A salute to the nurses among us

National Nurses Week officially ends today, May 12th on Florence Nightingale’s birthday. But of course you can thank a nurse and recognize him or her any day, any time. Many of us have personal stories of being cared for by a nurse with great skill and empathy.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a teacher. But my part-time high school and college jobs were actually as a nurse aide in nursing homes. I saw firsthand how nurses cared for the elderly and how hard their work was.

There are several nurses in my family whom I love dearly and respect greatly. I know I can call on them whenever I have a health question. I have to be careful to not abuse this access.  Every family who has a nurse or doctor amongst them knows how valuable they can be.

My sister, Mary Sheehan, is a nurse. She went on to get a master’s degree in public health. She ran just about every division in the Minnesota public health department during her long tenure with the state. Before retiring she served as a county health and human services director. Continue reading

Snow days and everyday heroes

If you live in the north, you know about snow days. Your kids feel cheated if there aren’t a few each winter. Parents juggle to find backup plans when school closings are announced. If your employer is quick to close when there is a major storm or tells you to work from home you may breathe a sigh of relief.  You’re just glad that you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to shovel out your driveway and try to get down your unplowed street.

But hospitals never close, nor can they or should they. The everyday heroes I want to recognize are everywhere at the University of Michigan Health System. The nurses who pulled a double shift because their colleagues couldn’t make it in to relieve them. The support staff throughout the hospital who ensure patients are cared for, in a safe, clean environment. The diligent teams who ensure there are meals for patients and staff.  There are too many to mention but just think about all the hospital staff you see on a normal day – they all keep the hospital operating like nothing happened. Continue reading

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – why it matters

Monday, January 19th, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, celebrated as a national holiday since the mid-80s. Ive worked for organizations who considered it a formal holiday and those that did not. But whether you are working or not on Monday, there are many opportunities in the coming days to celebrate the life of the great civil rights leader. There are educational forums, community breakfasts, and musical events.  I have attended many events over the years and always come away with a renewed commitment to do my part to end the injustices in our society.

I saw the film “Selma” last weekend and highly recommend it.  Why did thousands of people march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 – to ensure that African Americans could exercise their basic legal right to vote. The movie may be hard to watch in certain scenes, but we have to recognize it as part of our collective history. The violence against black people really happened as depicted. But that was a different time in our history – it was 50 years ago. Continue reading

National White Coat Die-In

It’s been 18 days since the Ferguson grand jury decision and 9 days since the NYC grand jury decision. We have all seen the news and protests in cities around the country. Black lives matter.

Yesterday, another group demonstrated their support. Students at 70 medical schools around the country organized a national white coat die in. They lay down for fifteen and a half minutes. Eleven minutes to represent the number of times that Eric Garner said “I can’t breathe” as he was in a choke hold by police in New York City and four and a half minutes to represent the four and a half hours that Michael Brown’s body lay in the street after being shot by a police officer.

Medical students with the support of deans and faculty at prestigious schools such as Harvard, Yale, UCLA and Johns Hopkins said that racial bias is a public health issue. Physicians are trained to do no harm. They are trained to heal. They are trained to save lives. Yes, this is a public health issue. Continue reading