As some of you may or may not know, last year Compass One Healthcare formed a new partnership with the American Nurses Association (ANA), which is the nation’s premier nursing organization representing the country’s four million registered nurses.
We had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Ernest Grant, the President of ANA. Below is our conversational interview, done for Compass One Connections, our podcast featuring industry leaders.
Dr. Grant has more than 30 years of nursing experience, is internationally acclaimed for his work, and he's a groundbreaking leader. We talk about Dr. Grant's history and how he came to be the first Black male leading ANA, how COVID-19 has and continues to showcase the resilience of Nurses, and so much more. Take a look:
Q: Let's talk a little bit about your career. How did you originally get into nursing, Ernest?
A: Well, I originally got into nursing by way of wanting to go to med school, and then I wanted to be an Anesthesiologist. My high school guidance counselor suggested that I try nursing since I came from a very poor family and was the youngest of seven kids, and there was probably not going to be a way that I would be able to afford medical school. So my high school guidance counselor suggested nursing and that I could work my way through med school as a nurse. We went that route, and about six months into my nursing program, I forgot all about medical school. I realized that nursing was my calling.
Q: As a young man, when you hear something like that, too, let's face it; the nursing field is dominated by females, and there's not a lot of males or African American males in the field. How was that for you when you first got into it?
A: I was a rarity. This was back in the mid-70s, and at that time, men probably represented about 4% of the total nurses practicing in the United States. African American males in that profession probably represented less than a half of a percent at that particular time. So, I stood out, in a way. But it all worked out for the good, and the numbers have come up tremendously, and hopefully, we will have the opportunity to talk a little bit more about that later on.
Q: Yes; so, let's continue with your career. You get into nursing, and you know it's your calling. You received the Nurse of the Year Honor from President Bush because you went up to New York after 9/11 and did some volunteer work. Is that correct?
A: Yes, two other nurse colleagues from UNC and I answered a call. You know, when 9/11 happened, it’s one of those situations where everybody can remember where they are, who they are with, and what they were doing when they witnessed that. So, there was a call that was sent out by the American Burn Association asking for nurses to volunteer and come up and help. It was okay, we persevered, and yeah—again, as I said—we were all just very proud that we were able to offer the skill sets that we had at a much-needed time.
Q: Let's fast forward a little bit from that to where we are now, today. Being that we are celebrating Black History Month in February, and as the first Black, male President of the ANA. Can you comment on the pride you feel—and also the weight you feel you might carry—for setting the stage for future Black, male nurses and also taking leadership roles, like yourself?
A: Let me say that—my being in this position when I was elected—history was made because I'm the first male president of the American Nurses Association. We broke the glass ceiling.
When I was elected, the ANA was 122-years old and had never had a male president. It had previously only had two African-American presidents, the first one being elected in 1974 and the second one in 1990. So, yeah, it was, “It's past time for that to happen”; but also, I see myself in this particular role as perhaps being a trailblazer for, not only men, but other minorities.
I feel humbled and proud to be able to advocate on behalf of the 4.3-million registered nurses across the country in every way that I can. One of the things I like to do is to listen to their concerns and try to see what we can do from either a policy perspective—talking with members of Congress to address healthcare issues, health disparities, and health inequities, etc. We need to move not only nursing, but also healthcare itself forward so that we can have a much healthier nation and healthier group of individuals.
Q: Let's talk about the opportunity to partner with Compass One Healthcare and what that means for nurses in your organization and especially how it relates to the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation initiative.
A: We are extremely grateful for this opportunity to have a collaborative partnership between Compass One and our association and, particularly, the program called Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation. Compass One has sponsored several challenges.
In March, there was the “Healthy Recipe Toolbox” challenge, and the goal of that was to help nurses sustain healthy nutrition. People don't realize the role that nutrition plays in helping to maintain health. It also keeps us alert, being able to function and do the things that we need to do. So, for that healthy recipe toolbox, I think we had a little over 4,500 members sign up for that challenge, and looking back, it was one of the most popular challenges that we ever had.
Then, this past June, we had the “Meditate and Recalibrate” and “Your Best Sleep Yet” challenges. And again, this is extremely important, particularly for nurses who are on the front line right now during the COVID crisis because one of the things that we're hearing from nurses who are out there is that they are having trouble sleeping. They are showing signs of post-traumatic stress, and getting plenty of rest and good rest—not just sleeping, but good, solid sleep—is extremely important for them to go back and do the jobs that they need to do in such a stressful situation. Essentially, when nurses don't take care of themselves, then they're not at their peak performance to care for other people. So, it just goes around full circle, so to speak.
Q: We know COVID is all around the country. The hospitals are at capacity in a lot of places. What do you see from your point of view with COVID, where we are now with the vaccine rolling out, and the state of the nursing organizations from top to bottom: how do you see where we are?
A: Well, what I see is nurses doing what nurses do best, which is to rise to meet the challenge no matter what. And I'm very, very proud and honored to call myself a nurse, but also proud of the nurses that are out there, particularly on the forefront, who are meeting this challenge day in and day out. Even though it is having quite an emotional and physical drain on them, they continue to do what it is that we as nurses do, which is answer the call.
Q: You have to be a very special person to be a nurse, don't you Dr. Grant?
A: You really do. Obviously, you don't go into nursing for the money, I can definitely tell you that. You're going because you have a love for mankind. You want to be able to make a difference. And, when I practice at the bedside—and even to this very day—I feel good about the job that I have done daily when I know that I can go home and just say to myself no matter how tired I am, I made a difference today. I think that's the one thing that allows me to sleep comfortably at night and then get up early in the morning and go back to work. I'm sure that a lot of my colleagues that are out there feel the same way.
Q: What kind of role do Compass One services—such as food and nutrition, EVS, patient transportation, etc.—play in helping with the care and healing of patients in the hospital?
A: There was an article that was published in our March journal called “American Nurse” that was talking about food trends. A lot of the information for that particular article was provided by Compass One, and, again, it serves as a reminder for nurses to make sure that they are taking their nutrition seriously, that they're eating a well-balanced diet, and getting the proper exercise.
I am aware that Compass One is also piloting some food delivery systems, particularly for nurses, which is a really great thing. You can imagine after working 12 hours, or maybe 16 hours, you don't feel like coming home and cooking a full meal, and you know that fast foods are not the way to go.
So, having a food delivery system would be absolutely perfect for them: something that they could grab, that's ready to go or just heat up. They still know that it's a good, nutritious, and well-balanced meal. So, we're really grateful that Compass One is piloting that, and I hope that the pilot goes well enough that they will embrace it.
Q: Compass One is including “journey mapping” with nurses to understand the peaks and valleys that nurses encounter during a typical shift, which I'm sure can be quite volatile. Can you talk about the findings of such a study that would be helpful in your organization and with the nurses in general?
A: Yes. Well, the nurse “journey mapping” got put on hold due to the COVID epidemic, but we are reaching out now to some hospitals and doing some pilots with that. The goal is to zero in on the pain points nurses experience throughout the day, so Compass One services can provide some relief or solutions. After they begin to notice the pain points from their mapping, they can make some suggestions. It's caring for your colleague so that your colleague can care for their patients because if your colleague is tired and fatigued, then you see that domino effect with the rest of the healthcare team. So, we've got to function like a well-oiled machine, and part of that is to check in on one another and make sure that everyone is doing well.
Q: Where do you see the future of nursing?
A: In the Gallop Poll, the public has always voted Nursing—for 18-20 years in a row—as the most trusted profession. I think this year with the pandemic, really put the profession on display. I think the public really began to understand and appreciate what it is that nurses do and the risk that we take. So where we see the future of nursing going is that we need to grow our voice and have a bigger voice regarding health and healthcare. We need to be at the table where decisions are made regarding health and healthcare, and obviously, we need to think about blending innovations and technology that will enable us to work smarter not harder.
Obviously, for nurses who are what we call "advanced practice nurses," like nurse practitioners or nurse specialists, we all need to be able to function to the full capacity of our licensure or our education.
Another big concern that I have is the fact that we need more nurses. Before COVID came along, there was an estimated shortage of about one-and-a-half to two million nurses over the next 10-year period because the average age of nurses right now is about 56 years of age. We've got to continue to grow that number. Also, healthcare is moving from the hospital to the homecare setting, so we need to have a huge investment in public health, and again, address those health disparities and equity issues so we can have a healthier nation. It will be nurses who will be at the center of all that to help drive those efforts.
Learn more about Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation, and Compass One’s part in it at www.hnhn.org.