Meeting Nightingale in Alabama; Where Were the Young Nurses? Further Notes from the Disaster Zone

Sue Hassmiller has been blogging from the tornado-damaged area in Alabama, where she’s volunteering for the Red Cross. This and all other posts in this series are collected on a separate page for easy reference.—JM, senior editor/blog editor

Finishing up some very difficult hospital visits with victims and family members at the University of Alabama–Birmingham Medical Center today, I saw the sign for the school of nursing. I remembered Dean Dodi Harper telling me last year of a man who had donated to her school what might be the largest grouping of original Florence Nightingale letters. A priceless gift indeed! Her intent was to transcribe the letters and eventually have an exhibit. As I saw the School of Nursing sign, the conversation all came back to me . . . and then I realized it was May 12, Nightingale’s actual birthday, the day we celebrate Nurses Day! Too good to be true: I e-mailed the dean and got an immediate response (I love those type A personalities!). She was away, but the assistant dean for clinical affairs and partnerships, Cindy Selleck, would welcome me—and indeed on this occasion the letters were on display in a temporary exhibit. Having been on a special Nightingale tour last year to England and Istanbul/Scutari, the words of this great mentor had taken on a whole new meaning for me (here’s the blog series I wrote at the time). 

Seeing this very special exhibit and Nightingale’s words on her very own stationery made me realize once again why I had come to Alabama. Between the families that we helped that day and Nightingale’s words of inspiration, this is a Nurses Day I will never forget. Happy Nurses Day all! It was a great one for me!            

Where were you, my young colleagues? Looking around at who served in this disaster gave me a stark reminder of the great need to replenish our ranks. Most nurses were my age and older, a well-experienced corps to be sure, but this just won’t do for the future!! Students ask for advice all the time about how to go about finding a job when there are few jobs currently to be had. And this is what I tell them: 

Red Cross Student Nurse Guidelines

1). Take any job that is available and move on from there.

2). If possible, take this time to continue your education. Getting the vast majority of nurses (80%) to the BSN level by 2020 is a big goal of our Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action.

3). VOLUNTEER. Doing volunteer work can help you get a broad base of experience you could not otherwise get. That’s how I started my career. It was always the Red Cross, but it was also free care medical clinics, children’s medical services, and several years as a camp nurse for diabetic children. I realize that there are rent and student loans to repay, but doing something to expand your resume for even two hours a weeks will benefit you immensely. For more information on the Red Cross go to this page and this page. Your professional associations, like the American Nurses Association, and especially the National Student Nurses Association while you are still in school, are also good places to connect.

The next time I volunteer to serve in a disaster, I want to see you there! Please!

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2016-11-21T13:13:15+00:00 May 13th, 2011|Nursing, Public health|1 Comment

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  1. Raylawni Branch June 3, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    It was a pleasure serving victims of the Alabama Tornadoes with such an outstanding colleague as Ms. Hassmiller. Her insightful words stand true for nursing as well as for many other disciplines in the current economic environment. One’s love for a specialty usually is developed as an undergraduate. I knew prior to graduation from my basic program, I was not a floor nurse. Specialty areas such as Intensive Care, Emergency Room, Special Care, Operating Room/Recovery Room was where I was happiest. In my master’s program, Community Health with a minor in Nursing Education and care of the elderly was as my husband says, my forte. I believe we need disaster nursing integrated into the curriculum and to have as important a place at all levels of nursing education as the current areas such as Psychiatric Nursing, Obstetrical Nursing, Medical/Surgical Nursing, etc..
    Many nurses are working 12 hours shifts. In my opinion, the medication error rate increases, and what I call chair time goes up as the hours accumulate past 8 hours. Many are caring for children, elderly parents, and or functioning as single parents. You are right about the age group. However, what we are currently doing will not replenish our ranks. On top of all that, so senior disaster nurses in the American Red Cross must stop eating those nurses who do have the time and energy, no matter their age to deploy. Using nurses to their fullest capacities and according to their experience will go along way to encourage word of mouth and personal recruitments to help replace all of us old nurses. Thanks again for your insight.

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