The American Nurse: Photographs and Interviews

Nursing Book Club

The American Nurse: Photographs and Interviews

The faces of nursing

By By Carolyn Jones (Welcome Books, 2012)
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Reviewed By Christine Contillo, RN, BSN

Everyone who knows me knows that I love being a nurse. More than that, I wish everyone could understand what being a nurse really means and how important nurses are to each of us. To that end, I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out in my essays and articles that the work nurses do is every bit as important as what doctors do, even though patients often don’t remember our names.

I’ve finally found someone who shares my vision: documentary filmmaker Carolyn Jones, who just published The American Nurse. When Jones went through cancer treatment in 2005, she found the nurse to help with this project: Joanne Staha, RN, who administered Jones’ chemotherapy. Jones explains, “Our goal as we began this project was to give a voice to the American Nurse.” That sounds simple, but what Jones ultimately found was a transformative journey.

Different Voices
Even people who are familiar with nurses or have one in their family probably don’t realize the breadth of nursing experience. Jones sets out to map that experience and let nurses tell us in their own words what they think is vital about what they do. Each story is fascinating and together, they represent a wide variety of nursing practice. The nurses range from flight and medevac nurses to hospice care nurses, administrators and floor nurses.

Jones is an award-winning documentarian, so each full-page photograph captures something about the personality of the nurse, as well as the work he or she performs. We learn a little something about all of these nurses: why they became a nurse, their favorite patient or what brings them to work each day. There are surprises, too.

Nursing Finds You

Many of the nurses Jones interviewed say nursing wasn’t their first choice, but the profession called to them. An equal number say that nursing is probably in their genes, noting that their mothers or grandmothers were nurses. In one case, the nurse’s father was a healer in his country of origin.

Certain themes recur throughout the book, chief among them that while nurses may not be able to stop death, they can ease it and they believe that everyone deserves dignity. Nurses realize what it really means to be a nurse when a family member is sick or when the nurse is forced to confront Alzheimer’s in a loved one. Something in the nurses’ own difficult experiences makes them want to share what they’ve learned with others.

The stories told by these nurses show that each one of us takes the job and makes it our own, adding creativity to the mix. Each is unique: No one is “just a nurse” here.
Professional Pride
Reading The American Nurse made me proud to have chosen this profession. The stories my colleagues tell in this book articulate much better than I could the many reasons for becoming a nurse.

This book has a large-format, coffee table presentation that encourages you to read the stories and look at the photos repeatedly. With the number of nurses needed to manage our country’s healthcare growing rapidly, this book is a resource that every career counselor should have. It’s the best present that I got this year and I’d like to share it with everyone I know.   

Christine Contillo, RN, BSN, is a public health nurse who suggests joining a book club as a reason to put down trashy magazines and look smart on the subway.

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