes, “There’s something extra special about caring for someone from your own community.”

Chatting with Nurse Blake, RN and Most Popular Nurse Advocate on SM: Part 3

Chatting with Nurse Blake, RN and Most Popular Nurse Advocate on SM: Part 3

Have you read Part 1 and Part 2 of our interview with popular nurse influencer and nursing advocate Nurse Blake? Catch up before reading Part 3.

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!

Tell me a little bit about your shows. You had done some smaller ones, but how did it all progress?

It was just trying it out, honestly. I was like, “People like my videos. Maybe I’ll do a show.” I asked people, if I did a show, vote for your city. I think we had 40,000 votes. I thought, “Holy crap! People really want to see a show.” I’m like, oh my god, I’m going to put a show together. What would that even look like? And you know, people came out. First, I did five shows. Then I did 10, then we scaled up and did, like, 50, and they all sold out. I was only supposed to do 14 shows, but those all sold out, so I’m doing 50 again.

I’m lucky enough to be repped by CAA. They’re so awesome, you know? They work with me on what venues I want. I love to keep my ticket prices at a pretty good rate so even nursing students can come.

It’s a one-person show. It is just me. It’s a mix of stand-up but with skits and videos that I show that people have never seen before. I now break it up into three parts–my life growing up, nursing school, and nursing. It goes with my journey and my flow.

One of the other reasons I decided to do my show is that I was speaking at many nursing conventions at nursing conferences and hospitals. They wanted to tell me what I could or couldn’t and what I should say.

And I was like, you know what? I’m a nurse. I don’t advocate for these hospitals. I’m a nurse. I advocate for the nurses. So in my show, I say what I want to say. I feel like I could be vulnerable and share the good and bad that the nurses go through.

But at the end of the day, while it’s funny, and I poke fun at many things, I leave nurses feeling inspired, making them realize that they’re not alone.

What’s cool about my show is that I have audience members who are 18 or 19, to nurses who have been nurses for over 60 years. I have families come–different generations, where the grandma was a nurse, then the daughter, and now a grandson. I have whole units that come–groups of 30, and they make t-shirts.

Listen, no matter which age/specialty you are, we could all get in a room and laugh, right? We could all feel the sense of community and love because I know what the hard days are like. I know what it’s like to have a shitty shift, and you’re wondering, “Is nursing really for me?”

And just knowing that you’re not alone is powerful and keeps you going. So that’s what I like to show through my performances.

What have you learned from your nursing career trajectory?

I learned in just working with patients that you only live once. You can never be perfect, especially in this profession, and as a nurse, you have to do something that you really love. So, never, ever feel like you’re stuck anywhere. If you’re at a point you don’t like or dread waking up or going to that shift, switch it up.

We’re critical thinkers and innovators, so you should do that with your job and career. Mix it up. I’ve also learned to take risks and have fun, not take life so seriously, and live in the moment, you know?

After every show, when the theaters are empty and clear, I sit alone on the stage and think about everyone who came. We know our patients’ stories but often don’t know the stories of our co-workers and nurses. So, I try to get to know where nurses come from, who they are as individuals, and where they’re going because I think so many times, we look at each other like co-workers, but at the end of the day, we’re also patients in our way.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

Oh, that’s a good question. One, that my husband’s 6’7.” And that I have anxiety and depression. I take my Wellbutrin in the morning. I take my Lexapro in the evening.

Many people see me and have misconceptions about people who have a presence online. Because you only see us when we post, right? I try and get raw and real. You see that from me when I’m in my show, and I share. No one knows I’ve ever had a panic attack before unless you’ve seen my show or that I’ve had multiple panic attacks. That’s what would surprise people maybe the most.

Is there anything I haven’t talked with you about that you think is important for our nurse readers to know?

Even though I have this comedy and humor platform, I balance that out with my advocacy. I launched a petition that got over half a million signatures to have organizations like the Joint Commission help us focus on safe staffing. I advocate for healthier work environments for nurses. I know we all hear the term “Nurses eat their young,” so I came out with the campaign “Nurses Support Their Young.” So as much as I love comedy, as much as I love doing shows, I also love advocacy work.

Why do you like doing what you’re doing so much? How do you think you’re making a difference as a nurse advocate?

I felt through nursing school that to make a difference, you had to have a master’s degree, have all these fancy letters behind your name, or go back to school to get your nurse practitioner. And when I was in nursing school back in 2013, I was denied being able to donate blood because I’m gay.

So, I started a campaign called Band4Life. I decided that I would help get the FDA to end its lifetime ban on gay males from donating blood. But I also worked as a patient care tech and went through nursing school. So, I thought that the FDA wouldn’t listen to me. But I started this campaign, shook it up with the FDA, and in December 2015, they ended the lifetime ban.

And that’s when I realized the power I had just as a nursing student. So many people think, “I’m just a nurse, or I just have my RN, or I just have my bachelor’s, or whatever.” But no matter where you are within your nursing journey, you have the power to create change. So, I encourage nurses to use their voices and not be scared. Because if you see a problem, if you don’t try to change it or fix it, who is?

Be sure to catch Nurse Blake’s PTO Comedy Tour throughout the U.S. and select cities in Australia.