May 9, 2013

Amanda Anderson, RN, BSN, CCRN, a native-Buffalonian-turned-New-Yorker, is celebrating her 6th Birthday as a MICU nurse this June. She’s currently shooting for two master’s degrees from Hunter Bellevue’s award-winning nursing school, writing with students and for herself, and dodging yellow cabs while speeding around the city on her little bike. Follow her musings here, via @12hourRN, and on her blog

Each morning, I wake up running. A million thoughts, a million tasks; I usually get distracted in the middle of making a pot of coffee. Instagram, Facebook, NYTimes, Twitter. The last thing I can do is sit with my laptop to write. The voice of my story is buried – deep within a long list of thoughts, assignments and e-mails.

But some mornings, if I push past it all and glue myself
down, my story is there, singing its way into existence. Pieces of it, lines of it, waves of text and feeling and thought. Past the distraction of the newspaper landing on my doorstep, the plants asking me for water, last night’s dishes crowding the sink.

This morning, I’m following the fleeting voice of my story like Alice, running through Wonderland in search of that crazy cat. I’ve managed to get the coffee brewing, I’ve warded off my internet addiction for a moment, and here I am.

I’m thinking about a woman I met with yesterday, a grad student and professional nurse. This woman is much older than I, has a family, and a well-established nursing career here in New York. She is studying in a graduate program at Hunter, and our paths crossed last night because, for professional experience and a small pittance, I help graduate students write papers. Despite moderately solid writing, this student’s latest paper happened to garner extra attention from her professor. For plagiarism.

The semester has not been an easy one for her, or for her and me in the mentor-student relationship. A student myself, I found her initiative frustrating, and couldn’t understand why my little red tracking comments telling her to refer back to Purdue Owl weren’t solving her problems with APA. Sure, she probably speaks English as her second language, but there are programs that format citations for you, and APA is pretty formulaic, right?

Finally, after much e-mailing, misunderstanding and poor writing exchanged, we met last night.

In the stuffy game room of the ancient Hunter Brookdale campus, I quickly learned that this woman had never been taught APA format. She didn’t know how to compose a thesis sentence, and had no clue what needed to be cited and what didn’t. She’d clearly managed to graduate from nursing school, made her way through the competitive professional world of New York City, and landed at Hunter as a graduate student, so where had these missing pieces fallen?

As we talked, and I taught her these vital student skills, I realized how very smart and savvy this woman was – as a professional woman and a nurse. Her insights into the plight of her patients and the socioeconomic devastation that leads to their co-morbidities were dead-on. She had stats to back up her claims, and a policy idea that could lead the Kaiser Health News website for weeks. Plain and simple: she just didn’t know how to get her ideas and experiences–her story–down on paper in a legally and academically sound way.

This Nurses Week, I’m reading a lot from organizations asking nurses to tell their stories. I talk to nurses every day with incredible, fascinating, thrilling tales– each unique, profound, sometimes hilarious.  Last weekend, I met an amazing woman who created a book of nurses to do just that.

But if nurses and their stories are so amazing, why does my newspaper arrive every morning without a single nurse story in it? Do America’s working nurses lack the confidence and skills to follow the voice of their story, get it down in ways others can understand, and fluidly broadcast it to the world?

My suspicious are confirmed by my early-morning-mass-consumption of media. On this fourth day of Nurses Week, I see no major media outlets recognizing, sharing love for, or publishing stories from nurses. Tuesday’s  Science section of The New York Times didn’t offer a shred of nursing copy. The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post? Nothing.  #nursesweek isn’t trending on Twitter anymore, and did anybody see a Google Doodle celebrating the most trusted profession in the country? Nope.

Why not? Nurses love to share their stories, and the 3.1 million of us in America all carry an endless supply. But perhaps, like my new friend and colleague from last night, many of us don’t know how to tell our stories in impactful, media-ready ways. Perhaps our nurse voices hide behind busyness, exhaustion, and even fear. Perhaps, all the times a doctor told us to shut up, or a family member waved us away wanting to speak to one, have added up to a belief that our stories aren’t worth telling.

This must end. Nursing, we need to share our stories in effective, intellectual and dynamic ways. By 2014, we must not only demand a Google banner, we must be asked what we want it to look like. We must fill the Op-ed columns of the major media outlets of every, single town, because we live and work in every, single town. We must jog the memories of the American public, reminding each person of the many moments in their lives that were changed, influenced and made possible by the presence of a nurse.

We have a voice, we have a place in the American dialogue of health, and we, as a nursing profession, must learn to perfect and use our stories for ourselves, and for our patients.

Amanda Anderson, BSN, RN, CCRN