March is Red Cross Month

Mar 14, 2012, 1:00 PM, Posted by

By Sharon Stanley, PhD, RN, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellow, and chief nurse for the American Red Cross


March is Red Cross Month. And at the American Red Cross, it’s a time to celebrate our work in communities across the country and around the globe, and to recognize how we depend on public support to help people in need. Every meal we serve to a family displaced by disaster, every emergency message we send to a member of the military and every unit of Red Cross blood we collect is made possible by the generosity of a donor.

People support the Red Cross by making a financial contribution, becoming a volunteer, taking a class or giving blood. The level of service the Red Cross provides with these generous gifts is staggering. The organization responds to nearly 70,000 disasters a year, for example, and educates more than 9 million people in first aid, water safety and other lifesaving skills.

March is also a time to celebrate the contributions thousands of nurses and other health care professionals make to this organization. Nurses are a part of everything that happens at the American Red Cross.

Nurse volunteers help the Red Cross support veterans, members of the military and their families; they volunteer at blood drives. They provide health screenings and information at Red Cross booths during countless community events. They serve on the Nursing and Caregiving Sub-Council of the Scientific Advisory Council, which advises the American Red Cross on the development and dissemination of critical information and training related to CPR, first aid, caregiving and safety.

Thousands of Red Cross nurses are trained disaster responders. Our ranks include volunteers like Mary Steece, RN, of Scottsboro, Ala., who dropped everything to travel to Louisville, Ky., where she is helping people who lost so much in the tornados earlier this month.

The Red Cross relies greatly on nurses like Mary Steece in disaster recovery. But nurses also need to play a role before disaster strikes, in preparedness efforts that go on all year. A part of my work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellowship is to more fully integrate nurses into community preparedness and to take a bigger role in the leadership of those efforts.

The Red Cross also aims to build on our existing human capital by enhancing the skills of the next generation of nurse volunteers through the Red Cross National Student Nurse Program, The Red Cross’ National Nursing Committee, in partnership with several national nursing organizations, is developing a menu of activities and community courses that nursing students can access while volunteering for the Red Cross, including the new Red Cross Disaster Health Sheltering Course. Now offered in nursing schools nationwide, the course builds awareness about disaster preparedness, teaches response skills and raises awareness of the critical role nurses play in their communities in times of disaster.

Read a Q&A with RWJF senior adviser for nursing Susan Hassmiller about her work with the American Red Cross. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, was a recipient of the organization’s Florence Nightingale award, nursing’s highest international honor.

Read more about the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows program.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.