Delaware is still debating whether to reopen in-person classes at public schools this month, but if they’re ready, our Nurse of the Week, Mispillion Elementary’s school nurse Sue Smith will be ready too.
After 25 years of working for the Milford school district—and seven years of nursing at Mispillion Elementary—the Delaware School Nursing Association’s 2019 School Nurse of the Year is not easily rattled. As the pandemic started to spread last year, Smith’s extensive experience prompted local officials to add her to Delaware Governor John Carney and the Delaware Department of Education’s Health and Wellness Workgroup for School Reopening, where she helped to assess the state’s plan to send kids back to school.
Smith has been ready to return to care for her kids since last fall when Delaware schools opened and swiftly sputtered to a close when Covid-19 cases began breaking out within days. Back when People magazine spoke to the 62-year-old school nurse in September, Smith’s view was quite matter-of-fact: “In my nurse’s office, I’ll still feel very comfortable doing what I normally do. I’ll have my mask and goggles on because I’ll be very close to the children, but I’ll feel very confident doing an assessment. Of course, I think there’s always going to be a level of anxiety for the unknown because this virus is an unknown. We don’t have a crystal ball to tell us everything will be okay. It’s not about if someone’s going to get infected — it’s when. But I truly believe we’re prepared to handle it.”
Mispillion Elementary Principal Teresa Wallace told Delaware State News that she places the utmost confidence in her school nurse. “She’s helped the district prepare and helped our school prepare. She is in the field of nursing and has a lot of background, not just as a school nurse, but in other areas. I feel like her knowledge base is really important in dealing with something that has so many unknowns.”
Smith’s debut in the pages of America’s best-known celebrity periodical hasn’t phased her. Asked about her remarks in People, she said, “All school nurses are feeling the same anxieties and those kinds of things. It’s important to know that in Delaware we’re all trying to work together to help each other.” What does she plan to do with her brush with fame? “I probably will put it [the magazine] in a frame for my granddaughter. That way, she’ll have it for a long, long time.”
In a year in which so many nurses displayed bravery, suffered hardships, and shone in countless ways, DailyNurse might easily have featured a “Nurse of the Day” instead of a Nurse of the Week.
Nurses have always gone the extra mile to communicate with patients and make them feel more comfortable and cared for, and we all know former patients who were so inspired by their nurses that they decided to enter the profession themselves. As 2020 raised the curtain on the Year of the Nurse, though, no one could have anticipated it would be a watershed year in which nurses became global icons of hope and courage.
Whether You’re a Hero, or Merely Awesome, Take a Bow…
The public has long admired nurses, but this year, the world has watched nurses brave the pandemic to work in seemingly impossible conditions, act as stand-ins for patients’ absent families, and leave home to speed to the relief of overwhelmed hospitals all over the US.
Nonetheless, many of our 2020 Nurses of the Week (NotW) eschewed the word “hero.” If you glance at remarks from our 2020 Nurses of the Week, you might note that while they take pride in their work, few sound like they are ready to accessorize their mask with a Superman cape. Naturally, they are happy to see their work recognized, but nurses constantly go out of their way to make patients feel less frightened and alone. As frontliner Tabatha Kentner said, “This is what we do. This is why we’re here.” Nurses save lives—and when they cannot, they comfort patients in their final hours and console distraught families. It’s not an occasional phenomenon; it is an everyday occurrence. The name and photo in Wednesday’s NotW feature could easily be your own because your expertise and empathy make you a Nurse of the Week every day of the year.
On the last Wednesday of 2020, DailyNurse salutes the Nurses of the Week who made their mark during the Year of the Nurse!
Great (and Caring) Communicators
A recurring theme is nurses who use their unique talents to raise patients’ and staff members’ spirits. Some, like Marc Perreault and Lori Marie Kay, shared their musical gifts. At Lenox Hill Hospital during the height of the New York City outbreak, Emily Fawcett helped boost morale in her ICU by meeting with staff for positive-thinking “hope huddles” before starting their shifts.
Danielle Fenn applied her language skills to comfort non-English speaking Covid patients. Others, like Tabatha Kentner, have been acting as “angels” (the word angel comes from the Greek angelos, which means “messenger”) and facilitating virtual visits so patients and their loved ones can commune even in isolation (and when necessary, say their final goodbyes).
Advocates and Public Servants
2020 was a year in which nurses stepped forward, spoke up, and got involved in public and civic health. Expect to see more of this in 2021 and years to come (we hope!). Metastatic breast cancer survivor Stephanie Walker is tirelessly advocating for cancer patients and patient education in North Carolina. Another indefatigable advocate, Andrea Dalzell, is on a mission to invite wheelchair-bound people to enter the nursing profession.
NYPD’s new Special Victims Unit head Michael King is a veteran SANE—and he is determined to improve the treatment of rape victims by police and other first responders. American Academy of Nursing (AAN) “Living Legend” Mary Wakefield is sharing her public health expertise and experience in the Obama administration with the Biden-Harris transition team.
Another AAN “Living Legend,” 85-year-old Marie Manthey, is promoting frank, open dialogues between Black and White nurses, and calling upon all White allies to combat structural racism and unconscious bias.
Tens of thousands of nurses this year packed their bags and took off to lend a hand in the nation’s hotspots. Reports on horrific conditions in hard-hit city hospitals were a virtual Bat-Signal for many nurses. They stashed extra masks in their suitcases, said goodbye to their loved ones, and flew to the most dangerous hotspots in the country (even nurses who had never been on a plane before!).
Texas nurse Anna Slayton, who parted from her family to spend 77 days on the New York frontlines, felt compelled to help, telling DailyNurse, “I ultimately knew it was my duty.” And in April, after flying from Tennessee to a desolate—but noisily grateful—NYC, ED nurse Kirsten Flanery declared, “I made the right decision on coming up here. I’m ready to make a difference!”
Difficult Takes a Day, Impossible Takes a Week
Many nurses combine massive multitasking efforts with hard work to pursue their studies, and some fight to overcome dire health and financial obstacles in their quest to start a nursing career. Felicia Shaner was so drawn to the profession that she embarked on her nursing studies while living in a homeless shelter… with a toddler and a baby on board! degrees while working as hospital custodians. Rebel NurseJalil Johnson (of Show me Your Stethoscope fame) had spent his last $5 when he enrolled in an LPN program. And Brianna Fogelman had a lung transplant in her junior year of nursing school and took her nursing finals with a tube in her chest.
Is There a Nurse in the House?
2020 was also a year in which nurses acted as first responders in unexpected times and places. Pamela Zeinoun saved the lives of three premature infants after the devastating August 4 explosions in Beirut. Indiana trauma nurse Colby Snyder rushed to the assistance of two people who collapsed in public within a 3-week period: the first had a seizure at her grocery store, and the second fell while Snyder was volunteering at the polls on Election Day.
Former CCN/cardiac care nurse Hollyanne Miley (whose husband is Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley) is also a good person to have at hand when out-of-the-blue seizures occur. And VA nurse Maria VanHart impressed “official” first responders by her swift, efficient, and empathic treatment of survivors at the scene of a fatal highway accident.
DailyNurse salutes all of its readers, and all nurses. If you know of someone who warrants a Nurse of the Week nod, send your suggestion to email@example.com. Best wishes for a happier, healthier, evidence-based New Year!
In the middle of Emergency Nurses Week (October 11-17), a new feature-length documentary on emergency nurses is premiering on October 14. Viewers can see 16 ED nurses coping with everything from COVID-19 to gun violence, opioid overdoses, and the plight of uninsured patients in “In Case of Emergency,” which was directed by Carolyn Jones with the support of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). The locations include Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont.
ENA President Mike Hastings, MSN, RN, CEN. said of the new film, “Emergency nurses experience things on a regular basis that most people will never see, things that most of the general public would not be able to tolerate, yet ED nurses face it all with poise, professionalism and an amazing human touch. This documentary will show our communities some of the challenges that we face day to day, COVID-19 or not, and provide some insight into our care settings. Most importantly, the film gives the public a true look at what essential heroes look like.”
Some of the nurses featured include:
Sheryl Hurst, RN, Ascension St. John Hospital, Detroit, MI: a community advocate who is trying to counter gun violence through education. “The violence has to be interrupted,” she says.
Angela Garrido, RN, St. Joseph’s University Medical Center Paterson, NJ Emergency Nurse: Garrido talks about her own battle with COVID-19. Hers was a relatively mild case, but “The simple task of taking a shower was exhausting; I’d have to sleep for three hours afterward,” she recalls.
Louis Cortes, RN, St. Joseph’s University Medical Center, Paterson, NJ Emergency Nurse: Cortes says that at the height of the New Jersey outbreak “We had brand-new nurses, straight out of school taking care of critical (Covid) patients from day one.”
Nancy Pitcock, RN, Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas, Dallas, TX, Emergency Nurse: the Dallas SANE relates: “There was one group of patients I felt had been really disserviced in the emergency room, and that was patients traumatized through sexual assault.” She notes that being treated by a SANE “not only helps with the healing of the patient, but also with identifying their needs immediately… and ultimately—hopefully—providing expert courtroom testimony.”
Lauren Habel, MSN, RN, CEN, TCRN, CFRN, St. Charles Health System, Madras, OR, Emergency Nurse: Habel discusses after-care for disadvantaged patients. If a patient agrees, “The community paramedic will actually go to their house and follow up on… helping them manage their meds, or with their new diagnosis of diabetes…. So that’s been a really cool program to get the health literacy up in the community.”
Jennifer Hanks, RN, UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital, Dubuque, IA, Emergency Nurse: Hanks reflects on the importance of empathy and sympathetic communication in nursing: “When you can talk to them and explain what’s going on, that’s the human component that really makes all the difference.”
Special previews of the film will be available at the virtual conventions of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). For more details on the film, click here.
Sharon Tapp learned that a severe case of COVID-19 can threaten not only your life but also your sense of self. After a lifetime of good health, COVID transformed Tapp from a busy nurse case manager into a comatose ICU patient attached to a feeding tube and ventilator. Sharon fought for her life for 117 days. By the time she regained consciousness, her world had changed. “I was just like a newborn baby in a diaper,” she says. “I took care of everybody. Now, everybody wants to take care of me.”
At first, 60-year-old Tapp, who works at the VA Medical Affairs Center in Washington. D.C. lost her sense of taste. When she started suffering common COVID symptoms such as headache, chest pain, fever, and chills, she went to an urgent care clinic and was tested. Five days later the clinic informed Sharon that she had tested positive for COVID-19, and her boyfriend took her to their area hospital. After being admitted to the ICU, though, her condition became so serious that doctors transported her by helicopter to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. There, physicians placed her in a medically induced coma and connected her to a ventilator.
Tapp survived the ventilator, pneumonia, and heart and lung failure before she rallied. Finally, she moved to an acute rehabilitation hospital, where she spent three weeks working to overcome the muscle breakdown and overall physical debility caused by the lengthy time she spent in a coma (she even had to learn how to swallow again).
Her recovery will be slow, as she is facing both physical and cognitive challenges, but Tapp is determinedly pursuing her speech, physical, and occupational therapy. She is using a rolling walker and a quad cane while regaining her sense of balance and building her strength to walk again. Sharon has a powerful goal in view: she is looking forward to her eventual return to the hospital (as a nurse). After all, nursing is part of who she is: “I like helping people. That’s just my nature. I really enjoy when they get better and I have something to do with it.”
Jimmy Kimmel had a very special surprise for Metallica fan Tracy Bednar, a Long Island pediatric nurse who has been treating children afflicted by COVID-19. Kimmel, who interviewed Bednar in one of his Healthcare Heroes segments, discussed the stressful nature of her job and asked what she does to relax. Bednar mentioned golf and yoga, but admitted that after her shift ends, “the best thing I do [to unwind] is… I play my radio really, really loud” during the 45-minute commute back home from the hospital. What does she like to listen to? Her favorite band is Metallica, and the song she loves most is “Enter Sandman.”
Her Metallica fandom, Kimmel responded, was known to him, because “we’ve been spying on you.” As it transpired, Kimmel’s “spies” are well-connected, and the late-night host managed to treat Bednar to a virtual meet’n’greet with Lars Ulrich. Ulrich remarked, “When I heard the words ‘golf’ and ‘yoga,’ obviously the third word in that [series]—the third basic food group would be Metallica…. And as a father of three, I can’t thank you enough for what you do…”
Social media can be a fantastic way of keeping in touch or sharing information, but it can also be a hotbed of controversy. Elizabeth Hanes, an RN who now works as a journalist, unexpectedly experienced this herself, when Dr. Sandra Lee, also known as “Dr. Pimple Popper,” recently commented on a story Hanes had written.
Hanes took the time to talk with us about her experience.
Exactly what happened? Please explain.
On Saturday, June 20 (I believe), Dr. Lee tweeted a link to my WebMD article (from the WebMD Twitter account). The social media people at WebMD had written social sharing text that said, “What’s the difference between sunburn and sun poisoning? A registered nurse explains.” Above this, Dr. Lee wrote, “Why would a registered nurse explain this? Why not a dermatologist?” and included an eyeroll emoji.
The nurses of Twitter did not respond well to that. The thread had, I believe, thousands of comments. I never saw the original post; I only saw the “apology” post, which also has been deleted.
Were you surprised at what Dr. Lee, aka Dr. Pimple Popper, posted? Why or why not?
I was taken a bit aback. My first thought was, “Why wouldn’t a registered nurse explain this?” This is well within the scope of what nurses do on a daily basis. My second reaction was pure amusement. I guess I will have to say I thought it sounded petty.
Many nurses responded—some were angry and even called for the cancellation of her show. Do you think that a lot of health care professionals don’t understand the nurse’s scope of practice? What about people who don’t work in health care?
I think there were two issues here. First, that many people don’t understand nurses’ scope of practice. Second, that people don’t understand how journalism works. It feels strange to have to write out that a nurse’s scope of practice includes patient education. Our entire profession is built, in fact, on the foundation of teaching patients about their bodies, about wellness, about disease, etc. To me, patient education is the essence of nursing practice. So for someone to sort of call that into question felt baffling.
But people also seemed very unclear on how journalism works. They seemed to believe that only subject matter experts should be reporters. But journalists aren’t required to be subject matter experts, themselves, because journalists know how to conduct research to find the facts they need to write a story. Sometimes that research involves interviewing subject matter experts—like a dermatologist. In this case, the process did not include interviews. That’s just how it goes in journalism.
Do all nurses educate their patients as a part of their routine care?
Yes, absolutely. All nurses engage in patient education on a daily basis. Or family education. In fact, nurses are the health educators of the world. That’s not to say physicians don’t also educate. Of course they do. But physicians often provide patient education at a high, over-arching level. For instance, an oncologist may explain to a patient what chemotherapy does, but the oncology nurse will be the one educating the patient and his or her family members about the effects of chemotherapy, how to cope with those effects, how to set up the home environment to best care for a person receiving chemotherapy—and on and on. Doctors don’t do that. Nurses do.
Why do you think it’s important for the masses to understand that nurses are fully qualified to provide health education?
I think most people turn to nurses first for health education on an interpersonal level. They do this without even thinking about it because nursing is the most trusted profession. My experience has been that people, in general, highly value nurses and their knowledge.
I think there’s a bit of a disconnect when it comes to media and reporting. For instance, during the kerfuffle with Dr. Lee, some people on social media directly questioned my background and credentials—was I really qualified to write this article. When members of the public do this, it does not offend me. In fact, I wish more people would engage in this sort of critical questioning of stories in the media. When they see a celebrity offering an opinion on some topic—let’s say it’s how COVID-19 spreads—I wish more people would ask themselves, “But what do actual epidemiologists say?”
It’s a different story when a doctor or fellow nurse or another health care professional questions my credentials—and in public, no less. These people should know that patient education of all kinds—including articles on WebMD—falls well within the scope of nursing practice. It’s disrespectful to question that or to imply that it does not.
What can nurses do to get the word out about this? Or does it need to come from higher up, like health care and/or nursing organizations? Or both?
I would like to see two things happen:
I would like to see more journalists requesting nurses as sources for their health reporting.
I would like to see more nurses become health reporters.
To the first point, I wish that more health journalists would understand that nurses play a different role in patient care than doctors do, and that their stories would be much enriched if they included the nursing perspective along with the physician’s.
Imagine a news story about a new cancer treatment that not only includes quotes from the researcher about the chemistry involved and quotes from a physician about how this treatment will provide more options for patients—but also includes quotes from an oncology nurse about how this treatment might affect a patient on an everyday level, when they’re at home after receiving it. Currently, we typically get the first story: the one that only includes quotes from the researcher and physician. But the second story gives a much deeper perspective that would benefit readers. For this type of reporting to happen, health system media relations people need to cultivate and support nurses as sources for the press and then suggest and offer those nurses as sources when appropriate.
To the second point, as a nurse reporter myself, I’ve adopted a mission through my RN2writer project “to transform health care communications by making nurse-created content the industry standard for excellence.” Toward that end, I train other nurses in basic journalism skills to start them on a path toward a reporting career. You know, there’s a lot of inaccurate health information on the web. I think one way to combat that is by having nurses produce more health content. I think, subsequently, that publishing more nurse-created health content will reinforce the understanding that patient education is the essence of what we do as nurses.