Rebel Nurses: Jalil Johnson’s Journey to Nursing Empowerment

Rebel Nurses: Jalil Johnson’s Journey to Nursing Empowerment

This series takes a look at the stories appearing in The Rebel Nurse Handbook, which features inspiring nurses who push the boundaries of healthcare and the nursing profession. This installment focuses on nurse, writer, public speaker, and acting director of Show Me Your Stethoscope, Dr. Jalil Johnson.

Jalil Johnson found his career in nursing at what might have been the lowest point of a hard life. After graduating from high school, the impoverished Tennessean was struggling. Living from paycheck to paycheck, he ultimately found himself working as a $7.00-an-hour dishwasher. Then came the night—at a time when he had no more than $10 to his name—that Johnson found himself laid off.

During the relentless job hunt that followed, a newspaper ad for free Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) classes caught his eye. Johnson was intrigued, but in his impoverished state, the cost of the course textbooks was beyond his means. As he sat in front of the school planning his next move, he happened to encounter the Dean of the program. The Dean was touched by Johnson’s situation and his astounding resolve. With his encouragement and assistance, Johnson applied for financial aid, enrolled in the CNA classes, and embarked upon a career in nursing.

The CNA training, and later the job itself, changed his life. After getting his CNA, Johnson decided to continue his nursing education. What inspired this decision? Johnson says, “there were many pivotal moments that encouraged me to pursue higher education. An important moment was the sense of absolute fulfillment I felt after working with my first patient as a CNA. Until that point in my life, I’d never actually helped a person with their care, health, or with the simple aim to make their life a little better. When my patient sincerely said ‘thank you so much’ to me that day, I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could about how to do this work. I wanted to expand my ability to have positive impact on people.”

Johnson spent the next two decades climbing the professional ladder: he became an LPN, an RN, was awarded a BSN, went on to take his master’s degree and training as a Nurse Practitioner, and later received his PhD as a nurse scientist. “Each time I completed another degree or level of licensure, my scope of practice and experience changed. The impact I had on patients wasn’t better with more education, but it was different. I enjoyed being challenged in this way. I continued this way of thinking through my studies, including my journey to become a nurse practitioner and nurse scientist (PhD).” Along the way, he worked in positions ranging from traveling nurse, to ICUs and EDs, to substance use treatment programs and behavioral health, and teaching CNA, LPN, RN, and DNP students. “I’ve never forgotten how amazing it feels to empower someone else,” he says.

Empowerment is a keyword for Johnson, who vividly recalls “the powerlessness I often felt throughout my career. Regardless of my level of practice, I always felt that the work and the care could be better, but I never felt I had any power to really change anything. My assumption was that more education would lead to having more say in my practice, and subsequently less feelings of powerlessness. Well, I was wrong about that. The powerless feeling followed me throughout many practice settings and scopes of practice.”

Johnson sought ways to overcome this sense of powerlessness, and found that his views were shared by “hundreds of thousands of nurses out there, who love their work as I do, but also feel like the healthcare system doesn’t work for them or their patients.” Seeking empowerment for himself and his fellow nurses, he began to work in self-advocacy with communities like Show Me Your Stethoscope and Nurses Take DC, and became a writer and public speaker.

When asked what he feels most passionate about in his career, Johnson replies, “I’m passionate about many things. I enjoy caring for my patients and love teaching. However, I’m most passionate about inspiring other bedside nurses to unify behind causes they believe in. As the largest profession within healthcare, I believe nurses have the opportunity to be truly revolutionary if we band together and support each other. This is one of the ideas that motivated me to start writing my forthcoming book, Nation of Nurses, where I discuss specific ways nurses can mobilize and revolutionize healthcare.”

He is also passionate regarding his advocacy groups: “these online communities are filled with bedside nurses who are passionate about improving the nursing and the healthcare system. Honestly, through this work, for the first time in nearly 20 years, I feel like nurses are taking back their power; and this gives me so much hope.”

Rebel Nurses: Jalil Johnson’s Journey to Nursing Empowerment

Brittany Molkenthin’s Early Call to Innovation

This series takes a look at the stories appearing in The Rebel Nurse Handbook, which features inspiring nurses who push the boundaries of healthcare and the nursing profession. This installment focuses on Brittany Molkenthin and the pivotal moment of her innovative nursing career.

In her junior year of nursing school, Brittany Molkenthin envisioned a new premise for a major maternal healthcare innovation. While shadowing a Lactation Consultant in the maternity ward, she encountered a mother attempting to breastfeed for the first time. What should have been a beautiful and life-affirming experience quickly went south. After months of planning to breastfeed her first-born child, multiple classes, and a volume of research, she had continuous trouble with positioning the baby, each time unable to get the right latch. The few times it worked, neither the mother nor the attending staff had any way of gauging how much milk the baby was receiving. After the numerous attempts that afternoon, an overall exasperation filled the room, accompanied by tears running down both the baby’s and the mother’s face. Desperate for her baby to eat, she asked for formula and a bottle.

Brittany replayed the incident over and over, throughout the
day and later that night. As a student, she was directly exposed to the concept
of innovation and the pain point/solution mindset through her school’s
Healthcare Innovations Program. Musing upon the dilemma, she identified the
pain point as the inability to register how much milk a baby was receiving from
its mother. A solution, she surmised, would be to develop “a device that
accurately calculated the amount of breast milk that infants receive during
breastfeeding.”

After working with a team of biomedical engineers to develop
a working prototype, Brittany was ready to enter in her university’s “Shark
Tank” event. Although she did not win the competition, she was undeterred.
Brittany reached out to one of the event’s judges to discuss plans for her
device further and, thereafter, push forward with her startup. The year after
graduation, she filed a provisional patent and launched into a flurry of
networking, pitch decks, and attendance at innovation events.

While applying for startup business grants and working to
keep her nascent company alive, Brittany had her hands full: employed as a
bedside RN in pediatric intensive care and simultaneously studying to become a
pediatric primary care NP. Her breastmilk gauging device, Manoula, is designed to inform
“mothers and providers how much breastmilk a baby has consumed” and share the
data via wireless technology. The product is moving toward its alpha prototype
and is expected to enter the market in 2021.

DailyNurse asked Brittany: What was the hardest part
of starting your LLC and creating a new medical device? And what was the most
rewarding?

She responded, “the hardest part about starting an LLC and
creating a medical device was the mere fact of starting with no previous
medical device development, business, or entrepreneurial background. I thought
I was going to be a nurse, that was it… I never imagined it would get this
far. The most rewarding aspect is seeing how far the company and the device has
come since that drawing of my “vision” started as a Crayola picture
and a school project. It is amazing to think this device will be in the hands
of breastfeeding mothers someday.”

Brittany also has some advice for any nurse who has an innovative idea and is interested in turning it into a new product: “Find a team. Team is essential to the success of any startup or any innovative idea. A team that shares your passion, drive, and vision can help bring an innovative idea to fruition.”



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