It started with a message on my answering machine. "Please call the New York State Nurses Association office as soon as possible."
That in itself was not alarming. I am an active member and often get calls. When I called back, I was asked if I would like to be interviewed on National Public Radio's (NPR) program "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross about the nursing shortage.
I asked when this would take place and was told they thought sometime in the fall. I thought that was possible, so I agreed.
My phone rang less than five minutes later. It was Monique calling from NPR. She asked some biographical questions and all seemed in order. I was on vacation and would have time to check my facts and get my thoughts in order prior to the interview. The phone rang again. "Could I do the interview tomorrow? Oh, by the way, there will be another nurse also being interviewed. She's from Washington State. Have I read the articles in a Chicago newspaper about hospital infections? How would 5 pm be?"
First I panicked. Then I took a deep breath and realized that I could do this. I asked about the article in the newspaper. It seemed to me that the only real news was that the general public found out something the nursing and medical community had known for years -- people in hospitals get infections from being in hospitals. It seemed the reporter thought that if everyone washed his or her hands, things would be better. This is something we all know, and in my state you even have to take a special course (we call it Handwashing 101) every few years in order to get your license renewed. I felt comfortable about my knowledge of the subject.
The topic that I truly wanted to talk about was the nursing shortage. I am not a new nurse. There has never been a time when I felt there were enough nurses to care for our patients. The Pew Commission Report a few years ago predicted that there would be too many nurses in the future. Schools closed and students picked what they thought of as more viable professions. This, as well as HMOs, changes in insurance reimbursement rates, changes in Medicare and Medicaid formulas, all had a part in causing the state of our profession as it is today. My one concern was that all anyone would hear about would be horror stories and not about what a remarkable profession I had chosen so long ago.
Late afternoon of the next day I found myself on the way to the studio. It was in a nice apartment building in Manhattan. In fact, it was right across Central Park from where I live. I hoped I had the address right and was relieved when my name was recognized and I was admitted to the building. I rang the doorbell and a woman let me in. I was in her living room!
A few minutes later, a gentleman came in and introduced himself. He would be working the soundboard during the program. The segment itself would be taped and edited to be broadcast the following week.
"Had I ever been interviewed on radio before?"
"Oh ... I'm sure you'll do well."
I was led away to a different part of the apartment to an area that could best be described as a padded closet. Once there, I was given a glass of water, headphones and had the microphone pointed out to me. After a soundcheck, the air conditioning was turned off and I was left alone in a dimly lit, small and stifling room.
Terry soon introduced herself over the headphones. She was in a Philadelphia studio. After the other nurse was introduced and the legalities of being recorded were agreed to, the interview began.
Being interviewed in that format was like being on a conference call. Any nervousness I felt faded fast. I was given as much time as I needed to respond to very interesting questions, as was the other nurse. If I wanted to change or start a reply again, I only needed to mention I was beginning the thought again. The three of us had a very stimulating conversation for about 90 minutes. The time went by quickly!
Since the broadcast, I have received great feedback from nurses nationally. I was in Missouri recently and a nurse was talking about the interview she had recently heard on NPR about the shortage. I was gratified to know the words spoken that day in the stuffy closet had stayed with her.
If you ever get the chance to speak about the nursing profession, take it. No one else can understand what we do but us. We all know that movies, television and books leave out the important contributions we make to the care of our patients. We are our best spokespersons.
Audrey C. Ludmer, RNC, is a clinical nurse in the endoscopy department of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Audrey Ludmer, RNC and Kimberly Armstrong, RN, discussed issues facing the nursing profession on "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" July 30, 2002. For an audio link to the interview, visit: www.npr.org.