In the Media: New Anthology Shines Light on Nursing

Jul 10, 2013, 9:00 AM

Nurses comprise the largest group of health care professionals, yet they are often relegated to background roles in popular entertainment, during policy debates, and at decision-making tables at hospitals and health care agencies.

A powerful new book about nursing is helping to bring the profession to the fore.

Edited by Lee Gutkind, a writer, editor, and professor, I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse is an anthology of essays written by nurse-authors. A New York Times reviewer called it “beautifully wrought.” The reviewer says the book serves as a reminder that nurses are the “indispensable and anchoring element of our health care system.”

Indeed, Gutkind points out in the introduction that there are some 3 million nurses in the United States—more than half of 1 percent of the population. In the book, 21 of them share riveting stories about their diverse and often difficult experiences in a variety of settings, from an emergency room to a community clinic to a maternity ward to unexpected places like an impoverished home in rural China.

Despite their diverse experiences, these nurses share one thing in common: a close proximity to death that puts their lives—and all life—in sharp relief.

Theresa Brown, BSN, RN, OCN, a clinical nurse and columnist for the New York Times, contributed an essay in which she talks about administrating a potentially lethal dose of medicine to a dying patient: “On that morning, though, I felt a breeze on my face as I stepped through the double doors and saw the day’s first light, and it hit me: I’m alive.

The anthology helps readers see nurses for the hardworking, life-saving professionals that they are, and recognize the critical, if sometimes invisible roles nurses play in the nation’s health care system. With death so present in these narratives, readers gain appreciation for the nurses who play such important roles in life and death and in between.

Read a post about the book on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Blog.

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