International Nurses Day on May 12 honors nurses worldwide with a day of celebration for all the work they do to care for patients, people in their communities, and those they know and love.
The past year has been one of tumult and exhaustion for nurses as the COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges and conditions that today’s nurses never worked through before. As Minority Nurse honors nurses around the world today, we thought hearing from a student nurse—one on the brink of starting a career path that has seen so much pain and joy in the past year—would give a perspective of the next generation of nurses on International Nurses Day 2021.
Twenty-year-old Bisola Ariyo is this year’s valedictorian for Howard University’s College of Nursing Class of 2021. Her work as a nursing student took on new meaning in the past year, she says, and only amplified the determination she’s always had to excel as a nurse.
As a student in Lagos, Nigeria, Ariyo earned a full scholarship to Howard University—where she dreamed of going. Originally, she (and her parents) thought she was going to pursue a med school track, but she realized her love of biology was suited for a different path.
“I did my first internship and my first clinical and I experienced that bedside, hands-on work,” she says. “Doctors don’t do that. Nurses build relationships and it’s a big responsibility when you think you’re the only advocate for this patient. They look to you for all sorts of things. It made me admire nurses, and I wanted to be just like them.”
Throughout her college years, her dedication never wavered and her scholarship was something she used as a guiding light. “I wanted to come here and be everything I was expected to be,” she says, noting that she’s a recent an inductee of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. “It drives everything I do. I wanted to make my parents proud and make myself proud.”
As the pandemic swept through the world during her junior year, Ariyo says everything changed. During those early days, her father became ill and while his illness was not related to COVID, it put her in a deeply empathetic place. “It gave me an idea of what people were going through in the pandemic,” she says. Her parents were far away and the feeling deeply unsettled her.
When her family saw the work she was doing thorough the pandemic, it changed their perspective. Hearing about Ariyo’s 12-hours shifts, her parents were concerned about her safety and if she had enough PPE. They understood the gravity of her work. “Now my mom tells everyone her daughter is a nurse,” Ariyo says. “Before that, she thought doctors were the most prestigious. She has the most respect for nurses now.”
This spring, when she found herself working at a vaccine clinic and giving so many shots every day, she says she was grateful. “I was vaccinating people who were so thankful to get the vaccine and who would now get to see their grandmothers or their friends,” she says. “I never envisioned giving vaccines all day was something I would ever be doing, but I hope to take that experience with me.”
Ariyo decided on her specialty path after a summer externship at Duke University Hospital Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where she shadowed a nurse and performed pre-op and post-op care of children with congenital heart defects. She’s decided to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. “Every day was a joy,” she says of the experience. Whether she was seeing children get better or enduring the sadness when they didn’t, Ariyo says working with children was profoundly moving. “They are so resilient,” she says of children. “Being part of that every day made me realize that is what I want to do. And that is the patient population I want to serve.”
As Ariyo gained additional work, she also saw how crucial it is for the nursing industry to attract more minority nurses. “Nursing is definitely impacted by how representation matters to patient care,” she says. While on a post-Hurricane Maria alternative spring break program with Howard University in Puerto Rico, Ariyo says she noticed how a language barrier or residents’ general mistrust of the healthcare system influenced care. “The Black or brown people or people of color who don’t trust the healthcare system are looking for the Black person in the room because that’s the person that looks like them,” she says. “There’s a responsibility for me and a trust they have in me because I look like them.” The experience even gave rise to new goal—learning Spanish. “I felt bad when there was no interpreter in the room,” Ariyo says. “Minority nurses are so important.”
Being part of Howard University’s nursing school gives Ariyo deep pride. She has taken advantage of every opportunity and has worked as a mentor at an afterschool program; was a HU Geriatrics Lab student researcher on the Alzheimer’s research team; and is a member of the Comprehensive Medical Mentoring Program (CMMP) and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS).
Although she knows the work has been challenging, she sees herself reflected in her fellow graduates on this International Nurses Day. “My class is 42 strong incredible Black women,” preparing for a nursing career, she says. “I feel brave because I see all the other people in my class as brave as I am. And despite how much social unrest there has been, we can take solace in this future generation. It is a time for hope.”
This week’s National School Nurse Day (May 12) honors the tireless and complex work of school nurses—all of whom cared for students thorough a constantly changing year that veered between in-person, remote, and a hybrid of both.
I had a wonderful community health nursing rotation within my undergraduate nursing coursework that always stuck with me. I worked on a trauma unit after earning my BSN, and often thought back to that course and the role of a public health nurse. I remember calling my high school nurse on one of my days off and asking her “what do I have to do to become a school nurse?” I made the decision to follow my passion after that phone call and haven’t looked back since.
How has your job changed in the last year and with all the ramifications from the pandemic?
School nurses have always answered the call to serve during times of crisis. What I know for sure about school nursing is that we are each demonstrating how essential the role of a school nurse is to the health, safety, and well-being of students, staff, and the communities across the state of Illinois.
School nurses were at the frontlines before stay-at-home orders went into effect last year; over the summer many of us answered the call to action and donated PPE to our colleagues, volunteered at COVID testing sites, donated blood, served on various state taskforces, and supported our students by delivering meals. We are now serving in the tremendous role as frontline healthcare providers mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in our schools by isolating, contact tracing, ensuring IDPH COVID-19 Exclusion Guidelines, and case management amongst many other things.
We continue to amplify our voices at the local, state, and national level, all the while working together to address the health inequities faced by so many of our students and families that have only magnified over these past several months.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
What I enjoy most about my career in school nursing is the continuity of care that I’m able to offer my students throughout their high school experience. I love being a school nurse, and I encourage everyone reading this to follow their passion and find your place to thrive. I also enjoy being an advocate for my profession and teaching. I’ve been teaching for over seven years now, and it fulfills my other passion of educating the next generation of nurse leaders.
School nurses’ jobs are incredibly complex and you care for kids with many health conditions. What do you wish people knew about your role?
I wish people knew how vital our role is and that we are public health experts. I have a vision that every child in the U.S. will one day have access to a full-time certified school nurse. Every child deserves that access and it should not be determined by their zip code.
Can you give us an example of your work in educating the public on issues that are relevant right now?
In partnership with the COVID Collaborative, the Ad Council launched a historic public communications effort to educate the public about the COVID-19 vaccines. I was chosen to participate in these messages for healthcare professionals nationwide! The videos featured Dr. Anthony Fauci and other healthcare experts. We explained the rollout and administration of COVID-19 vaccinations and discussed how to navigate questions and conversations with patients.
At the local level, I am leading a science-first public health campaign through IASN by calling all Illinois school nurses to share their COVID-19 vaccine photos and videos by and using the hashtag #VaxUpIL and #IASNVaxUp to show how safe and important it is to get vaccinated. This campaign will also cover topics like masking, testing, vaccinations, and will address vaccine hesitancy. I’m designing the messages with diversity and inclusion in mind to maximize their reach and effectiveness.
To ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines we must consider the social determinants of health that have increased the prevalence of COVID-19 within BIPOC communities. The national vaccination effort is one of the greatest operational challenges America has ever faced, and this is with existing underfunded public health programs across the country. I’m proud to be doing my part in this effort.
Barrera serves on the legislative committee and most recently as an expert panel member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of the American Nurses Association-Illinois. She holds a chair elect position within the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Nursing Section, is an active representative of Hispanic nurses on the Nursing Coalition on Climate Change and Health, and is an active member of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE). Barrera has been recognized for her leadership and community work by several organizations, both locally and nationally and most recently was named a 2020 Pinnacle Nurse Leader in Illinois. She is committed to being a lifelong learner and continues her efforts in improving child health outcomes in our most vulnerable populations through her current practice, advocacy, and teaching.
Sometimes nurses start down one career path and life throws a curveball. One of the many benefits professional nurses have is being able to pivot and change their career focus when needed.
For Joel Myers FNP, CSPI, a career as a poison control nurse happened “completely by accident,” she says. “I injured my knee in nursing school, and I couldn’t do the heavy lifting. I had to steer toward things that didn’t involve heavy lifting because you can’t be in code and have your knee buckle.”
Purely by chance, Myers was at a dinner party and a friend suggested the path of a poison control nurse. She took a chance with no poison control experience but a commitment to a lifelong nursing path. She moved into a grad school track and worked part time at a poison control center in Philadelphia. Working for primary care and family care practices came next, and then Myers switched to poison control full time where she now works the night shift.
Although Myers has been a poison control nurse for decades, she says the critical thinking and continual learning she does for her work keeps her job fresh. “The amount I have learned on the job is astounding,” she says, “and there are so many things I didn’t learn in school.”
As a poison control nurse, Myers appreciates the close collaboration she has with the rest of her team whether that’s the emergency department physician calling, the physician doing a toxicology fellowship, or pharmacists. “It’s very satisfying and gratifying,” she says. “The toxicology fellows trust us to talk to the public and are responsive to us. The nurses and pharmacists who are on the phone help each other. It’s a nice atmosphere.”
And the collaboration helps manage patient levels in the ED. Of the 100 or so calls poison control gets in a day, 25 to 30 are coming from staff at healthcare facilities, she says. And she sees the work of poison control as helping keep the other 70 or 80 people from rushing to the hospital and overwhelming ED staff when it’s not necessary.
In many cases, the work is pioneering. Poison control nurses frequently work with unknown incidents. “A lot of what we do is discovered after the process,” she says. For instance, a patient may come in from an overdose, but may have other medical conditions that come into play. Or a call comes in and involve a new drug that there’s little poison control information for. “Data collection is an important aspect of this job,” Myers says, and with centers working through the American Association of Poison Control Centers, like Myers’s center does, the extensive network is extremely helpful.
Building on Layers of Knowledge
Because of the rapid pace of pharmacology advances and development and the seemingly infinite combinations of medical conditions people can present with, Myers makes a point to educate herself on developments in areas that aren’t directly poison control. She constantly learns about primary care, general medicine, and even ICU medicine for non-ICU professionals.
“I need to know what’s going on when we get calls from healthcare facilities,” she says. “If I get a call from a doctor in intensive care and I don’t know anything about that setting, that difficult.” Myers says nurses interested in poison control will benefit from getting some real experience on the floor so they develop an understanding of how units work. That work experience also fine tunes important skills related to history taking and communication with patients—both essential as a poison control nurse.
Even with the many complicated calls, Myers says some calls to poison control centers are just soothing parents whose child ate dirt, crayons, or bugs, she says with a laugh. “A hundred years ago, people would run next door to ask mom what to do and people don’t have that anymore,” she says.
Before the pandemic hit, many poison control call centers operated from an area within a hospital, although many poison control nurses can work from home. That alleviates any physical demands, especially for nurses who have sustained an injury that prevents them from some of the more physical aspects of nursing work. Myers’s team began working from home a year before the pandemic. As she is based in Lowell, Massachusetts, the frequent snowstorms can cause travel problems for nurses getting to work, so the shift to home eliminated that problem.
And like any other nursing shift, Myers never knows what the hours will bring. “There’s no way to tell what will happen,” she says. “There are certain patterns to things. Medical errors happen first thing in the morning or at night. Kids get into stuff in the late afternoon. Over the holidays, it’s relatives visiting with medication and kids get into a suitcase and getting ahold of pills.” Then there’s the Christmas trees and wrapping paper at Christmas time, glow sticks at Halloween and New Year’s.
Calm Is Key
But whatever the call, Myers has to have the same calm, focused manner people who call poison control depend on. “People are in a panic,” she says. “It’s like calling 911 because something is going on.” She has learned, however, that getting the story is key. “People need to hear something three times before they really hear it,” she says. So when asking what happened, there’s a lot of whittling down information. When a parent calls and is frantic because their toddler downed a bottle of bleach, Myers says it takes many questions to get the actual story—that the child got into the recycling and put an empty bottle to their mouth and possibly ingested a bit of bleach, but not a gallon. “Cutting through that is difficult and takes finessing,” she says. “They can’t show me over the phone, so you have to focus in on what’s important. Those communication skills are more difficult to learn than the pharmacology.”
The past year has been tough on poison control staff and on the medical staff they work so closely with. “Kids are having a hard time with the pandemic and the number of suicide attempts has skyrocketed,” she says. And that can impact the doctors who call her who may have seen their tenth overdose of the night and are stressed.
Myers acknowledges that burnout as a poison control nurse happens. “Sometimes there’s the feeling like nothing I am doing is helping and that things aren’t getting better,” she says. But then she hears the gratitude in callers’ voices, gets a genuine thank you from them, and realizes how many people she can direct safely from the emergency departments and she realizes her work makes a big difference.
Transplant nurses celebrate their specialty this week and raise awareness for the specific area of nursing during this year’s Transplant Nurses Week, April 26 through May 3.
Transplant nurses help patients throughout the donation, surgical, recovery, or lifelong maintenance stages of tissue and organ transplants. With what is generally a long process that could begin with a patient’s end-stage disease and the need for a transplant to the successful long-term recovery of living organ donors and organ transplant recipients, transplant nurses develop close relationships with their patients.
Transplant nurses will care for all ages of patients and for people in all stages of health. They could be caring for a healthy individual donating an organ or a patient who is significantly ill and waiting for a donation. They will work with tissues and organs that can come from living and deceased donors and will navigate the emotional complexities that come with all donation stories.
As patients begin the complex process of preparing for transplantation, nurses will serve as excellent resources of information, education, and compassion for patients and families. A transplant nurse will help patients prepare physically for surgery, will be present for the surgery, will assist in their recovery in the hospital, and then will help them coordinate care for their return home. They will be able to work with patients to show them how to take care of any wounds, use any necessary equipment, and will explain some of the symptoms or changes they need to watch for and report that could signal organ rejection or an infection.
If you’re thinking of becoming a transplant nurse, the path begins with the general experience that many other nurses pursue on the way to a specialty. You’ll need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing (when you’re looking for employment, you might find that some organizations may accept an associate’s degree and others may require a master’s degree). Upon completion of your degree program, you’ll take the NCLEX to become qualified as a registered nurse. Prospective transplant nurses will want to work for at least two years in nursing with at least one year of that time working directly with organ transplant units.
Once you’ve secured a position in the field, you’ll spend time gaining experience and working on varied cases before you take the next important step to certification. Although certification isn’t required, it is valuable for a nurse to provide the best care possible and to continue to improve as a practicing nurse. Although nurses sometimes worry they won’t pass a certification exam—and some even fail to pursue the path because of that worry—remember a certification exam in your specialty is a focused test. You’ll be taking an exam on the techniques and practices that are generally part of your everyday routine. You’ll need to study, but you won’t be tested on obscure details of another nursing practice.
Nurses in this specialty have access to several professional organizations where they can build strong networks, further their education with certifications, reflect on the profession with others, and influence policy that could impact transplant nurses and their patients.
The International Transplant Nurses Society (check out the ITNS Facebook page), sponsors of Transplant Nurses Week, offers a way to connect with other professionals with members across the globe. Even if they are based in the United States, nurses might want to check out the resources of the Australia-based Transplant Nurses’ Association. And NATCO, the Organization for Transplant and Donation Professionals, is a helpful resource for nurses wishing to find out more about research, professional training, and professional opportunities.
As a transplant nurse, you’ll be part of a team that is helping donors and recipients manage the process with the best possible outcomes. Your team could include everything from surgeons to social workers, and your input will be invaluable as you advocate for your patients.
This is a challenging and rewarding area of nursing. Use this week to spread awareness about all transplant nurses do.
The April 12 celebration of Radiologic and Imaging Nurses Day (also known as Radiology Nurses Day) honors nurses who specialize in areas of radiology nursing. Sponsored by the Association for Radiologic and Imaging Nursing (ARIN), this event helps raise awareness of this role and offers an opportunity for nurses to celebrate their accomplishments in this fast-paced, complex field.
Minority Nurse recently interviewed Martha M Manning BSN, RN CRN, and president of NEC-ARIN 2020-21, the New England chapter of ARIN to find out more about this nursing specialty.
What led you to your career as a radiology nurse?
My mother was a nurse and loved it. It was a career she chose to give up to raise her family of nine children but she kept up with her nursing journals and her colleagues still in the field. She always loved it. I believe nursing is a gift and helping people was a driving force in becoming a nurse for me. I graduated in 1984 from Middlesex Community College with an associate’s in nursing. I began my career at Lowell General Hospital in 1985 and started in the Radiology department in 1997. I earned my bachelor’s of science in nursing from Rivier University in 1995. Earning my degree has equipped me to be a better nurse. After all of those years and all of the experience, I had I still had things to learn.
Please tell me a little about the diversity on your team and why that’s important for your team and your patients.
I began as one of the first nurses in radiology. I was floated down from our surgical day care unit and saw a need for nursing presence. Joint Commission was noticing radiology departments and the need for continued nursing care for inpatients in the area. I fell in love with the people of radiology, the work they did and have never looked back.
As we expanded from a team of one to a team of ten we’ve organically become more diverse through our focus on providing the best patient care. Our hiring is aimed at providing an excellent patient experience, which has naturally led to diversity in experiences, backgrounds, races, ethnicity, and gender. Our diverse and well-rounded team is an outcome of our process of hiring the best candidates to serve our patients.
It sounds like nurses need experience in varied areas before they take on a role as an imaging nurse. What are some of the complexities imaging nurse’s work with and how does prior experience prepare nurses for this work?
Interventional radiology is an extraordinary field, and imaging nursing is growing with it. The acuity of patients that are on the procedural table now requires an experienced critical care nurses education and background.
The team can be called in to stop bleeding from a hemorrhaging splenic arterial bleed or a post-partum hemorrhage. Everyone needs to know their role, critical and accurate nursing assessments are vital to the success of the cases. It takes time to develop cardiac rhythm and hemodynamic monitoring skills and assessments that need to be second language to the IR nurse. Compassion is so important too! Consensus on hiring is important to our culture of respect and professionalism.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I am currently the clinical manager of the IR and imaging nurses at Lowell General Hospital. I do love making a difference. Sometimes it’s with patients and now it’s often with staff, too. Good management makes for a good team. Mutual respect enables us to practice in an environment that supports growth and looks for opportunity to improve.
How has your involvement with NEC-ARIN helped you professionally and personally?
Yes. I believe membership to a local or national organization as well as certification in your specialty improves professional practice. Position statements, scope, and standards of practice are important pieces of our growing practice.
You will find IR and imaging nurses in every hospital today. We are in IR suites, in radiology waiting rooms, CT rooms, and US. We are here to support the radiology departments and the inpatient nurses who send their patients from their rooms for procedures and exams. We comfort, educate, and assess people of all ages and background…and we love what we do!