In commemoration of National Nurses Week, the American Nurse Project has worked with Nurse.com to showcase photos and interview transcripts of nurses that were completed beyond the award-winning book’s publication date.
As with the nurses in the book, which is the source of Nurse.com’s cover photos throughout 2014, these RNs practice in diverse settings and specialties. Their common underlying traits are commitment to caring for others and motivation to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
As with the RNs in the book — as well as in the “American Nurse” documentary film, available in theaters May 8 — these nurses do not seek attention or headlines. But they all have stories worth hearing.
My family moved here to Uvalde [Texas] in 1969, and my father began farming here. I was the fourth of 11 children.
One of the really wonderful things about having a large family and being in the middle is that when my younger brothers and sisters were born, we got to take care of them. I always wondered why people would have a doll baby, because we had a little baby brother or sister to take care of. You learn sort of an art of caring in that way, at a young age, caring for your brothers and sisters, caring for the animals on the farm, caring for each other.
I found a real passion in caring for women that I would see at the clinic. Many times they would come in and have symptoms of anxiety or depression, etc. I wanted to create a practice that would relate to improvement in women’s mental health.
What I do with interventions and with work and community is not to try to change a culture, not to try to change a community, not to try to change the people there, but to try to take the strengths of the women in that community and build on those strengths. You see that the care or what you’re doing with them embellishes your character — it builds you and what you can provide. That’s the beauty of nursing.
with Mona Mon, Burmese language interpreter
I’m a certified nurse midwife. I work here for Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Mona [Mon] is my language interpreter, but maybe more importantly, she’s the cultural liaison. We learned right up front that it’s not just about the words that are being spoken. There are a lot of cultural differences that Mona has brought to us and explained to us.
Dallas, Texas, was chosen by the federal government to be a recipient for Burmese. They looked first for climate similarities, and Dallas, apparently, is one of those places.
Texas is very used to immigration. They’re not that used to refugees. And there is a big difference. Immigrants come here because they want to be here. Refugees are fleeing political or religious issues in their home, and they don’t necessarily want to come here themselves.
When these women first came here, they were afraid. They wouldn’t really give us much of a health history. There were “yes” and “no” answers, but with Mona’s help, they’ve learned to trust us. Mona brings in her homemade chicken soup and her noodles and different things she makes and explains to us the way she made it, and we share our donuts and bad stuff with her [Dubois laughs].
Over time, Mona and I have actually gotten to be friends, and we enjoy each other’s company. I’ve definitely, definitely learned a lot from her and from this group of women that’s come here.
Mona Mon, translator: We have about 20,000 Burmese people in Dallas. When I say Burmese people, they come from Burma, and there are so many different ethnic groups.
We have Kachin people coming in. I’m wearing a Kachin dress right now. The Kachin people are right near the China border. Right now they have war going on over there. We can help them out and it’s going to be easier for them to cross over to a different culture.
Red Cross nursing is primarily public health nursing, and many nurses don’t realize this. It’s not starting IVs and giving shots. It’s actually dealing more with the real nitty-gritty of life.
The American Red Cross was founded in the Civil War by Clara Barton, who was not a nurse; she was a clerk. But she found that it was important to aid Civil War veterans or soldiers who were not getting adequate care. And so she developed a group of women who actually went into the battlefields of the Civil War, and that was the beginning of the American Red Cross.
The Red Cross is very structured in the way it responds to any disaster. With nurses, our big response is in the helping of individuals. This is initially done by setting up a shelter or a relief station, if you will. The people actually come in to us who are fleeing from whatever disaster it is that is occurring, be it a fire, a flood or a tornado. We attempt to get there ahead of the disaster so that we can be on the ground when it happens.
Disasters all have a common element in the chaos that exists, both with law enforcement, with evacuees, with victims … The chaos is unbelievable. The fear, the anxieties that everyone is under.
You just really never know what’s going to walk in and [you] have to be prepared to deal as a first responder with just about anything that walks in that door.
I grew up here in central El Paso, which has more of a middle class and the poorer communities of El Paso. The values and morals that my parents have taught me as I was growing up [involved] appreciating what we have and appreciating what we can do for somebody. If you have it, help somebody.
I was a charge nurse in telemetry. I was making my rounds in the telemetry unit. I came upon one of the heart patients when I was rounding. She was a little dissatisfied about her nurse not coming in as often as she needed to. So I took a few minutes to sit down and talk to her and get her what she needed. Those critical care floors can get pretty hectic sometimes.
I was talking to her, and she told me, “I always wanted to be a nurse as a young girl.” This lady was in her 90s. I said “What happened? Why didn’t you ever become a nurse?” She said … growing up in Mexico, her dad didn’t approve of her being anywhere in a profession. In fact, she told me she wasn’t even allowed to learn how to read.
Her role was that she was going to be a housewife, take care of kids, do home duties and that was that. So she would play nurse with her dolls without her dad finding out. Well, her dad did find out, and she told me he burned all her dolls so that she would discard this idea of her ever becoming a nurse or a doctor. That story stuck with me throughout the day.
I talked to her for a little while. On my way out that day, out of my shift, I’m walking out and I look over at the gift shop. There was this doll there, and I had to buy it for her. I had to go back, pay all this money for a doll, which is expensive at a gift shop. I said, it [doesn’t] matter; I’m going to get this doll. I took it back to her, and she absolutely loved it. The smile on her face was awesome.
It’s great. It’s what we do. That’s the payment that you get from being a nurse. It’s not so much monetary. That smile is worth a lot. She’s 90 years old, with a doll. It was awesome. She embraced that doll like anything. You’re amazed at how this story was probably never told to anybody in her family, how a doll made such an impact on her that day. That somebody else could have done that, and nobody had. Nobody had.
It is estimated that nationwide we have about 9 million migrant and seasonal agricultural workers. In Oregon there are about 170,000. These are migrant workers coming from the countries of Mexico and Guatemala to work in our fields.
When they come here, if they’re sick, many of them use their own traditional medicines and all of that. But when they get really, really sick, many of them do not know where to go for care. So with the ¡Salud! program, that was the idea — how do we present or provide a medium for these workers and their family members to seek services without, early on, the preventive portion?
That’s how the idea was born. We have a clinic on wheels. It’s a big rig. We are able to do physical exams, give vaccinations in that unit, that’s where we do the laboratory for cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure and all of that. We take the services and we contract with other agencies to bring their services to us, like Medical Teams International for their mobile dental clinic.
We bring their big mobile clinic to the site. We will come and park it right there. We give appointments to the workers and we connect with their families. With migrant health, one of the things, for me, anyway, that has been very rewarding is you have to gain the trust of the people. You have to because, otherwise, you’re not successful. With the ¡Salud! program, that’s what I’ve done.
There are approximately 170,000 migrant and seasonal agricultural workers in the state of Oregon. At this moment, I’m reaching about 4,000. What I would like to do in the near future is to be able to do the same thing with all the migrant and seasonal agricultural workers in the state of Oregon. Every one of them. That’s what I want to do. …
One thing that we tend to do in our country is wait until [a health] situation is way too advanced. … I want to do it way early. That’s what I do with ¡Salud! services is start early on, find out if the wife is pregnant, if she’s getting prenatal care. “Yes or no,” point blank, I ask. If no, [I say] here’s the clinic, here’s where you go, here’s the information. And I follow up to make sure she goes to the clinic. … We established the mobile dental services, because dental [issues are] so systemic. …
When I started the ¡Salud! program 14 years ago, the norm was the emergency room. … That’s where everybody was going for things that were simple such as an earache or sore throat. And then people would go to the emergency room for dental and then they get a bill for $500 and nothing was done because they cannot do anything in the emergency room for dental. For the ¡Salud! program today, 14 years later, our emergency room utilization is 9%. That is probably one of the most successful things I can say about the ¡Salud! program. …
I’ve been doing healthcare reform for 14 years by learning or inquiring what is it that this population needs. What do they need? What are the barriers of this population that are here providing such an amazing service to us? They are giving to our economy billions upon billions of dollars. They’re the ones who put the food on the table. They’re the ones who bring you the beautiful salad that you eat every day or that chicken or egg that you eat every day.
And we don’t think about it. We take it for granted. People don’t see that person, they don’t see that human being that is out there laboring, bending over picking strawberries. Their fingers are black with thorns after picking raspberries and all these berries for hours and hours and hours. I’ve seen those hands — they’re black, full of thorns. Caked, every finger. And people don’t see.
That’s why I get so passionate on that subject, because people need to understand what these migrant workers are doing. They’re not here to steal our jobs. They’re not here to tax our school system. They’re not here to tax any of our social services like we hear a lot. They’re not. They’re here to work, and they work really hard. And they love what they do, too. They adjust, and they’re amazing — they’re hard workers. They’re loyal to their employers. They are members of our community. They pay taxes, just like you and I. They may not see the benefits of paying those taxes, but they do [pay taxes]. …
That’s why the ¡Salud! program is so special, because it’s the industry [that] has initiated it. It’s their baby; it’s their project. I just deliver the services.
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... of these and other RNs featured by The American Nurse Project at www.AmericanNurseProject.com.
... of these and other RNs featured by The American Nurse Project at www.AmericanNurseProject.com.