In the Media: New York Times Nurse-Blogger Lends Unique Voice to Health Care Debate

    • March 29, 2010

It was nearing midnight one evening last fall, and Theresa Brown, R.N., Ph.D.—a nurse and mother in Pittsburgh who moonlights as a health blogger for the New York Times—decided to check her e-mail one last time before heading to bed.

What she found in her inbox made sleep that September night nearly impossible.

The Obama administration had sent an invitation asking Brown to join a meeting with the president and other nurse leaders about reforms to the health care system. The catch? The meeting was scheduled for the following morning at the White House.

Within minutes, Brown called the hospital where she works to request a day off, booked an early-morning flight to Washington, D.C., and RSVP’d in the affirmative. Then she got as much rest as she could before heading out of town before dawn.

“I just felt like ‘Hey, I got invited to the White House. I’m going to go.’”

Before the meeting, Brown shook hands with President Obama and then took a seat in the audience, where she listened as he discussed his plans to overhaul the nation’s health care system. In his speech, Obama referred to a blog entry Brown had written about a cancer patient who spent the last three months of his life worrying about how he was going to pay for his mounting medical bills.

“I got to sit and listen to him quote me,” Brown recalls. “It was a personal thrill. I feel like he really does value nurses.”

In just a few short years, Brown has become one of the nation’s preeminent nurse authors. It’s a role that comes naturally to Brown, who earned her doctorate in English literature in 1994 and a few years later switched professional gears and became a nurse.

Early in her nursing career, Brown witnessed the death of a patient and wrote about the traumatic experience for the New York Times. Her piece led to an offer to contribute to the New York Times “Well” blog—an online symposium on health from multiple perspectives—as well as a book contract and other freelancing opportunities. Brown’s book, Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between, a memoir of her first year of nursing, will be available in June.

She is now one of few nurses who writes for a national audience—a fact she considers unfortunate for health care in the United States. The national news media, she says, tend to turn to doctors to answer questions about health care and often leave nurses out of the story. That, she says, has a “ripple effect” that can ultimately undermine care for patients.

“I’m not a policy person, but I’m hoping that by writing well about important things, I will set a ball rolling in people’s minds.”

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