Reflecting on Nurses Week: What Would Florence Think?

Reflecting on Nurses Week: What Would Florence Think?

Nurses Week occurs every year during the second week of May, and much fanfare is made of the pizza parties, tote bags, water bottles, and signs proclaiming heroes work here.”reflecting-on-nurses-week-what-would-florence-think

If we want to be more thoughtful and reflective about the phenomenon of National Nurses Week, theres much more to this annual moment of recognition than these familiar superficial trappings.

And since Nurses Week is built around the celebration of Florence Nightingales birthday (May 12, 1820), its appropriate to wonder what the veritable godmother of modern nursing would think of how we do (or dont) celebrate our profession.

What Would Florence Think?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) has chosen the theme Nurses Make the Difference” for the 2024 celebration. While not altogether original or overly inspiring, we can all agree that nurses make a difference in patient care, research, entrepreneurship, academia, technology, and other areas of endeavor.

Would Ms. Nightingale agree that nurses make a difference? She certainly would, and I would venture that she would have much to say about how that statement rings true. In her time, nurses were purveyors of comfort, cleanliness in the form of improved sanitation and hygiene, and the carrying out of physicians’ orders in caring for the infirm, the injured, and the dying.

In Nightingales theory, nurses aimed to ensure that patients were cared for in a manner that allowed nature to intervene in the interest of their health (e.g., the healing of wounds, the resolution of infection, etc.). If she saw nursing as the activities that promote health which occurs in any caregiving situation,” nurses make a difference by assuring patients are cared for in a way that maximizes their healing potential. And if, as can be asserted, Nightingales theory sees illness as the absence of comfort,” nurses’ ability to provide comfort can make all the difference in the world.

Theres no doubt that Ms. Nightingale would agree that nurses’ ability to provide positive interventions in the interest of patients’ healing is a central mission of the profession. However, what would she think of how we recognize nurses for their efforts during the annual celebration of her birthday?

In Nightingales day, there were no tote bags or water bottles bearing the hospital logo, nor were there pizza parties, greeting cards, and banners hung over hospital entrances. While its all conjecture on our part, one might hope she would look down upon such superficial acknowledgments of nursesworth.

Even though Nightingale was a revolutionary, out-of-the-box thinker as a Victorian woman, she might still be significantly shocked at the wages nurses command in the 21st century. She would also likely be shocked by the salaries earned by hospital CEOs, let alone the power of the insurance industry.

As a brilliant and forward-thinking woman, Nightingale would be likely quick to understand that womens place in 21st-century post-industrial society has dramatically evolved since her time, and one could imagine that she would be wholly supportive of nurses receiving increases in salary, benefits, and other forms of recognition that demonstrate acknowledgment of their value as healthcare professionals. Plainly stated, Nightingale might be heard to remark, Give those nurses a substantial raise — they deserve it.”

Reflecting on Nurses Week

Some hard-working nurses will likely appreciate an employer’s gestures during Nurses Week through food, gifts, and banners expressing gratitude for their contributions.

That said, salary increases, improved benefits, tuition and certification reimbursement, and other support for nurse professional development would likely be much more well-received. Improvements in staffing, protections against workplace violence, and updated technologies that truly make our work easier would also likely be much more well-received.

Nurses make a difference, and the satisfaction of a job well done can go far in creating ones personal sense of self-worth, especially when coupled with patients’ and colleagues’ respect.

Nurses Week is a moment to pause for the cause and reflect on our value in the scheme of things. Tote bags and pizza aside, our works true value provides meaning, and Nightingale knew this too well.

What would Nightingale think? She would think that 21st-century nurses have greatly advanced the profession. She might also remind us that what we feel in our hearts—and the thoughts we have about who we are and what we do—always matter most in the larger scheme of things.

National Nurses Week: A Look at Trailblazing Nurses

National Nurses Week: A Look at Trailblazing Nurses

National Nurses Week, celebrated May 6-12 is a bright spot in the year for many nurses. Gatherings and appreciation across the nation boost morale and give nurses a lift up.

For Dr. Vivienne Pierce McDaniel DNP, MSN, RN, and DEI Consultant for Sentinel U’s Virtual Nursing Clinical Simulations, National Nurses Week truly begins on May 7 as that is the birthday of Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first Black nurse to become licensed. National Nurses Week also honors the birthday of Florence Nightingale, long considered the founder of nursing, with its end date of May 12.

As a nurse for whom nursing is a second career, McDaniel feels a connection to historic trailblazer, Mary Eliza Mahoney for her own career. McDaniel is also a fellow of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Diversity Leadership Institute, is the president of the Central Virginia Chapter Black Nurses Association, the chair of the Virginia Nurses Association’s DEI Council, the historian for DNPs of Color, and a mentor for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Diversity Leadership Institute. She is a member of the Eta Eta Chapter of Chi Eta Phi Sorority, Inc.

McDaniel, who is a devoted historian, says she became fascinated by the stories of the earliest Black nurses. “I feel a kinship with them,” she says. “And I didn’t even know they existed. When I was going to school, I didn’t see any professors that looked like me. I started researching and looking for people who look like me, and I was inspired to learn about them and chronicle their lives.”

For women who were such important pioneers, McDaniel says learning about Mahoney and other Black nurses in history was happenstance. “What’s troubling is that I didn’t learn about her in nursing school,” says McDaniel. With a scant two sentences devoted to Mahoney in the nursing textbook McDaniel’s classes used, she has no recollection of conversation about this woman who paved a path for generations of nurses to follow.

And while Mahoney is someone who gained formal experience, her journey was indirect. She worked in the New England Hospital for Women and Children doing jobs including laundress and cook. But that was typical, says McDaniel. “Many nurses in the past gained formal and informal training,” she says. “Many gained their knowledge experientially because they were not allowed entry into nursing school.”

And while many consider these nurses as unsung or hidden figures, McDaniel says they really have been erased from history. Their work was so essential–on the front lines of Civil War battlefields, for example–but not recognized.

While many people know about Louisa May Alcott’s work as a nurse and an author, few people have heard of Matilda Cleaver John, a Black nurse who fought to keep Alcott alive when she was sick with typhoid, says McDaniel. “No one hears about them,” she says.

With so many restrictions on Black nurses–where they could work, who they could care for, and what tasks they could perform–the women who took this career path were up against formidable challenges. Because of that, McDaniel wants others to know about the essential and transformative work performed by nurses who never got credit for the lives they saved, and the personal risk involved to do that work. It is, she says, a direct reason for the disparities and inequities that exist in nursing today.

“I am greatly influenced by Mary Eliza Mahoney not just because she was the first Black woman to graduate from a nursing school,” says McDaniel, “but also because of all she endured and the hurdles she had to cross to do what she did.”

With that in mind, McDaniel says her personal celebrations are especially poignant during National Nurses Week, and she particularly begins honoring the week on May 7 when she recognizes and remembers Mahoney.

Eventually, McDaniel would like to see a full history of nursing, once that reflects all nurses, included in nursing textbooks. “I want to bring them out of obscurity,” she says. “They had so much against them because of the color of their skin but they still did courageous things. I am inspired by their advocacy efforts.”

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Register for McDaniel’s DNPs of Color talk on May 7 at 6 pm EDT Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Mary Eliza Mahoney.

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To find out more about Black nurses, McDaniel recommends reading:

The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing Worldwide, 1854-1994 by M. Elizabeth Carnegie

Forgotten Angels: The lives of African American women who served as nurses in the Civil War by Kalinda Page

Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33D United States Colored Troops by Susie King Taylor

Mary Eliza Mahoney and The Legacy Of African-American Nurses (Women in Medicine) by Susan MuaddiDarraj

An Open Letter to the African American Nurses That We All Love

An Open Letter to the African American Nurses That We All Love

In 1982, the famed gospel songwriter Andrae’ Crouch wrote a song with lyrics that contain the following words:

How can I say thanks
For the things You have done for me?
Things so undeserved
Yet You gave to prove Your love for me
The voices of a million angels
Could not express my gratitude
All that I am and ever hope to be
I owe it all to Thee

–Andrae Crouch (full lyrics on Genius)

While the song is giving God the glory, the words are apropos for nurses that we all love and respect. During the first week of May each year, we honor our “angels” and tell them “thanks for all that they have done and continue to do for us”. While this year is no exception, what makes this Nurses’ Week especially meaningful is the light that the COVID-19 pandemic has shone on the sacrifice of these angels. When asking people what nurses mean to them, the following quotes were shared with me.

“I love nurses because people who need a nurses’ touch can always count on the nurse to give them exactly what they need, at the exact time that they need it.”

“Nurses can alleviate an individual’s stress, anxiety, and in some instances pain. The soft voice of a nurse can almost mask a person’s pain.”

A nurse will give you hope when there is no hope. A nurse must have a quality of care that stems from humility and all of the other branches that come from that humility will heal a patient.”

The most poignant comment comes from 11-year-old Pearson G. Paige who stated: “I love nurses. A nurse is something special. Nurses are cool. Nurses are nice.”

While people brag about our beloved Florence Nightingale, I want to turn your attention to a few of our African American nurses that have made a difference in not just the African American community, but in the world as a whole.

Meet Anna Knight, born in 1874 and from the state of Mississippi who taught herself how to read and write before attending nursing school. It is believed that Anna Knight would encounter knocks at her door from family members of victims of “botched hangings’” because God would not allow them to die that way. These “patients” were bought to Ms. Knight for her to nurse them back to health. Anna was known as a Christian woman who was strong in her beliefs and thus became one of the first African American missionary nurses to ever travel to India to care for others. When she returned from India, she established a school and church in her native Mississippi and eventually became an administrator of a hospital for blacks in Atlanta.

While there were many who officially practiced nursing before 1879, Mary Eliza Mahoney has been noted as the first African American “registered nurse”. She is credited with co-founding the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses and is one of the original members of what is now known as the American Nurses Association.

While many of us saw and loved the movie “Harriett,” little is mentioned in the movie about Harriett Tubman being a nurse. Not only did she free more than 300 slaves, but she also worked tirelessly as a union army nurse. One of her last acts of valor was the establishment of the “Harriett Tubman Home for the Aged” in 1908, which cared for the aging African American population.

Twice named the “Army Nurse of the Year,” Dr. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown not only faced discrimination as an African American nurse but beat it by earning a master’s and PhD degree in her specialty. She was one of the first African American women to lead the Army Nurse Corps, in addition to being promoted to brigadier general and was one of the only African Americans to teach in the PhD program at George Mason University in the late 1990s.

Continuing to serve not just the nation, but at Howard University as the Vice-Chair of the Board of Visitors, Dr. Bernadine Lacey also served as the Bronson School of Nursing’s founding director at Western Michigan University. She established a community program which skyrocketed. In her honor, The Bernardine M. Lacey Endowed Chair was created with the help of a $1.5 million anonymous donation in 1998. Lacey’s specialty in caring for the underserved follows her as the clinic at the Creative Center for Non-Violence (CCNV) Shelter on D Street in Northwest Washington is the recipient of a clinic that Dr. Lacey started over 20 years ago.

There are many that we could list within the arena of nursing that have focused on the healing of those within our African American community. Let us not forget to recognize those who cared for us when the “living room” was the triage area for many makeshift surgeries, procedures, obstetric and gynecological procedures, in addition to the emergency room for “many a patient.” You see there are many “nurses” who did not go to school to become a nurse but were still “nurses,” such as mothers who have nursed their children back to life. Nurses are also grandmothers who raised their multiple grandchildren and gave them “life.”

The story is told by a friend of mine who stepped on a 2×4 board in which a nail was lodged. His grandparents were one of the first “male and female nursing teams.” Subsequently, his grandfather put him on the table and told him to look at his grandmother, while he pulled the nail out of the nine-year-old’s foot.

The grandmother then took over and placed a piece of salt pork over the area which then leached out the rust from the nail and then ordered “bed rest” for the rest of the day. He stated that during her shift, she evaluated and cleaned the foot, eventually taking the bandage off, in which he noted that the salt pork had pulled out all of the impurities.

Another story is told of a young boy who was catching bees with a jar. Subsequently, he was stung by the bee and had an allergic reaction. The neighbor next door, took a cigarette, broke it in half, got the tobacco out, wet it, and placed it on the sting. Immediately the swelling went down, and the pain went away.

As black people, we have learned how to “nurse” in so many ways. We have learned how to take care of each other mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. How many churches have been filled with the mothers of the church acting as “psychiatric nurses” for many?

However, as we honor our nurses during this Nurses’ Week, we honor them as never before, realizing their importance, their value, and their worth during this unprecedented time in our nation’s history. To all of our nurses who have worked tirelessly, worked back to back shifts, turned patients “prone” due to COVID-19, cried with family members, attended 10 person funerals, and have ultimately paid for illnesses with their own lives, we salute you. Your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed, nor has it been made in vain. Thank you for what you do every day, all day, for people that you don’t even know. Thank you, thank you, thank you. May GOD repay you 100-fold for what you give to others each and every day.

Dear Minority Nurses

Dear Minority Nurses

One year ago, I would have taken any opportunity to write, advise, or lecture on the inequalities of being a black nurse in health care. I could’ve complied a novel of complaints, stories, examples, and tears from the countless nurses that have described horrific scenarios of discrimination and bias feelings of being undervalued and overlooked for coveted leadership roles. Today, my paradigm has shifted and my perception of reality has moved from fractured to healed. How did this happen? Am I drunk on the liquor of white America, am I not “woke”? Have I forsaken my people and joined the other side? No. I’m still very much an advocate for equality in health care.

Here’s where I’m at: there are many individuals who subscribe to a methodical and intentional belittling of those who do not look like them and they come in every shade, even black. I may have heard a metaphorical gasp, but the truth is we focus so much of our attention on those individuals, working to receive their approval, waiting for a nod, anticipating some sort of compassionate act to help us succeed. Here’s the truth. They are not enlightened and they don’t care and until they plan to become self-aware their behaviors actions will never change. They are disconnected from the pillars of nursing compassion, empathy, human connection, and healing. Create a path to success using your knowledge and passion. Channel your energy and focus on yourself.

I have countless stories of inequality, being undervalued, and overlooked, feeling inadequate, not good enough, not included. Many of my colleagues have the same stories, we have collected so many stories that we could build a library of hate, but why? Why waste energy on what’s unimportant? Why not channel that energy and create something new, innovative, and intentionally inclusive? Achieve the highest degrees or certifications possible, build a nurse framework that cannot be torn down, that cannot be destroyed, that lasts lifetimes. Not just something for the moment.

Here’s a truth: my move to corporate America opened my eyes to a reality. Nobody, I mean nobody eats for free. It’s time for Black America to open its eyes to the truth and learn the transparency of human behaviors. What you fear is created in your mind, so change the narrative. Move your mind to a positive paradigm and see the opportunities in every task that you are asked to complete, instead of complaining why not focus on self-awareness and success. Yes. It’s OK to be selfish. Don’t just complete an objective. Execute it. Put all your hurt and pain in your work and watch how your outcome changes. Change how you eat, what you eat, include exercise, meditation, and whatever it takes to move you to a healed space. We have over 400 years of shackles to break, take pride in breaking your own chains and contribute to the evolution of history. Don’t just read the news; become the news.

Recognizing Nurses During National Nurses Week

Recognizing Nurses During National Nurses Week

As National Nurses Week 2020 is recognized this week, nurses around the world are finding themselves and the work they do on the frontlines of a global COVID-19 pandemic.

The acute respiratory virus impacts patients’ lungs with ferocity, but other organs and body systems are also vulnerable to the effects of the disease.

Lillian Pryor, MSN, RN, CNN, president of the American Nephrology Nurses Association (ANNA), says patients are also suffering from declines in kidney function, and nephrology nurses are an active part of many care teams during this emergency. Pryor notes that acute kidney injury (AKI) is showing up in patients who had normal functions before and that pre-COVID AKI cases requiring dialysis are increasing.

ANNA recently launched a Nephrology Nurse Surge Support tool to help meet the growing need of these specialized nurses as the country copes with hot spots of cases. “This was designed to help connect providers and nurses in those hot spot areas as we saw an increase in patients experiencing kidney related complications and needing some type of renal replacement therapy,” she says. The tool helps identify the areas that need these skills and then match with the nurses who can provide the help. Nephrology nurses are called upon to perform hemodialysis, continuous renal replacement therapies and peritoneal dialysis treatments needed, says Pryor. “At the same time,” she says, “our acute nurses are also helping to provide that optimal critical management piece that is necessary to support these patients—helping to maintain euvolemia and astute assessment skills.”

The specialty is particularly rewarding to Pryor. “Nephrology nursing allows so many avenues to practice,” she says. “From pediatrics to gerontological, to acute, to chronic, transplant, pre-ESKD—it involves the total patient across the lifespan. There’s just so much – and there’s probably something in nephrology nursing that would interest everyone,” she says.

Pryor says she became interested in the field almost immediately after passing the NCLEX. “I was working in a small community hospital in New Jersey and was floated to a unit that was dedicated for caring for HIV+ patients,” she says. “One of the patients I was assigned to had to have dialysis treatment. I was so intrigued because I had never seen the treatment performed, and I was hooked after that.”

Nephrology nurses have many choices within the specialty, says Pryor, and that means the career offers opportunities. “You bond with patients and their families,” she says. “You can see your efforts as the patient gets better, and sometimes you are able to educate and actually prolong the time the patients may need before renal replacement therapy.”

As a self-described teacher at heart, Pryor says education plays a big role in nephrology nursing. “You also have so many opportunities for education and training.” Being able to educate patients and their families about their conditions, treatments, and even prevention can make a huge impact, she says, even potentially delaying disease progression in some cases. And when patients are close to the end of life, the education continues. “We have the opportunity to be there for them and answer questions,” she says. “We allow them to prepare for how they can live their best life until the end.”

Looking ahead to after the current crisis, Pryor says she does see changes that will be positive and hopeful and some that will impact the entire nursing industry. “We would actually like to see more of what we’ve been seeing,” she says. “There’s been a focus on education and on different ways of administering the treatments. We’re thinking of every possible way of renal replacement treatments in centers and in homes.” Pryor is also hopeful that the current necessitated boon in telehealth and virtual appointments might continue. She finds the platform actually helps some patients and makes them feel more comfortable reaching out to their healthcare teams.

Especially during National Nurses Week, Pryor is proud of her profession. “I want to wish my colleagues a happy Nurses Week,” says Pryor. “I recognize all of my colleagues for their compassion, commitment, and courage. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

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