Healing America: A Love Story

Added on May 9, 2014

The title of a new film making its world premiere this week is as powerful as it is simple, The American Nurse: Healing America.

With its debut scheduled to coincide with National Nurses Week, the feature-length documentary brings to life some of the stories captured in the pages of director Carolyn Jones’ award-winning book, The American Nurse: Photographs and Interviews with Carolyn Jones​, which was released to critical acclaim in 2012. 

Through its exploration of the work and lives of five very different nurses who share a singular mission—healing those entrusted to their care—the film exposes the depth and breadth of the challenges faced by today’s nurses, above and beyond those imposed by health care reform.

In fact, health care reform is probably barely on the radar of Naomi Cross, one of the interviewees, during the course of her workday. As a labor and delivery nurse and perinatal bereavement coordinator at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Cross provides care to women who may be experiencing life’s greatest joy or most unthinkable sorrow on any given day.

There is no prescribed formula or strategy to dictate how to best answer the question, “Why did my baby die?” Yet, that is a question Cross is asked time and again, and she answers it with a level of compassion, caring and concern that can’t be taught or legislated. It can only be felt, and expressed. It is that aspect of nursing—the human component that underscores the strength and character of the men and women who choose nursing as a career—that Jones sought to portray and celebrate through her film.

The other nurses in the film include a home health nurse in Appalachia, a former army medic who rehabilitates wounded soldiers in San Diego, a nun who runs a nursing home in Wisconsin and the director of a hospice program for inmates of Louisiana State Penitentiary.

“Our goal when we began this project was to give a voice to the American nurse,” Jones said in an interview. “[For the book], we mapped a trip across America that would take us to parts of the country where we would have the chance to meet nurses dealing with some of the issues that affect the health of our nation: poverty, returning war veterans, an aging population, prison life.”

She expected to find saints and warriors. What she found instead were “regular folks,” who, because of the work that they do, “have this unbelievable ability to understand humanity.” And although they are not saints as she envisioned, “I do believe they are a special breed—some combination of innate compassion and learned behavior.”

Further, the image of disheveled nurse-warriors running from patient to patient saving lives was replaced with the realistic picture of organized, thoughtful professionals who have enormous control over what they are doing and a “deep, overwhelming flood of caring,” Jones said. “Most of them said similar things: That they would take a deep breath before walking into a room, remember that this is somebody’s son, daughter, or brother, and that they had to give that person everything they had.”

If not warriors, per se, the nurses Jones profiled in print and film—as well as those at patients’ bedsides across the country—are fighters. “Nurses do fight to care for us, in spite of ourselves, in spite of the obstacles in their way. And they fix us,” she wrote in The American Nurse. “When they can no longer fix us, they make sure that we are comfortable and that our time leaving this earth is as rich as it is entering.”

In honor of direct care nurses who fight for their patients every day, Press Ganey has established an annual excellence award. The new Press Ganey Nurse of the Year Award will recognize a direct-care nurse who consistently demonstrates excellence through his or her clinical expertise and extraordinary compassionate care. Nominations for the inaugural award, which will be presented at the 2014 National Client Conference, are currently being accepted.