Theresa Brown's New Book Critical Care

Sometime last year, I received a request to blurb a new book by a nurse.  This is not uncommon and I am usually quite happy to take a look at the book.  But I have to admit, that most of the time, I refuse, because alot of books by nurses — well intentioned as they are — are not particularly compelling.  So I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for this one. I was totally wrong.  Theresa Brown’s book, entitled Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between was stunning.  Brown does everything right.  Instead of focusing on the sappy and sentimental, she tells it like it is.  In fact, what she talks about is not the kind of critical care one might think, since she’s not an ICU nurse, but instead an oncology nurse.  But her no nonsense discussion of what it means to be a nurse focuses precisely on the right thing — the skill, knowledge, intelligence, know-how, and self-mastery involved in being a nurse.

Brown’s story is really interesting.  She started out as a PhD in English and was actually an English professor for many years.  Then she decided to become a nurse.  Her book relays that journey and what she learned along the way. She got her start writing by reaching out to the New York Times Health Section and doing a short article for the Times.  That led to a book contract and she now is a regular contributor to the Times Well Blog where you can find her about once a month.  After meaning to talk to her since I agreed to blurb her book, I finally called her up and we began what I hope will be a long telephone conversation.  What I found most interesting in talking to Theresa was how committed she is to bedside nursing and how little support she gets for that commitment.  She told me that her non-nurse friends are always saying things like, well now since you’ve gotten a book published, you’re surely going to stop being a bedside nurse.  (Can you imagine anyone asking Atul Gawande, or Jerome Groopman, the equivalent:  “So now that you’re published in The New Yorker, surely you’ll stop being a surgeon or an oncologist?)  What’s worse is that Theresa gets this from nursing.  When, nursing academics ask her, are you going to become an NP?  When are you going to leave the bedside and become an academic?  I hear this and want to weep.

Here is a smart, articulate woman who gave her a professorship to become a nurse.  She is committed to bedside nursing.  She would like to do it, at least for now.  And everyone is urging her to leave the bedside and do something (you can’t ignore the explicit message) better.  Well, as far as I am concerned, nothing is better and  I hope she stays.  She is just the kind of nurse we need.  I hope, when, knock wood, I get sick and old (I am having an I made it to Medicare party in only a month), someone like Theresa Brown will be at my bedside.  Read her book and you will agree, that  she’s the kind of nurse you will want to.  So can we just agree — finally — to stop bad mouthing bedside nurses and give them a break.  Sure we need NPs.  Yes, we need more nursing academics.  But if someone wants to remain at the bedside over the long term, why can’t nurses encourage them to stay there.  Why can’t nurses applaud them.  What we need to ask the Theresa Browns of the world is not “where are you going next,” but “what book  — about bedside nursing — do you plan to write next and when can I look forward to purchasing it?”

Showing 7 comments
  • K L Montgomery

    While I have not yet read Theresa Brown’s book, I applaud her sharing the reality and challenge as a bedside nurse as Suzanne has outlined. For most nurses, leaving the bedside, as in my day, meant one’s ability to make more money and get better hours. For many nurses who have left the bedside, there is a huge loss with work they loved in caring for patients that brought them into nursing. I would like to envision a future in nursing where the clinical nurse at the bedside, in the home, in the clinic who is “just an RN” is valued and respected with the same self esteem and professional esteem as the NP, Administrator, or faculty. This value should be evident in what people earn as well as how one’s professional colleagues respect the work of a nurse at the point of care. Why must there always be a “better than” tension within nursing?

  • patricia harman

    Hi Suzanne, I read with interest your post on Theresa Brown’s book Critical Care. I too read it cover to cover and sad to say, I don’t always do that…don’t have the time…If a book doesn’t grab me. As a nurse-midwife and a writer I was captivated by the relationships the author has with her patients. I was hurt when the other nurses were mean to her…Sometimes you have to wonder don’t you…how people in a caring position can be so bad to their peers.

    I can’t remember, did I send you a copy of my first book, The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir? If I didn’t and you would like to see it, I will. I am excited that my next book Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey comes out in April, again with Beacon Press. Congrats to Theresa! Patricia Harman CNM MS

    • Suzanne

      Thank you so much for your comment. I have not read your books and would love to. Can you send them to me.

      • Suzanne

        You can find them on Amazon

  • Teena McGuinness

    I can’t wait to read this book!

  • RehabRN

    I am working on a graduate degree, and I hope to get out of bedside nursing full-time. If my boss can swing a part-time, intermittent or PRN job so I can do bedside with my other job, I would love to do that.

    Unfortunately, not all employers see this as a good thing. Why not? You could tap resources that might retire to never again work at bedside, and thus deprive the future of nursing with a veteran who can teach a lot and be a resource for years to come.

  • Rob Fraser

    Hi Suzanne,

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’m definitely going to check out this book when I have a bit of time. Hearing nurses successfully articule the right mix of intelligence, knowledge and skill is inspiring. As I said to Andre Pichard, I often listen to monologes from sports movies to pump myself up to workout. I want to read or listen to intelligent discourse on nursing before doing interviews or beginning to explain what the profession is. Too often young nurses and students, such as myself fail to learn to change our dialogue about what we do because nurses saturate or self-descriptions with caring and ideals rather than knowledge and skill. Thank you for continually reminding, and teaching nurses how to choose better words to articulate what we do.

    All the best,
    Rob Fraser RN

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