Sometimes the biggest inspirations come in the smallest packages.
For New Orleans-based Dr. Scharmaine Baker, NP, her young daughter served as a catalyst for her new book series, Nola the Nurse. The series will follow Nola, a very young African American nurse practitioner, as she makes house calls for her friends’ baby dolls and encounters new cultures and foods along the way.
“I was looking for stories for my daughter who was then about 15 months old,” says Dr. Baker of her now 5-year-old daughter. “And I was looking for African American nurses or nurses of color who weren’t necessarily African American. Specifically I was looking for nurse practitioners.” The findings were pretty slim. Dr. Baker found a handful of books about nurses and only one with an African American as the main character. “It was unbelievable,” she says. “I didn’t expect to see that.”
So Dr. Baker, always interested in creative writing, decided to write about a little girl who wants to grow up to be a nurse practitioner like her mom. Nola’s name is, of course, a nod to her city and her work helps her gain cultural understanding as she heals the baby dolls of her friends. “This has been fun,” Dr. Baker says. “I’d really like [readers] to think they can be a nurse practitioner or whatever they want to be when they read these books.”
The stories come from Dr. Baker’s own varied nursing career. “I wanted to draw on what I see when I make a house call to provide primary care,” she says. Dr. Baker, who spent years as a house call NP, says the experience teaches nurse practitioners to expect the unexpected.
In Nola’s case, that is all the different cultural experiences she has while taking care of the baby dolls. To highlight the cultures, Dr. Baker includes a traditional recipe from whatever culture the family is from. In one book, the family from Kenya serves matoki and the book includes a recipe for it as well. “I picked cultures that intrigue me and that I would eventually want to visit,” says Dr. Baker. So far, Nola is set to visit Kenya, India, Mexico, France, and Japan. “They are cultures to me that are flavorful,” says Dr. Baker.
Although Dr. Baker did plan to number the series in order, she decided to publish a special edition this year in honor of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. “Nola the Nurse Remembers Hurricane Katrina” will be released later this summer in honor of an event that changed the lives of so many. “Nola is too young, so she is remembering the story as it told to her by her mom,” says Dr. Baker.
The memories, of course, are based on her own experiences. Dr. Baker, who had just set up an office in New Orleans when the hurricane hit, says nurse practitioners were instrumental in the recovery of the city. “It was the most emotional work for me,” she says remembering how one house call in the ravaged city would turn into seeing neighbors, relatives, and friends of a patient as well.
The stories interwoven in the Nola series reflect all the patients Dr. Baker has seen but slants the stories for children. Culture and tradition are essential, but so are all the different ways people adapt to their lives. Some children will dress in traditional cultural clothes and another will use a wheelchair.
“Everyone is accepted no matter what they wear and what they use,” says Dr. Baker. “They are still kids and that’s the point.”