A Nurse Making a Difference: Nurse Alice Benjamin

A Nurse Making a Difference: Nurse Alice Benjamin

You Make a Difference: such simple words to write but a challenge to put into practice. So Im thrilled to introduce you to a nurse living up to the mantra. Meet Alice Benjamin, or Nurse Alice, as shes known to many and how shes making a difference in her patients lives, the surrounding community, and the nursing profession every day.

Nurse Alice’s personal experience of her father dying in the ER from cardiac arrest while awaiting care inspired her to become the best cardiac nurse in the world and a community health leader to help create programs and empower and educate communities of color to take control of their health and get the most out of their healthcare.

But that is only part of her incredible journey.

After starting as a volunteer with the American Heart Association educating people about basic heart health, she advanced her nursing education. She learned more about research, health policy, and public health and advanced her clinical expertise within cardiology as a CNS and NP. Nurse Alices education and personal experiences helped her become a well-respected and credible community health leader. 

She eventually landed opportunities on national platforms and in the news media to become a TV medical correspondent. Each stop of her nursing journey provided her with unique, colorful, resourceful, well-rounded, and practical, real-life experiences that have molded Nurse Alice into the nurse leader she is today.  

Minority Nurse chatted with Alice Benjamin, APRN, MSN, ACNS-BC, FNP-B, CCRN, CEN, CV-BC, Chief Nursing Officer and correspondent for Nurse.org, clinical nurse specialist and family nurse practitioner, and critical-care and emergency medicine nurse at the Community Hospital of Huntington Park, California, with over 23 years of experience about the need for community education, how to make a difference in nursing, being a health advocate, her poignant story about her connection to the ER, the endless possibilities for creating a job in nursing, why nursing needs all of the brightest minds and kind-hearted people, and more.

Learn Nurse Alices Secret Sauce for Being a Happy Nurse and Loving Your Nursing Career

The ANAs theme for National Nurses Week this year is You Make a Difference.” Youre making a difference in nursing as the Chief Nursing Officer and correspondent for Nurse.org and host of the podcast Ask Nurse Alice,” a medical correspondent for NBC LA, a family nurse practitioner, clinical nurse, and a mom, author, and health advocate. What is your secret for juggling it all?

The secret sauce is I love what I do in different ways. Theyre the same. But theres a common thread of education and community service, which is something that fills my bucket. I enjoy community education and talking to other people. And my mantra is that I love to talk to people before they become my patients, just because Ive seen so much of the devastation as a daughter and mother. Its different when Im on one side of the bed rails taking care of a patient, but when Im on the other side, and its my loved one in the bed, its a vulnerable place to be in. So I like to talk to people to prevent their issues as much as possible so they can have a quality of life. So I love doing what I do as an extension. Its patient education, using different platforms, like on television with NBC, on a podcast, through Nurse.org, or blogs. I feel so lucky, so blessed to love what I do. Now, some parts of nursing are challenging, but overall, I love what I get to do. Im like, wow, this is so cool.

Your work makes a difference in the lives of so many every day. What are some ways that nurses can make a difference?

There are numerous ways in which nurses can make a difference. There are nearly 4.4 million of us now, and if we could all divide and conquer. And I would like to empower nurses to think about their passion. What are you good at? Whats your lane? There are so many different ways that we can approach this. But one of the things I think nurses need to do is take care of the patient inside of those hospital walls or those clinics. We must cover so much groundwork, strategizing, and working with other groups and disciplines outside hospital walls. Yes, people come to the hospital for care, but thats already after something happened. We dont want to work ourselves out of a job, but we want to care for people so well that they dont need to come here. And to do that, we need to swing the pendulum and focus on preventative care, health promotion, disease identification, and early intervention because we want to keep people outside the hospital. Nurses need to get out in the communities to educate and become patient advocates in whatever area they wish. Advocate for their patients best interests—advocating for what will be better for their care, a more efficient and effective work system, and better work conditions. Because when you have happy nurses, you have happy patients.

You talk about happy nurses. However, nurses must cultivate and maintain optimal mental and physical health to affect change in their patients. What are some things that nurses should be doing to ensure theyre healthy to provide the best patient care possible?

Nurses and healthcare providers know exactly what to do because we tell our patients what to do. But yet, we dont always do those things for ourselves. Were so focused on caring for others that we dont fill our cups. So nurses need to allow themselves to embrace and recognize we are consumers of healthcare too. So when were talking about our patients, were taking care of our patients too. And I think somewhere along the line, nurses and doctors over here, their patients over there. Nurses and doctors are patients, too, right? So we must ensure were doing our annual physical and getting our mental health checks. Thats something that even the whole general public misses altogether. The pandemic highlighted many things, but nurses were going through the mud. Its such a place of being happy to help people but simultaneously feeling devastated because we are asked to do more with less in a situation where we were fighting the Invisible Man before we understood what COVID is. Its a profession thats predominantly women.  Many of us are mothers, so were also taking care of children and always heard stories about the woman being the rock of the home and making sure everyone else is cared for. So we must allow ourselves some grace and recognize that we are also patients. We need just as much physical wellness, mental wellness, respite care, relaxation, and de-stressing as the next person, and if we dont do that, we will find ourselves being someones patient.

Nurses were the heroes throughout COVID. So what can nursing do to honor nurses who are leading, excelling, and innovating our healthcare systems and the communities theyre practicing in?

Something that we as nurses can do is celebrate each other to support one another. The American Nurses Association is so powerful. Theyre able to move legislation and lobby and get things done. There are fewer physicians than nurses, yet nurses have been so fragmented. We have the AMA, but not everyones a member. But if we were more unified and took our collective voice to support different initiatives, we could be more powerful in moving important legislation and changing practices for the better, not just for the nursing profession, but for the patient.

To lead and excel in nursing, we have to support one another. Thats one part of it. The other part is that we must also learn to play well in different sandboxes. Because a lot of what we do as nurses are inward driven, nursing school and nursing education, you have this whole larger healthcare conversation happening adjacent to us. And we cant just be side to side. We must jump into that sandbox, join the conversation, and collaborate. Historically, nurses havent been invited. So its essential that as we move forward, and we move our profession forward, we need to be more politically savvy and more strategic in how we work with other agencies and groups. Because overall, many groups outside of nursing all have the same goal of improving patient outcomes, improving healthcare, and decreasing chronic illnesses. So working nurses need to unify our voices and learn how to strategize and work with other groups to move the needle on important health initiatives.

To move the needle on important healthcare initiatives, nurses must leverage every opportunity for professional development. So what are the best ways for nurses to access resources and insights to guide their professional development?

This starts in nursing school, but I know nursing school is jam-packed. But early on, as soon as we enter nursing, we need to learn the importance and significance of finance, budgeting, and strategy working with other groups. Because when I went to nursing school, we were taught to care for the patient. It doesnt matter how much this costs, or dont worry about anyone else. You focus on the patient. This practice has blinded many of us, not realizing that we can work smarter instead of harder if we collaborate and network with other groups, agencies, and disciplines to share some of our resources. Theres no point in nursing establishing a committee to do all this work independently while another group is doing it. And were both doing work but not making as much progress. If we worked together, we could move that needle further. But in nursing school, thats not necessarily one of the priorities and teachings. But as we grow in our career ladder, we need to foster experiences and learning opportunities that teach us how to do that networking and the collaboration that happens in an interdisciplinary setting. And also in the back of our mind being business and finance savvy to understand that. This is in the patient’s best interest, and B and C might be good considerations considering finances and resources.

What do you recommend nurses do to excel and lead in their nursing careers or inspire others in their nursing journey?

Im joining a professional organization, and theres AMA, but then theres also your specialty nurse organization. Ive always been a part of my professional organizations and participated in events remotely and in person. Ive always been a part of my professional organizations, and Ive participated in events remotely and in person. The synergy happening in that room when you have a nurse or an ER nurse from California, an ER nurse in New York, and youre discussing situations and can hear like, oh, wow, thats how you handled that situation. Now thats the process. Oh, let me bring that practice back to my facility. And its an opportunity to share evidence-based practice and talk about the latest research. Iron sharpens iron to build our community and engage with one another. 

I did something beneficial for me, and I hope itll help someone else. As someone who was very cardiovascular health-focused, my love, my number one love and passion, I was a volunteer for the American Heart Association first and still am for several years. I take my expertise as a nurse and my knowledge about cardiovascular health and work with the American Heart Association to help identify programs and processes that specific communities need to improve patient outcomes to get people to check their blood pressure, eat better diets, and things like that. I was often the only nurse in the room, but work with people of different interests. These are all community folks convening together for the sake of wanting to improve cardiovascular health. But it opened my eyes to what happens in our communities. I know hospital stuff, and I know some clinical things, and I know those healthcare organizations. Still, when a grocery store owner is so interested in cardiovascular health and wants to put on events at their store and do a cooking demo, it opened my eyes to creative ways to do patient education and empower the community to take charge of their health. We have many opportunities to expand and grow our skills and knowledge outside our nursing organizations.

You mention engaging with the community. What are some ways for nurses to better engage with the community besides joining nursing organizations?

For example, I did community service with the American Heart Association. I also served as the health chair for my local NAACP and Urban League. I also volunteered at my sons schools. Wherever there are people, there will be some health issues. Someone might fall and break their knee, and as nurses, even if youre a NICU nurse, or labor and delivery nurse, if someone slips and hurts their knee, you will know some basic fundamental things to stabilize that patient. When COVID hit, all know how to stop the transmission of infection. Every nurse was a great resource during the COVID pandemic, teaching different communities about preventing transmission and things you should do to protect yourself. So its essential for nurses first to identify their passion. What places are you going to, and what groups are you already part of? Maybe its something thats happening at your church, perhaps its your daughters Girl Scout troop, and you can participate there. So there are just so many different opportunities. Thats one of the great things about nurses too. Were so creative and innovative. Im sure once you identify my passion and what groups I am a part of, you can probably list 100 ways you could help communities.

Talk about the importance of what nurses do beyond the bedside: advocacy, shaping public policy, serving on an organizations board, and having a seat at the table.

Its critical that nurses, while we are at the bedside, do as much as possible to share with the public, the community, and our politicians what we do and how we can contribute. Yes, I can start an IV, but then I can also help you strategize an effective plan or bill to improve the quality of school lunches so our children arent becoming obese with the foods theyre eating at school. So beyond the bedside, we can advocate.

During the President Obama administration, I had the pleasure of volunteering with AARP. I went through this extensive AARP Volunteer Leadership Program and learned the Affordable Care Act inside and out. So when I came back from training in Washington, DC, I participated in different congresswomans town halls, talking about the ACA and seeing changes opening up. Here I am talking about healths significance and its importance. Health is universal, and it impacts everyone, regardless of what side you sit on politically. But advocacy, I was able to do that, working with state politicians. Thats something that you can do to shape public policy. I live in Los Angeles. I would go to Sacramento, be there to talk to the general public as well, and go knocking on doors to talk about the significance of a particular bill, like the tobacco tax, to decrease the number of people smoking. So I participated in shaping public policy. You do that because the public makes up the voters. Theyre the constituents that the politician needs to listen to, but also knocking on those doors and speaking directly to those politicians, and serving on executive boards. This is something I dont necessarily like, but again, this is where you lean on what your passion is. And it might not be now, but many years from now. Its so important that we have nurses sit on hospital boards and boards of insurance companies. 

Theres a nursing process called ADPIE. And thats short for assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Its like a Six Sigma. We go through a thought process whenever we provide patient care, and the ADPIE strategy can be applied anywhere. And if we can get nurses on these boards, especially decision-making boards, that will be key in helping to guide and shift and change policy, procedure, and practice not just in the hospital but outside in the community and how things are done. We know what patients need because we care for them 24/7 and listen to stories that physicians dont hear because patients trust us. So that experience and thought process will be instrumental in helping to move and make changes outside of hospital walls.

You are a health advocate for your patients. How do you empower them to take control of their health, wellness, and lifestyle?

Whenever I get in front of people, to take their guard down so they dont think Im talking at them, Ill start the conversation by reminding them Im a patient too. Ive been in the hospital too. This has happened to me. Im a nurse, but Im also a regular person just like you, so Im not immune to sickness or illness or any of these things, just like Im telling you about the significance of getting mental health checks and talking to a therapist, I need that too. Were equal. We are all human beings. We are all subject to the same things. So I do that first to establish trust. Then, I take the time to understand the audience Im speaking to because, in nursing, were taught to talk to the 80%. But theres also going to be a 20%. Maybe this doesnt apply or needs to be individualized to the patient. So I constantly individualize the information Im presenting or talking about.

For example, suppose Im at an event and speaking to a roomful of Asian people. When it comes to talking about diet, Im making sure that while Im talking about traditional foods, Im also going to speak to those cultural and ethnic foods that are common. Doing that helps the people who are listening to me to feel seen. Many times, especially small, minority, and vulnerable groups feel like theyre talking over my head. Theyre not talking to me because that doesnt apply. My culture doesnt do that. But when I can individualize it, they feel heard and seen, fostering trust. And when we can foster trust, people are more inclined to follow up with the care plan. So when you have that distrust or mistrust, patients will say, they said that, but Im not doing that because theres no trust. So I try my best to continue to support them. Sometimes theres that one-time interaction with someone. And its like, here today, gone tomorrow. But we can still help one another through social media and other ways. And I think thats why Facebook groups are so big. You can have a community of supporters even long past the initial interaction.

What do you like best about being a family nurse practitioner?

I didnt plan to be a nurse practitioner, especially not in the emergency room. I wanted to be an accountant. When I was going to school, my dad fell sick. When he was in the military, he began smoking cigarettes because they would say to smoke them if you got him. So he picked up smoking, which led to high blood pressure, a heart attack, a stroke, and congestive heart failure. And ultimately, my dad died in the emergency room from a massive heart attack and went into sudden cardiac arrest. Now being the eldest, I would help my mom care for my dad and things like that. Id always question why this didnt make sense. And it was because, at the time, providers werent communicating effectively or in a way that my dad understood or that my family understood because we werent healthcare professionals. We didnt know that particular hospital had many patients and was under-resourced. And unfortunately, its one thing we dont necessarily like about healthcare, but weve all heard the stories about ERs being so busy, and then someone dies in the hallway while waiting to be seen because theyre so understaffed. And so that was my situation with my dad.

I said I would be the best cardiac nurse in the world. And thats when I set out to work with American Heart Association, anything and everything cardiovascular. Im doing it as volunteer work. I dont care. I want to learn it all. So I can teach and empower the community so this doesnt happen to them. I worked in ICU critical care, telemetry, and all these places, and Ive worked in home health everywhere. I never wanted to work in the emergency room because it was too painful. So fast forward. I got frustrated with not having prescriptive authority, and in my journey, I ultimately went back to become a nurse practitioner and landed in the ER. And it was a place I never wanted to work because it was too painful. But now I can redeem things for my father because Im now that provider and will be so attentive. Im not going to let you die in the hallway. We know that sometimes people come in the ER and feel their symptoms are dismissed –medical gaslighting–and were not doing any of that. So I get to be the provider and care for someone like my dad. Hopefully, in my attentiveness, and because I care so much because of being a patient advocate, I can do as much as possible not to have those outcomes. I cant control it all the time, but I can do my best to prevent those things from happening.

Do you think education level and specialties play a role in a nurses job satisfaction and navigating your career?

More education puts you in a position for opportunities you may not have as an associate degree nurse versus a doctoral-prepared nurse. And then also along the lines, its not just the letters behind your name but the quality of education. Thats what youre learning in the program. As someone whos gone back for more, I started with the LPN certificate and then ADN, and I initially thought a nurse was a nurse. So along that journey, I learned more about evidence-based practice research leadership, performance improvements, how to be more politically savvy, strategize, negotiate, work with and have crucial conversations with stakeholders, and learn more about budgeting, finance, and cost avoidance. So those are important elements of nursing education that you learn along the way. Youll still get frustrated with some things, but youre better equipped with tools and how to navigate those rough waters. So I think education and specialty training, like getting your certification if you work in critical care, having your CCRN or if youre an emergency room nurse and having your CEN because, in that certification, youre tested on a series of clinical situations, medication scenarios with how you would manage certain conditions. And when you work in one hospital, you might not have exposure to something. If you go back for your certification, you will have been exposed to multiple relevant things within your specialty. So if a high-risk, low-volume case comes into your hospital, youll know how to manage it. So education certification plays a role in job satisfaction and career navigation.

Nursing is an admired and honorable profession, and nurses have been ranked as the most honest profession 21 times, yet nurses need help to persist in their field. So what can nursing do to save itself and progress forward?

We must maintain the integrity of our nursing education. There have been many discussions about compact states and nursing schools, some not so good, some great as of late, but we mustnt have a nursing shortage. Yes, we need more bodies, but how will we get there? We wont get there by lowering the entry standards to nursing programs because its still critical and life dependent. Were taking care of peoples lives, so we dont want to water down the requirements for nursing school. Thats not how were going to solve the nursing shortage. While you may get more people to care for patients, how does that affect the quality of patient care? In the end, if youre pushing nurses through just trying to get them through, we need to focus on investing in our nurse educators and getting more of them. Then attract the best of the best and the brightest because if you want students to learn about critical care, you need the practicing critical care nurse, not the retired 20-year retired critical-care nurse teaching it. But youre only going to attract them with competitive salaries. Working at the bedside, for the most part, does pay more than working as an educator. So we must look at how we will improve nursing in that sense. And see what else as far as saving itself. That will be a key and foundational thing we must take care of. And then the other pieces.

As nurses, we need to move beyond the bedside. And I dont mean abandoning patient care. We need people in patient care, but there may be creative opportunities. For example, some larger academic organizations allow their nurses to work at the bedside. Then for their community service for a certain amount of hours, they are compensated or given other points or a reward system to do things in the community. So to move the needle forward, we need one foot at the bedside and one foot beyond the bedside. So were straddling the fence. But I know it sounds like a daunting task, but we can do it. We have to look at our resources. And its not a game of checkers. This is the game of chess were playing. But if theres anyone that can pull this off, nurses can. Were the largest segment of healthcare workers; when we talk, people should listen.

What are your words of wisdom for nurses currently in the profession and others considering becoming a nurse?

First, I want to say we need you. We need anyone and everyone passionate about taking care of patients. That is the primary charge. I know its a reliable profession. But, most importantly, you have to want to care for patients. And that caring is going to look a little bit different for everyone. Some people say I cant stand the sight of blood or I cant do this. I want people to understand that, yes, there are some fundamental things that you will have to learn. But we have nurses in government. We have nurses in politics. We have nurses in education. We have them in public health. We have them in schools.

Take your pick. There are so many options. Nursing is one of the few professions you can enter where everyone has a standard education, and we all pass a standardized test, the NCLEX. But once you do, that skys the limit. And I had a mentor tell me, Alice, wherever there is pain and wherever there are people, there will be problems, so you can create your job. During the pandemic, weve seen many nurses leave the bedside, some are still at the bedside, but theyve created their jobs. Some are still in patient care, but it looks slightly different. There are so many problems and plenty of work to go around. We need all the best and the brightest minds and kind-hearted people. We need you.

Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Alice Benjamin

Meet a Champion of Nursing Diversity: Alice Benjamin

Alice Benjamin’s nursing education journey has been everything except traditional. At first, she thought her path would hinder her career, and she secretly envied the traditional 4-year nursing program. But her education journey has provided unique, colorful, resourceful, well-rounded, and practical real-life experiences that helped mold Benjamin into the nurse leader she is today. 

Benjamin aspired to become an advanced practice nurse and grow within the nursing profession, but the impact outside of the hospital motivated her the most.

Seeing the health disparities and health inequities negatively impacting the black community inspired Benjamin to become a community health leader in creating programs and empowering and educating communities of color to take control of their health and get the most out of their healthcare. Then she advanced her nursing education and learned more about research, health policy, and public health. Finally, she advanced her clinical expertise in cardiology as a CNS and NP to make a difference in her profession.

Benjamin, affectionately known as ‘America’s Favorite Nurse,’ is the chief nursing officer and correspondent for Nurse.org. She credits her education and personal experiences for becoming a well-respected and credible community health leader, propelling her into the national spotlight with appearances on national media platforms as a medical correspondent.

Alice Benjamin 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.

alice-benjamin-champion-of-nursing-diversityMeet Alice Benjamin, APRN, MSN, ACNS-BC, FNP-B, CCRN, CEN, CV-BC, Chief Nursing Officer and correspondent for Nurse.org, clinical nurse specialist and family nurse practitioner, and critical-care and emergency medicine nurse at the Community Hospital of Huntington Park, California.

Talk about your role in nursing.

I’m an advanced practice nurse. I’m a clinical nurse specialist and a family nurse practitioner, working primarily as a nurse practitioner in the emergency room. I wear many hats because I’m also the chief nursing officer at Nurse.org, the largest online nursing platform. I also do much volunteer work with the American Heart Association and AARP. And this stems from just loving being a nurse and caring for other people because I do a lot of work in community education and advocacy, which even spills over into television, which is another opportunity to educate viewers at home.

I love nursing. I’ve been doing this for over 24 years. I couldn’t even think of doing anything different than what I’m doing now. Again, I’m in the emergency room now, but I’ve worked ICU, telemetry, home health, and critical care. There are so many places and needs for nurses. My mentor once told me wherever there are people, you need a nurse. I’ve found lots of great opportunities in the nursing profession.

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

Right out of high school, I never knew I wanted to be a nurse. But I was the eldest, and my dad was a retired serviceman and smoked cigarettes in the military. They used to say, smoke them if you got him. So he picked up that habit and suffered severe health issues. He had high blood pressure, strokes, heart failure, and heart attacks. And as the eldest, I would help take care of him, and my dad would tell me, “You’re gonna be a great nurse one day.” And I said, “Well, I’m gonna be an accountant, I’m gonna count the money and things like that.” But I naturally fell into it. And right out of high school, I signed up for a vocational nursing program, and on the pathway, you can take the early part of it and become a nursing assistant. So I immediately became a nursing assistant and went to school to become a licensed vocational nurse. And once I achieved that then I went on to more school and became an RN with my associate’s degree. Then I started working as an RN and went back to school, I got my bachelor’s degree, still working, and then I went and got my master’s and became a clinical nurse specialist, an advanced practice nurse.

I did that for quite some time and even went back to more school to become a family nurse practitioner because I wanted to do more in healthcare as a nurse. Again, inspired by my dad, who died of a massive heart attack. And when he died, I said, “I’m going to be the best cardiac nurse in the world.” So I spent my career climbing the career ladder as a nurse and doing tons of community service with the American Heart Association, the NAACP, the Urban League, and women’s groups to get the word out about heart disease in underserved communities. So while working in the hospitals, I simultaneously did that. And in hindsight, I look back, and I’m like, gosh, where did I have the time to do all that? But when you’re so passionate about something, it fuels this fire and motivation. I just had the energy and the passion to do it.

I’ve also been adjunct clinical faculty at pre-licensure nursing programs to help model nursing and cultivate and foster future nurses. And during this career, inspired by my father, I often tried to bridge the gap by taking what I was doing in the hospital and the community organizations I was working with. Because people go to the hospital, they receive care, get discharged, and then they’re in the community with whatever resources they have. They must learn to navigate resources, insurance, and everything they need to stay healthy. So I did a lot of bridging the gap. At one point, I was the first nurse to chair the American Heart Association’s western state affiliate’s health inequity program. I oversaw American Heart Association’s community outreach programs over ten states which I’m very proud of because, as a nurse, knowing firsthand what happens in the hospital and having the experience of my dad, who went to a small community hospital, that didn’t provide all the resources and help that he needed to bridge the gap. So I’ve spent much of my career trying to bridge the gap between hospitals, clinics, and the community.

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

One of the essential attributes of a nursing leader is knowing how to be strategic when it comes to communication and working with others. As nurses, we are great at our nursing organizations. We advocate for nursing quite often. But sometimes, we’re not invited to specific strategic meetings, committee workgroups, or important work being done in healthcare, and we should be at that table. So we need to invite ourselves. We need to rub elbows with other groups recognizing that nursing is the largest segment of the healthcare workforce. We have nurses of all levels, LPNs RNs, and different types of advanced practice nurses, and we have a lot to contribute as the eyes and ears and often providers of care in the hospital. If we can be a part of these committees working on crucial national health initiatives, we can contribute and help make a change. So, for example, for my work with the American Heart Association, someone asked, “Would you want to chair this committee?” I said, “Absolutely.” It was interesting because I was the only nurse invited to that committee of 50 of us from over ten states. They said I was the first person ever to attend. So we have to recognize that nursing doesn’t just happen in the hospital. It occurs anywhere people are, and we need to strategize with other community leaders, even from business finance and education, and realize we can make a difference in many areas.

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

It always feels good when a patient comes back to you, and you may not even recognize that person, and they’ll say you took care of my mother or me when I was in the hospital. Then they tell you the story, and you start to remember, and they thank you so much because they were knocking on death’s door. And because of the care that I provided or some motivational words that I shared with them to keep them motivated and keep them going, I made an impact on their life. So that always feels good. 

But as far as professionally, what am I most proud of? I have a lot of things that I’m proud of. But one of the things that makes me unique has been my presence on national platforms and television. A Woodhull Study shows that less than 2% of health experts are on tv or less than 2% of television contributors are nurses. Often, when nurses do have the opportunity to talk on television, it’s about a strike or some act of violence against them or something that victimizes the nurses instead of the nurse being a leader. I’m the expert. And I’ve had the privilege of being on several different programs, and now and as a medical contributor for NBC for Los Angeles, as a nurse to model that nurses can be health experts, too. So I’m very proud of that.

What is the most significant challenge facing nursing today?

One of the things we have to focus on is the work environment and the mass exodus that’s happening with nursing. COVID did a number on many people, more than we could have anticipated. But again, it’s the largest segment of the workforce, with workers on the frontline in these hospitals. Nursing care is around the clock and is what keeps hospitals open. Nurses were overwhelmed, overworked, under-resourced, and often needed to be appreciated more in ways that nurses found meaningful. We must fix that because nurses are leading the bedside. And we know that the baby boomers will be retiring, which will give us a nursing shortage. We know that more than 80,000 nursing school candidates are turned away yearly because we don’t have enough space in schools for them. We’ll find ourselves in dire need and shortage of bedside nurses if we don’t turn around and fix the workplace environment. And there are a lot of things. Talking about finance, staffing, the pipeline quality of education, what is meaningful to the nurse, and how to make them feel appreciated because it’s not always about the money. It’s about just being appreciated by your employer. So we have to fix that, or healthcare will crumble even further.

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

One of the things I’m doing to help with that is my role at Nurse.org as their Chief Nursing Officer. Nursing schools, hospitals, students, and different health organizations follow, listen, or collaborate with nurses at work. And what I’m doing as a nurse leader there is making sure that we are addressing critical professional issues that impact our profession, and our practice, spreading the word on important things, giving attention to the nurses who seem voiceless in their stories, and getting the attention and hopefully providing the influence that’s needed to get agendas and policies and practices moved and changed. Because things will happen at a certain hospital in a small city, and nobody ever knows. But if we take that story, we amplify it on our side. We not only let all the nurses know that this is going on, but then that sparks conversations in hospitals with their leadership. If we can address and discuss those issues, it gives them attention to something that doesn’t have to happen at the next hospital.

You said that your father was your inspiration to become a nurse. What nursing leader inspires you the most and why?

Mary Eliza Mahoney is my most significant source of inspiration. She was the first African American to study and work professionally as a trained nurse in the U.S. She inspired me. And especially during those times in the 1870s as an African American. Graduating from nursing school was a challenging feat. I could only imagine the barriers in place, but I’m sure her passion for caring for people pushed and motivated her to move forward. She could overcome adversities and challenges, especially of that magnitude, for the sake of wanting to care for someone, which is inspirational to me

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

There’s so much I want to say to the future generation of nurses. It may sound very cliche, but I want to tell them not to give up. And I say that because we can often ask for something at a hospital and be told no. Or that doesn’t fit our agenda. Or we can’t do that right now. We need the resources. And I found that where there’s a will, there’s a way. And so in the work that I’ve done, especially with community work, there often is no budget, we’re working mainly with volunteers, we have to influence people to want to participate and get to the cause, donate to the cause. And by not giving up, we can push forward to get our agendas, move the policies that we need to put in place the practices we need to put in place to make things better for the next nurse and the next patient. So the next generation of nurse leaders will be vital because it’s not a denial. It may be a delay. So I don’t want them to give up. They must keep pushing so conditions can only get better. We’ve come so far in nursing. Here in California alone, nurse practitioners can practice independently in a position. That’s been a tall order. We’ve been fighting for that for so long. But we wouldn’t be where we are today if we had given up when met with so many obstacles. So I don’t want nurses to give up, and that’s the message I would tell the next generation of nurses.