OPINION: A Call to Action for Nurses
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Posted by: Kanaka Sathasivan
By Amy McCarthy, MSN, RNC-MNN, NE-BC
Secretary, Texas Nurses Association
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was arrested and then detained by an officer kneeling on his neck, causing him to become unconscious. Despite Floyd’s cries for help, stating he couldn’t breathe, the officer showed no signs of relenting, and Floyd eventually died.
As a nurse watching that horrific video, I couldn’t breathe either. In a hospital, anyone gasping for breath would immediately be assisted. Every muscle inside of me wanted nothing more than to help that man catch his breath. Everything inside of me wanted to jump through my screen and render aid to him.
Every time an incident like this occurs, some people respond saying the officers had to protect themselves from what the victim could potentially do. My counter to that is that every day, nurses place themselves in harm’s way to protect those who enter their care. We save the lives of all people — felons, drug dealers, white people, Black people, rich, poor. The list goes on, but the point is: We stop at nothing to render aid.
There are many emergency department nurses who can tell you that in one night they will care for not only a gunshot victim, but also the person who fired the gun.
It’s not our job to judge, and we know full well that a patient could attack us at any time. In fact, according to the American Nurses Association, 1 in 4 nurses are assaulted on the job.
We provide care anyway.
In recent days, we have seen thousands rise up in protest. The anger in the air is palpable, and there is an urgency to fix this and fix this now. Unfortunately, this problem — one that has infiltrated our nation since the very beginning — cannot be solved overnight.
What is needed is a change in culture, a change in attitude and most importantly, a change in how we hold people accountable.
In my experience as a nurse leader — if you want to change a culture, you can’t ride in the backseat and coast. Culture changing is difficult, emotional work, which comes with knowing you might not be liked because of it. My employees can tell you: I’m not there to be their best friend. I am there to ensure an environment that promotes the highest standard of care and protects both employees and patients. I role model compassion and kindness in hopes that together my team can build a culture of respect and tolerance for each other and those we care for.
The same holds true for our current situation. Leaders must show up and hold people accountable. As citizens, we must hold ourselves and our neighbors accountable. It’s essential that we sit down and collaborate, but also just listen.
When people aren’t given the opportunity to share their views, when lives continue to be lost regardless of how many times the injustice is pointed out, people get angry.
So what now?
One, we need to ensure this issue is not forgotten in two weeks. Social media feeds are flooded with call to actions and images declaring a need for justice. People are in the streets marching. Will that still be the case in two weeks? It has to be to provoke sustained change. To remind leaders that something has to be done.
Two, any nurse reading this — regardless of what your role or title is — can personally do their part in this cultural transformation. I may not be able to solve the crisis happening in police departments across the nation, but I can make sure that every person who enters my clinic is treated with respect, regardless of their skin color, but also without ignoring the influence systemic racism has on the health of people of color.
Three, every one of us can start to talk with peers, supervisors, city and state leaders and work through professional organizations like Texas Nurses Association to ensure that we continue to pay attention to racial inequality. I can hold those around me accountable. It is my duty as a nurse and as leader to promote equality in the communities which I serve. My hope is that other nurses will listen and do the same.
As a profession that is comprised of 2.86 million nurses, we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us. Together, we are a force to be reckoned with — we have certainly showed this in our response to COVID-19. We have seen firsthand the impact of racial inequality on the health of so many we care for. It is essential that we use our collective voice to transform this nation and help pave the way for a culture that promotes equality, accountability and zero-tolerance for hate.
2020 has proven to be a year with many competing priorities — the topic of racial equality must not fall off the top of that list.