The photographs of nurses on our cover and here are from The American Nurse, a book of 75 black-and-white portraits of nurses and accompanying interviews by Carolyn Jones, to be published next month by Welcome Books.
The book was the vision of Rhonda Collins, MSN, RN, vice president and business manager of Fresenius Kabi USA, a company specializing in infusion therapy and clinical nutrition that's supporting the project. Collins says she knows “what it takes every day” to be a nurse, because she used to work at the bedside in high-risk labor and delivery. “Nurses touch patients more than any other person,” she said to AJN, “and by focusing this book on the end user—the nurse—we wanted to call attention to a truly noble profession. But we wanted to be honest, not so sharp and shiny—we wanted it to be real.”
With this purpose in mind, Collins sought out Carolyn Jones, a photographer and filmmaker known for her authentic portraiture, particularly as author of the internationally acclaimed photography book, Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS (New York: Abbeville Press; 1997).
“I knew nothing about nursing when I started,” Jones said, other than her own personal interactions in hospitals as a patient. But the project piqued her interest. She wanted to photograph nurses people don't hear much about, those who live and work in far reaches of the country, and nurses in as many regions as possible. She conducted interviews and collected biographies of “the best of the best” nurses—those who were nominated by colleagues, who serve diverse or uncommon populations, and who work in a variety of settings—and discovered that they do so much more than she realized.
In her poignant introduction to the book, Jones talks about the nurses she met and how the experience changed her: “When you sit down to talk to a nurse you realize that there's very little veneer to get through,” she writes. “There are no walls to break down…. Saving people and watching people die make you more human, I think.” In New York City, she met nurses working in a district with the highest rate of hunger in the country, a nurse who started her hospital's first AIDs unit, and a transgendered nurse at a clinic who helps others going through the same process. Jones captured images of nurses in Wyoming who serve the local Native American community, nurses in Wisconsin who run a nursing home populated with as many animals—cows, horses, goats, geese—as patients, and nurses in eastern Kentucky who trek through high water to treat coal miners for black lung disease.
This project celebrates nurses' “generosity of spirit,” Jones says, for being there at the critical times in our lives. Jones, a breast cancer survivor, is particularly grateful to the nurse who administered her chemotherapy, Joanne Staha, who “made it OK, safe, and funny,” Jones recalls. Staha's inclusion in The American Nurse is Jones's opportunity to thank her.
The nurses in the book who appear on our cover are (clockwise from top row, left) Rosemary Livingston, heart and kidney unit, Children's National Medical Center, Washington, DC; Jun Ting Liu, who combines Eastern and Western healing techniques, San Francisco General Hospital and trauma center; Germaine Williams, nurse clinician for thoracic and oncology services, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland; Jason Short, hospice care, Home Care Health Services, Pikeville, Kentucky; Sandra Barnes, transplant unit, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, New York; Venus Anderson, life flight nurse, Nebraska Medical Center / LifeNet in the Heartland, Omaha, Nebraska; and (center) Sister Stephen Bloesl, director of nursing, Villa Loretto Nursing Home, Mount Calvary, Wisconsin.
The American Nurse will launch with a photo exhibit at the American Nurses Credentialing Center's National Magnet Conference on October 10–12 in Los Angeles. To watch the video component of the project, go to www.americannurseproject.com. For more about Carolyn Jones, see her Web site at www.carolynjones.com. And click on the podcast icon above to listen to our interview with Carolyn Jones.—Alison Bulman, associate editor
Nury Astrid Cubillos, MSN, RN, VA San Diego Medical Center
Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Cubillos came to the United States when she was 14 years old. She has been a nurse for 11 years and expects to earn her MSN/ED this year from the University of Phoenix. In 1996, she joined the U.S. Navy and has toured the world three times.
“I love my work because I feel that, when I do my work with passion, I give something to people. Being a nurse is a lot more than taking care of the pain with medication. It's actually listening and being there…. Technology is wonderful, but we can't let it be the cure for everything. We have to hold on to the spiritual side of being a nurse.”
John Russell, BSN, RN, Louisiana State Penitentiary Angola, Louisiana
Russell grew up in the college town of Natchitoches, Louisiana, and went to school in Shreveport. His first nursing job was in the ED at a local charity hospital in Baton Rouge. In 1995, he began working with the inmate population at the Louisiana State Penitentiary as night-shift supervisor.
“You have to be a certain kind of nurse to fit into the mold up here. You can't get too attached to the inmates—that is frowned upon. We have certain rules and regulations that at first seem stupid, but then you realize it's all about security…. I was thinking about getting a job closer to my home, but then I realized that after 29 years, I have become so accustomed to this place that it is almost like I am institutionalized myself.”