Student-Athletes are Students

Yesterday I went to see my Volunteers play football. It began with a tailgate with alumni and hearing about the growth in enrollment and research funding at the university. As the players ran through the T I was proud to be part of the Volunteer tradition. Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 12.50.40 PM

I left after half-time because I thought it was only going to get worse. No, not the level of play of my team, but the behavior of the fans. The stadium staff had to be called to get a young man out of the seat of a woman which was rude, but a minor issue of poor manors. I decided to leave because the young man sitting across the aisle from my husband had an anger control issue and as did the man behind me that was screaming at the top of his lungs using enough profanities that a sailor would have been embarrassed. It didn’t help that he spewed his spit all over me as he frothed at the mouth.

I bought season tickets because I love football and I love and support my school. What the hate-filled men forget is that those young men on the field are students first and athletes second. They are there to play a team sport and the reason team sports are important is that they teach young people how to work together. They learn we are stronger together and by recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of our teammates we can compensate for them. They learn we perform better when we stay focused and don’t get rattled by mistakes. When we work through tough times, help our teammates, and underwrite their mistakes we grow as human beings. It is the job of the coach to make sure that the players learn these lessons. It doesn’t help when even the coach gets a technical foul. That is the wrong lesson. If football makes you so angry you aren’t having fun then maybe you should watch golf or synchronized swimming.

When we go to the game to cheer on our team and our school we should remember the motto of the torchbearer “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.” As the alumni, we need to do a little more to live that motto. Let’s give the players a little light as they learn to play together so that they play better in life after graduation.IMG_2591


Academic Pet Peeve: What’s yours?

Pet peeve of the day: careerism.

My career has been a great pleasure. I loved being a U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) officer and I now love being an academic. The worlds have commonalities that drew me to them. They are filled with people that are dedicated to service and to making the world more beautiful. At their worst, there are too many careerists that never consider how their secrecy robs the public of knowledge.

I became a USPHS officer because I wanted to work with the poor and the underserved, but was too fearful of being poor to be a missionary or join the Peace Corps. I became an academic because I wanted to create new knowledge and share it to improve health care and quality of life.

Throughout my career, I have grown increasingly intolerant of those that take a taxpayer-paid salary or taxpayer-funded research grants and then refuse to openly share their work. Over and over I have seen people recreate the wheel because others didn’t know it existed or didn’t respect the person that created it and thus felt it necessary to recreate the work and again at taxpayer expense.

Today I heard an expert on nuclear preparedness communication hold forth on the need to, “make research accessible”. He went on to say that research cannot just be in the peer-reviewed literature. This would have had more integrity if he and most of his panelist had not prefaced their presentations by insisting that there be no photography or recording of their presentations as some of their work is copyrighted.

Hypocrisy: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.


Nuclear preparedness research on how to best communicate with the public is critical to preparedness, but for it to be truly effective it must be put into practice not just at the higher levels of government, but it must get down to the workers, to the mom at home with children, or to the average nurse. As the speakers stated the average teacher or clinician doesn’t read the peer-reviewed literature. How will research get down to the bedside if researchers don’t freely and openly share their work? How will we be prepared for a nuclear event if those doing the research and government officials will not share?

If you really care about improving healthcare, making us more prepared, or creating new knowledge consider the impact on lives when careerism rules public good. We can’t let advancing a career trump the public good.

End of rant.


Moving In

This morning as I was going to Mass I passed a mom hugging her son and crying as the father stood by stoically. The son kept reassuring her he would see her soon. It was clearly a struggle to let him go. She had done her job and now she was sending this young adult off to find his way in the world. He will face new challenges and if he embraces the challenges he will grow into a productive member of society that can give others what his parents have given to him.

I love move-in days because it is a hopeful time of the year for students, parents, and faculty. Parents are sending us their greatest accomplishments in life and trusting us to help them transition into adulthood. We will help them build on the foundation their parents gave them. It is our responsibility to help students seek the truth, but not to define that truth for them.

As an instructor of nurses, both novice and experts, it is my responsibility to introduce students to the art and the science of nursing at multiple levels. It is also my responsibility to foster in nurses a sense of duty to those we care for that must sometimes outweigh self-interest. As with any art, nursing requires a passion for the vocation because without passion the skills and knowledge alone will not sustain one when there are too many patients, too few nurses, or not enough resources. Likewise, with students, it is the passion for nursing that will sustain them when there are too many pages to read, too many papers to write, and not enough time to memorize every possible medication.

As a teacher, I strive to recognize students that are having difficulties and help them to find a path to success. I have found in my career that it is those that came to me with the greatest difficulties, that when nurtured, became the most loyal and productive. I know from my own experience that early failures are not always a predictor of future success and thus it is important to look past grades alone and assess work habits, drive, and determination. The student is responsible for embracing his or her vocation, striving to learn, exploring personal motivations, and seeking guidance and assistance when needed.

We began Mass in the presence of new students and their parents singing “All Are Welcome“. It is never more meaningful than the beginning of the academic year.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions… All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

The students enter with hopes and dreams for the future. Some will cling to what their parents taught them and some will choose another path. I hope that in all I do I encourage students to seek the truth through academic endeavors. I always remind myself that students see me in all I do and all I say. Let us all embrace our status as role models and know that parents are looking at us to be the role models in their absence.

It is time once again to help students fill their intellectual toolboxes, but it isn’t our job to ask them to throw out the gifts their parents gave them.

Word and Speech

The insatiable commotion of idle talk is all too common in nursing and indeed most workplaces. We should ask ourselves why we do this thing we all hate? In my experience the greater the turmoil in a workplace the greater the idle talk. As the idle talk increases the sense of hopelessness also increases.

While I was working as the Chief of Staff for the Acting Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response most of my days began in the same way. A loud New York voice yelled out of one office and across the lobby to my office with a few expletives attached and a demand to get in there. It was usually the same issue. A young staffer assigned to write a speech, brief, or put together a presentation had not done it at the expected level. Of course, the level expected was that of an experienced writer, policy analyst, or researcher and not a green staffer fresh out of college.

The first few times I was beckoned I responded by giving the requested information on who had done the work. The result would be a devasted young person that had their confidence shaken and the same thing would repeat the next day. I caught on quickly and would reply I would handle it, but no longer would say who did the writing or completed the assigned task. After a few months, even I was frustrated with the all too frequent morning dance around unsatisfactory work. One evening I took the assignment home with all the necessary policies and research. I gave it to my husband who had dual Ph.D.s in philosophy and psychology and ask him to write the requested speech.

Seeking Truth

People need to hear the truth, but to hear it one must be open to listening. When the speech was reviewed it was exactly what he been wanting. My reply was  “if you want work that looks like it is done by a Ph.D. you need to hire a Ph.D.!”  A few months later we had a professional speechwriter.

Most of us believe we want the truth, but the truth isn’t always easy to hear and is frequently even harder to relay. When someone does tell us the truth we should be both grateful and take action. It is through the action that we show our respect for the person that bravely spoke the truth.

Increasing Hope by Keeping Silent

Morning silence and lack of daily criticism built hope and a better climate followed. The fear that had resided in so many young people was gone and as result, they could explore their potential and grow into highly productive professionals and a cohesive team. Most of us don’t make a sudden radical change. shutterstock_711523417We tweak our behaviors and our performance because it is hard to put away our fears. Only when we are able to wrestle those fears can we be truly just in our dealings with others because we forget about self-protection and can focus on the good of those for whom we have responsibility.

It is not necessary to be friends with professional colleagues, but it is important to treat them as one would a friend. We are more likely to accept the flaws of a friend while approaching them with greater compassion and truthfulness. We are more likely to listen openly to friends. And, we are less likely to engage in idle talk about friends. What if we treated all colleagues, students, and patients as we would a friend?

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares. — Henri Nouwen


Caring for the Homeless, Summer Externships, and Nurse Mentors

The summer of 1990 was my second summer in the Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Externship Program (COSTEP) of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). I knew what I would be doing and where I would be going, unlike my first year which was filled with surprises and challenges that started with a tire that was destroyed by something sharp in the street and cost me $70 of the $200 I had to last me for my first 45 days in DC.

In 1989 I was in the second year of a non-nurse Master’s program when someone came to class and handed out applications for the COSTEP program. It was a competitive program and I thought I had little chance of being selected but it paid approximately $1800 per month for the summer. When a call came asking me if I was interested in being a COSTEP I immediately said yes to which the Commander on the other end of the line ask me if I wanted to know where the job was located. I replied that would be nice. A few months later I was off to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC for the first of four times moving to DC as a USPHS officer.

A few days after July 4, 1990, Mitch Snyder, the founder of the Center for Creative Nonviolence (CCNV) and the best known homeless advocate in the Nation committed suicide. My goal after graduating had been to work in healthcare for the homeless. I had visited CCNV and they had taken the time to discuss the healthcare needs of their residents with me and my fellow students. I would remember the discussion and the funeral as I worked on my theses that year.

My master’s thesis was on health care beliefs and self-care practices of homeless men, my volunteer work had been with those that are homeless, and I worked on a unit that treated those that were mentally ill and homeless. I saw Mitch Snyder as an icon of compassion and action. It wasn’t until many years later that I considered the aspect of his life that involved policy and the role that the failure of Initiative 17 may have had in his loss of hope and sadness over his relationship.

418902_3189361892271_666383875_nThe nurse manager on my unit suggested I attend the funeral. I was sad and in awe of this man that was what I wanted to be.  The city had turned out and Rev. Jessie Jackson officiated and then lead a procession through DC. The list of celebrities present was long and people like Phillip Berrigan were being asked for comments. He had referred to Mitch Snyder as a “true shepherd”. That is high praise coming from anyone, but a special honor coming from Phillip Berrigan. As I stood behind a gaggle of the press I wondered how much the world lost that day.

The nurses that supervise students during summer externships should always recognize that the students are there to learn. The goal is not to use them as nursing assistants, but rather to help form them as future nurses, professionals, and engaged members of society. My nurse manager did not have to send me to the funeral. She recognized my passion as a nurse, nurtured the passion, and helped to ensure that I chose a career that focused caring for the poor and underserved.

I returned to St. Elizabeths Hospital as a Nurse Practitioner and a USPHS office for three years after graduation. I continued to volunteer in shelters and work with the homeless until 1999. The nurse manager that sent me to the funeral probably had no idea the impact her decision would have on my future choices, my continued desire to work with the poor and underserved, or my view that nurses must be engaged community members. If you think your summer externs forget you they do not. You forever influence their career choices and how they engage with students in the future. Those summer externs are your legacy.

I believe God has a path for me. He’s always had a path for me, and I’ve always been in the right place at the right time – not because of my efforts, but because of my preparation and because of the guides that I have, the mentors that I have, the spiritual walkers that I’ve had all my life. — Judith Jamison

Growing as a Nursing Professor & Administrator in 2018

I love New Year’s resolutions and letting go of the past. Resolutions are a bet with myself that I can make a difference. Starting around Christmas I begin to think about my resolution. This year is different because I have reached a point in life that I realize that my purpose may not be to make the change, but rather educate the one that will be the change. My concern is that I won’t recognize the gifts the person has and know how to nurture their calling. How did my teachers see in me what I couldn’t see in myself in my early twenties?

Nineteen years ago I spent the holidays working a mass migration in Guatemala. It was one of the saddest and most memorable moments in my career as a US Public Health Service nurse and one of the moments that I recognized how much I owed to my nursing professors. They taught us to adapt and use the knowledge and resources we had to provide the best possible care.

They taught us things I thought I didn’t need to know and would never use and of course did need to know and did use. They knew what we didn’t, life is not predictable and if you have a strong foundation you will be able to adapt to any situation.902683_10200964806901714_356566915_o

The beauty of the deer in the field as the fog began to rise was almost enough to momentarily forget that if I turned around there were 500 people that had been rescued from a ship that was helping them flee China for the freedom and promise the United States. The promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” had beckoned to them. I still wonder what it must be like to desire freedom and not have it. What must it be like to get on a ship that isn’t seaworthy and risk one’s life for freedom only to have it cut short in Guatemala? 

The feeling of helplessness as we told them they were being returned to China and having young women fall to the floor and cling to our legs asking for us to help them is life-changing. Never again were my views on immigration the same. Never again could I see that promise on the Statue of Liberty as anything other than an oath.

The trip from the air base where they were detained to the airport opened my eyes to the poverty all around. As we were on the bus the women were staring out the window and one commented that “these people should escape to China”. The poverty in Guatemala was so shocking to the Chinese women that they couldn’t imagine why anyone would stay.

Some people come to the U.S. for freedom, others to escape war and torture, and some to escape devastating poverty. All hope for a better life. All seek the promise we offer. This year I hope we live up to that promise and give the Dreamers a path to citizenship. I hope we find a way to open our borders rather than closing them. I pray for all those men and women I could not help and hope that in my lifetime we will recognize that when we turn away the poor, the hungry, the huddled masses yearning to be free we fail to recognize their humanity and we fail in our oath to the world.

In many of my experiences as a nurse, I wanted to reach out and thank those that prepared me. There were so many lessons that were both formal and informal. Lessons that taught me what was excellent work for one may be inadequate for another because they had different abilities, which was especially important as a supervisor of young officers. Or, the unspoken lesson that presentation and professionalism matters. Probably most important was to do with a smile what you know you are going to have to do anyway.

This year my resolution is to take the best of all the professors that taught me and use it to be the best possible professor and administrator. I want to reflect on the influence of others in my life and my successes and use them as a guide in my daily life and interactions with students and faculty. I want to be the example that I had. Each day I hope to reflect on my journey to grow as a nurse, a professor, and an administrator.


My door is open to any student that wants to learn more than what can be offered in the classroom. Every Wednesday I’m in town we will have coffee and discussion of nurses that have changed their communities, the profession, or inspired others to make the world a better place.


We ask so much of our students we need to be healthy to give them our best. This year I intend to give up the things that raise my stress level or cause me to be sedentary or distracted. When I’m stressed, distracted, or moving too slow I’m not available to others. First on this list is to stop reading tweets from @realDonaldTrump. Life is just too short for that much dishonesty and nastiness. Meat isn’t something I need and I feel better when I don’t eat it. No animal needs to die for me to eat. Television is a time pump and mind-numbing (Lady Vols Basketball being an exception). If the television is on I need to be cleaning, exercising, or otherwise engaged in something that involves moving. Motion is lotion and especially as I get older.


Let faith guide my career and my decisions. This may be in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas – faith, hope, love, prudent, just, brave, and temperate. Or, it may be through the acknowledgment that all the wrong karmas made by me were created from beginningless attachment, aversion, and delusion. Born of the body, mouth, and mind. I now repent all of them wholeheartedly.

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. — Albert Einstein

Nurses Most Ethical

Nurses have been named the most honest and ethical profession for the 16th straight year. A close second was military officers. Are military nurses especially trusted for their honesty and ethical standards? My guess is they are because they exemplify the best of both nursing and service to the country. Near the bottom of the list are members of Congress and at their lowest level since the poll began is clergy.

I think other professions could learn a lot from nursing about what it means to be honest and ethical. For most of us honest and ethical behavior is easy. It is something we teach and build into both education and practice, but mostly it is an expectation of all nurses. If we make a mistake, such as a drug error, we do not punish the mistake, but instead, we make being honest about the mistake an expectation. We then search for the cause of the mistake and we work to correct it. Dishonest is never acceptable. We embrace our humanity and our failings and when we realize a colleague erred we help them to do better in the future and we make every effort to try and help anyone that may have suffered as a result.

Nursing teaches us that everyone will make mistakes, but we are not defined by those mistakes. Our patients will eat too much and harm their health. They will drink too much, or exercise too soon after an injury, or do something dangerous, or any number of things humans do that harm their health or the health of a family member. Which among us doesn’t have a story we tell and laugh about that relates some serious failure in judgment? It isn’t our job to judge, but to help in recovery, educate on how to be healthier or safer, and treat each individual with evidence-based and compassionate care.

What could Congress and clergy learn from us? Start with self-determination. People have a right to determine their own health, faith, and path. When a patient, a parishioner, or a citizen tells you what they want it is our job to respect their choice. If they don’t want a procedure even though it might help them to be healthier we must respect their decision. Congress could learn that the truth is always best even when it isn’t what people want to hear. Don’t spin it. We don’t tell patients that cancer will make them healthier, wealthier, or happier. We don’t give a treatment we know will not make them better, but will likely make them worse and may in fact seriously harm not only them but their family and friends. We don’t refuse to provide care because someone with more money or more power doesn’t want us to do it.

Likewise, if we harm someone we don’t deny it. We make every effort to correct any harm we caused even if it means that we will get sued or have a negative mark on our records. If we are about to do something that will cause discomfort we talk the patient through it and we try to offer as much support as possible. We never take joy in any pain a treatment causes others and we would never tolerate a nurse that intentionally makes a treatment more painful. I’ve never known a nurse that does not consider patient advocacy more important than protecting a peer that made an error. And, we ensure in every state there is a system for anyone to file a complaint or voice a concern and we ensure that it will be taken seriously and the action taken as a result will be public.

My suggestions to Congress and clergy is to follow these easy rules:

  • Self-determination is more important than your personal wishes.
  • Tell the truth. People know when you are lying and unfortunately, once you are dishonest most people lose all faith in you and what you represent.
  • All people deserve equal respect and dignity. In case your don’t remember what his means here are some definitions.
    • Definition of equal. 1 a (1): of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another. (2): identical in mathematical value or logical denotation: equivalent. b: like in quality, nature, or status. c: like for each member of a group, class, or society.
    • Definition of dignity 1. the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.
  • Admit your mistakes and work to rectify them.
  • Transparent and translucent are not the same thing.

It is not our job to force our ethics on others, but to show them our honesty and ethics through our behavior.