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What Would #ThisNurse Say? Nurse Pham: You’re a Hero. Media: More Nursing, Less Puppy Love.

This post is by CHMP’s graduate fellow, Amanda Anderson, RN. Amanda is a practicing bedside nurse in Manhattan, and a student in the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing‘s dual MSN/MPA program with Baruch College. At HBSON, she co-directs The Nurses Writing Project, a nurse-specific writing program that uses peer-based collaborative writing assistance and reflective writing practices to grow nurse leadership via the written word. She blogs here, and for a number of other nursing sites. Find her clips via her blog, This Nurse Wonders. She tweets @12hourRNcalllightI think it’s safe to say that most of us can detect when the media is spinning a story. Whether telling or being told, news is often flung wildly across print, television and social media at the whim of the deliverer. We all know the power the media has to shape the way we think, just as much as we all know what to expect when we turn on Fox News.

But since we’re rarely included in the media, nurses may not realize that this week, we became its biggest victim. Our poster child? America’s first recipient of transmitted Ebola, Nurse Nina Pham of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

On Tuesday, likely to quell the anger of nurses over the CDC’s wording on the cause of Pham’s diagnosis, the Times ran the story, “Ebola Puts Nina Pham, a Nurse Unaccustomed to the Spotlight, in Its Glare” Written by Jack Healy, the story came nicely packaged with a photo of the young, beautiful woman on her cell phone, assurances of Nurse Pham’s stable state of rest, that she checks her charts twice, and that her little dog is safe.

To pick one story on this evolving topic is difficult. But I believe a quick dissection of the Times initial coverage of Nurse Pham is most vital to the nursing community in our current state of Ebola dialogue. With it, the media has stuck us in the age-old angel corner, and in doing so, largely distracted us from spinning our own evidence-based, intelligent tale.

Here’s where I think we, the expert nursing community, went missing in this piece, and what we might have added by way of a credible, clear and constructive defense to Nurse Pham, and an attempt to gain control of the dialogue about nursing in the shadow of Ebola.

Nurse Pham is a professional.

The Times cited a friend of Pham’s, a Jennifer Joseph, titling her simply as a former colleague. Joseph later outs herself as a nurse, saying that Pham helped her orient to the ICU. She also speaks on Pham’s character, which is the only instance when the Times spins Pham’s breach – she’s a conscientious, nice nurse, how could have…made a human error?

Not once does the Times speak of Pham’s experience as a nurse. They disclose that she graduated from an accelerated degree program, but they do not tell the public what this means – that this is the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree. No quantification of her experience as an ICU nurse is made.

How different the spin of this article would have been if the reporter included the remarks and expertise of an experienced nurse to address Pham’s ICU experience, professionalism, and the role that the hospital played – or did not play – in preparing their nursing staff. This missed media opportunity likely did little but distract a public already entering mid-panic over the competency and protection of its most trusted profession.

Whether Pham has little ICU experience, or she is a nationally recognized critical care specialist, a discussion of her professionalism as a nurse by a nurse, remains an opportunity too valuable to miss. Without our voices, the Times spins us into the numb land of human interest – beautiful, young, saintly nurse turned patient – and away from a much-needed dialogue on what makes a nurse credibile, and what a credible nurse actually does at the bedside.

Nurse Pham is a victim of poor training.

As an experienced MICU nurse who cared for critically ill patients during the deadly 2008 H1N1 epidemic, my first question about Nurse Pham would have been: “What was the protocol that she breached, and how did her hospital prepare her?” Instead, this article had me wondering what might happen to her dog. By focusing on personal attributes, the media created a cause, but with it, a distraction. Now, days and diagnoses later, the truth of the hospital’s state of unpreparedness has finally surfaced via the voice of an angry nurse employee.

Whose fault is this initial soft spin? In my opinion, the nursing profession should shoulder part of the blame. Barring a very outspoken nursing union and a lot of social media drivel, many of us are not asking critical questions to critical media contributors. What exactly happened in that Texas hospital? Did the journalist reach out to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and ask to speak to an expert infectious control nurse or nurse epidemiologist? Are these nurse experts reaching out to the media to pitch themselves as experts?

Likely, the question we all want an answer to – “What went wrong?” – will not be subject to conjecture for quite some time. Our outside perspective but inside nursing knowledge is direly needed to spin nursing’s take. By asking about the nature of Pham’s training and her employer’s lack of preparedness, expert nurse voice could act as the vehicle for shifting the Ebola debate towards the discussion of a systems-level problem of neglect towards nurses, that existed long before the virus entered our land.

Nurse Pham should be our example, not our media darling.

While my thoughts go out to Nurse Pham, who is undergoing what I can only define as every nurse’s nightmare, I think we do ourselves a disservice as a profession to jump into the human spin of her story. As American Academy of Nursing president, Diana Mason aptly said to NPR this week, “If your hospital’s not prepared for Ebola, the nurses will know it.” When we focus on fluff, and do not speak critically with the media on the details of our care, we keep vital, nurse-specific observation points from policy makers.

Want the CDC to change their PPE protocol? Stop threatening to strike for specific items and instead study their recommendations on PPE procedure. Look at pictures of Ebola in Africa; recognize its theft of humanity, and that it is a threat to many more lives than just our own.

Then, talk to your media outlets and spin nursing’s story in ways that count. Talk about your experiences with PPE training, now and in the past. Call in to your local radio station about the quality of your PPE at work and what it feels like to wear it – in an unbiased, factual manner. When you see a CDC policy that makes you scratch your head, refrain from tweeting it with a thoughtless comment, and look into it. Could you explain it better?

Ebola is nursing’s tracer-test – it exposes just how unsupported, and yet just how crucial we really are to America’s health. We should move away from blanket statements based in fear and not fact. Using Nurse Pham as our example, we must make ourselves available to the media as the experts that we are, demanding the policies necessary for vigilant Ebola care, while offering our expertise for their creation.

New Thursday Column: What Would #ThisNurse Say?

This post is by CHMP’s graduate fellow, Amanda Anderson, RN. Amanda is a practicing bedside nurse in Manhattan, and a student in the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing‘s dual MSN/MPA program with Baruch College. At HBSON, she co-directs The Nurses Writing Project, a nurse-specific writing program that uses peer-based collaborative writing assistance and reflective writing practices to grow nurse leadership via the written word. She blogs here, and for a number of other nursing sites. Find her clips via her blog, This Nurse Wonders. She tweets @12hourRN


I love the New York Times, I really do. Above the shower in my tiny, windowless bathroom, hangs a clipped front page from March 17, 2004. A woman walks in front of a bodega’s flower display as snowflakes fall. She holds a cell phone, and like a true New Yorker, goes unphased by the flowers, the snow, and their ironically beautiful combination. I loved this photo then, when I was in college in rural Ohio – it was the personification of a city I knew I was destined for. I love it now, as I walk the same streets and continue to read the same paper.

But the longer I read, the more I realize that my beloved Times really doesn’t love me back. Sure, it loves me, the student, the reader, the art lover, and the citizen. But my New York Times doesn’t love me, the nurse. Day after day, I open to stories about topics that lead directly into the world of nursing – health care policy, Ebola coverage, even business innovations –with word after word, and quote after quote blatantly devoid of the opinions of our country’s largest and most trusted profession.

An article in today’s NYT discusses Ebola preparedness in New York City hospitals. Although “nurse,” and “the nurses,” are used in descriptions of personal protective equipment (PPE) upgrades, nurse opinion is not cited. An opportunity for public education on the risks of transmission is missed (arrow) – a perfect place for an experienced nurse to explain the process of donning, wearing, and removing PPE. The only nurse quoted in the article remains unnamed, described as, ” not authorized,” for identified comment, despite assumed position as a hospital employee.

I’ve written a few reflections about this absence on my own blog, and for HealthCetera. Many center around the seminal book, From Silence to Voice, where authors Bernice Buresh and Suzanne Gordon discuss the absence of nursing voice in mainstream media, and why this is a problem in dire need of a solution.

I believe our absence in papers like the Times says much more than any misquote or unauthorized sound bite we might fear – our silence infers that we, the nursing profession, has nothing to say. But from my experience at the bedside and in the policy world, I know this isn’t true; nurses have more to say that matters than most partners in health care teams. Maybe we just don’t realize this?

So, from now until I start seeing active solicitation of expert nurse opinion in my daily paper, I’ll write a column here on HealthCetera. This column, called, “What Would #ThisNurse Say?” will take one news article each week, and discuss the absence of nursing voice within its contents. It will then shed light onto what the article might look like with the presence of nursing voice. I’ll also give you tips on how to reach out to your local papers as a nurse expert, who to talk to at work to get your expert-quotes approved, and where to go when you want the inside-scoop on news from a nursing perspective.

Nursing is big, but we’re often ignored. We’re vital, but we’re always fighting replacement. Perhaps it’s time to enter into the media arena as the experts we are in the bedside arena – one newspaper quote after another. Join me every Thursday, here on HealthCetera, to do just that.

Healthstyles Today: Ebola and Breastfeeding

wbaiThe World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that 20,000 people will be infected with the Ebola virus before the current crisis in West Africa is contained. Earlier in the week, it reported that 120 health care workers have died from the disease, leaving unafflicted doctors, nurses, and other health care workers with fewer human resources to care for those who become ill from Ebola. In some cases, remaining health care workers have refused to work and whole hospitals have closed because of insufficient staff. The WHO has issued a roadmap to contain the spread of the virus but some believe that the international response to the spread of Ebola has been woefully insufficient.

Today on Healthstyles, producer and host Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, interviews Kate Mort, Director of Human Resources for Medecin Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders, about the challenges this NGO faces in West Africa, particularly Monrovia, Liberia, as well as the response of the international community and need for volunteers to help to contain the spread of this deadly disease in which only 47% of those infected with the virus are surviving.

The program opens with HealthCetera, an update on health news, and ends with an interview with Nancy Manister, PhD, RN, FNP, Assistant Professor of nursing at Fairfield University in Connecticut about breastfeeding as part of a national conversation this month to raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding to mother, baby, family, and society. You can listen to the interview here:

So tune in at 1:00 today on WBAI, 99.5 FM ( in New York City.

Healthstyles is sponsored by the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, City University of New York.


Joy Jacobson:

This is a repost by Lacy M. Johnson. Her new memoir is “The Other Side,” which asks, Kelle Groom writes, “How is it possible to reclaim the body after devastating violence?” This letter seems to me to emphasize something undeniably important: the power of one person’s story to affect the lives of others. I’ll be reading her book soon.—Joy Jacobson, CHMP senior fellow

Originally posted on Lacy M. Johnson:

Dearest Anna,

It’s been almost a month since the New York Times’ published its investigation of the many ways in which Hobart and William Smith Colleges mishandled your sexual assault, and in that time Congress has introduced a new bill that relies primarily on stiff fines and strict reporting guidelines to shame institutions of higher education into better accountability. It’s progress, maybe, but that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because there’s a picture of you in the newest Times article — in which Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is announcing the new bill into a rack of microphones, and you’re standing beside her, papers in hand, mascara running.

I am writing to you because I know how it feels to stand in front of a room of powerful people and describe all the ways you’ve been made to feel weak. How the tears are not weakness but rage, though no one would believe you if you tried to explain…

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Chronic Illness: Nobody’s Talking. What Do Patients Actually Know?


Nobody's talking: New data shows just 12% of providers talk to their heart patients about end of life, while a recent CDC study suggest only 50% of patients receive education on chronic illnesses. Photo @shelserkin.

Nobody’s talking: New data shows that just 12% of providers talk to their heart patients about end of life, and a recent CDC study suggests only 50% of patients recall receiving education on their chronic illnesses. Photo @shelserkin.

A tweet caught my eye somewhere in the middle of Wednesday’s endless Twitter spin. NPR’s Health Blog, Shots headlined: “Doctors Hesitate To Ask Heart Patients About End-Of-Life Plans.” Huh. I was on my lunch break from working with cardiac patients, so I clicked in.

The blog post started with the familiar intro to congestive heart failure (CHF): a grim long-term prognosis, high incidence of hospital admissions, decreased quality of life, and likely death within five years of diagnosis. It ended with new research that suggests clinicians aren’t talking about these things with their CHF patients.

CHF is tricky. For a long time, patients feel fine; but as the disease progresses, their balance between thriving at home and succumbing to its complications in the hospital can come down to a packet of salt or a cup of water. It is the condition with the highest readmission rate, and requires exhaustive patient education about strict compliance with multiple medications and diet restrictions to keep complications at bay. Then, one day, all of the therapies stop working because the heart is just too worn out. That’s the day, the day that happens for all CHF patients, that doctors aren’t talking about, apparently.

The showcased data, yet to be published, was gathered from interviews with 100 MDs and NPs. Of the total, only a third said they were confident in even bringing up end-of-life care with their patients; 21% faulted patients’ readiness to chat, 11% of providers felt uncomfortable, and a very interesting 9% said they didn’t want to dash their patients’ sense of hope. In total, only 12% of the clinicians taking care of long-term CHF patients actually talked to them about end of life.

To be fair, practitioners aren’t reimbursed for these chats. They have to cram them into their pro-bono-goodwill budget. Maybe this is why a fraction of those in this study said they just didn’t have the time. But CHF is a disease so intimately tied to teaching patients to observe the progression of their symptoms – one pound of weight gained can mean a leap towards exacerbation – that it’s hard for me to understand how talks about prognosis and management can be separated.

It’s maleficent, really. When clinicians don’t discuss options and prognosis, patients are actually harmed by omission. Not talking fosters an unrealistic sense of cure, and patients miss out on amazing alternative options, like palliative care and hospice services. Yes, hospice is intended for patients with a six month prognosis, but the CMS-reimbursed program focuses on the management of comfort, not cure, and many patients actually improve and are discharged. Palliative care centers on maximizing symptom relief for chronic patients, like CHFers, in tandem with medical therapies. In a disease where the only real cure – heart transplant – isn’t offered to the majority of patients, therapies with the goal of maximizing quality of life are worth bringing up sooner rather than later.

One of the authors of this study, which hails from the Mayo Clinic, said that when providers were asked if they were talking about end of life issues with their patients, many of them said they wait until things get bad or until they have to do something new, like start a medication or talk about more aggressive therapy. Instead of cutting to the chase at the get-go, giving patients the true information about their prognosis right away, patients are faced with it when things look grim, and when it’s likely to be an awful surprise.

This is the point where I step in: the bedside, ICU nurse. I see CHF patients when their heart is so tired that it can’t pump blood to the body any longer, and it backs up into their lungs. Fluid-filled lungs don’t function very well, so the patients end up having to decided if they want the support of a ventilator while they gulp for air and foam at the mouth in a vicious attempt to stay alive. How is this best-case scenario? I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer a quiet, calm doctor’s office for the setting of this chat, not the point where my life is hanging in the balance with a bunch of strangers and fear.

I sent out a tweet to the ‘sphere after reading this write up. I asked the question: “I wonder how many nurses are starting these conversations?” Almost in an eerie response to my query, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Human Capital Blog tweeted out a blog post about a recent CDC study saying that nurses and PA’s are more frequently giving patients chronic disease management education than physicians. It’s true; I often talk to my patients about their illnesses in honest ways, bringing up options different from their aggressive – and often futile – hospital care.

While CHF wasn’t one of the chronic conditions noted, the CDC study’s results were pretty jarring: less than 50% of patients receive education on their chronic condition. The reality of all chronic conditions, especially CHF, is that they eventually become acute. If we’re not talking about end of life in the beginning, and only half of us are educating in the duration, what, exactly, do patients know about their diagnoses?

Thanks to Hollywood and the silver screen, the public has been long familiar with the stereotypical oncologist prognosis scene: “Mr. Jones, you’ve got six months left to live,” are now common words in our vernacular. But rarely, if ever, do I hear people telling me about diagnoses with other chronic conditions (yes, cancer is a chronic condition) like CHF, tied to time-left-to-live quantifications.

Why not? Recognizing the possibility for death, starting at diagnosis, seems to bring motivation and acceptance in patients. CHF patients should be traveling the globe, checking off their bucket lists, planning for a proactive and comfortable death just as much as cancer patients seem to be. Until we stop cowering behind our fears of introducing end of life care as a part of chronic disease management, patients will continue to be cheated of a fair chance to live the life they have left to its attainable maximum.

Maybe all of us conversation-starters should remember: Hope is only helpful when directed at reality. Get chatting.


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