The Light and The Dark of Nursing: Our Shadow, Part I


I love nursing and I love being a nurse. That is what makes this post so challenging to write, admitting that the profession where my heart sings, where I have grown and evolved over the last twenty years, has a dark side. But if we take the advice of Jung, we come to realize, perhaps, that the shadow, the dark parts that we may try to hide or deny, needs to be acknowledged and integrated. We can learn to be loving and kind toward that which was previously denied or rejected. By shining a light on the dark places, we can invite those hidden areas to come out fully, to open up to our secrets and our darkness. While we usually think of shadow work as an individual challenge, the profession of nursing could grow and evolve from examining our shadow, from shining a light upon our darker sides.

The Shadow: Nursing in the Media

I recently read the book “The Good Nurse”by Charles Graeber. I remember listening to NPR and hearing about the book when it was released and being very upset that a book about a nurse serial killer was given such a title. To listen to what I heard on the radio in April 2013, visit this link:

The Good Nurse, NPR

It took me a year to work up to the challenge of reading the book, as I was so upset about the title alone, let alone the interview. Who was this outside journalist who came to investigate these horrendous acts, surely he did not understand nursing if he named the book in this manner. My own anger at the title of the book and the horrific situation should have been clue to me right there that I had something to face here, at least according to shadow theory. Still, I thought a book called the Good Nurse should be all about the good nursing does, not about this outlier who murdered perhaps dozens of patients. Why not call this book, “The Worst Nurse EVER”? or “The Abhorrent Nurse?”

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this book has an important message to deliver, an important message not just about Charlie Cullen, the RN who killed many, many patients, but about the whole healthcare system, about the dark side of medicine for money and the need to protect hospitals’ revenue stream dominating over the need for patient safety.  I finally purchased the book and settled into reading it over spring break 2014. About half way through reading the book, I contacted the author, Charles Graeber through email and began a dialogue about the book and his choice of the title. And I was surprised to find that Graeber was beyond generous in his responses to me, helping me to shine the light, expanding it further into this dark tale.

The story is about flaws in our reporting systems, about flaws in how nurses respond, report, react to concerns for patient safety, and about flaws in quality assurance. The book is about a call for justice, for action to be taken against the healthcare systems and the specific individuals who perpetuated Cullen’s killing spree by failing to act. There is no statute of limitations with murder charges, and healthcare administrators who knowingly supported the continuing practice of a murdering nurse may perhaps be found liable on some level for the many murders that occurred after knowledge of, or even suspicions of. multiple murders were not adequately addressed. You can read my full review of the book here:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R38G2SH63CBCVG/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B004QX078C

Although we can clearly see Cullen carried a deep shadow with him into nursing, that he suffered from some sort of mental illness to have had these deep killing compulsions, that he was a manipulator or sorts who could put up a front as a hard working hero nurse, we have the obligation to also see what worked in the system, and identify the shadows that need to be addressed.

What worked, where was the light? The hero-nurse who helped to indict Cullen, the investigators who did not give up or turn a blind eye, and the penal system were the lights in this issue.This book itself also becomes a beacon to shed some light on the issue.

What did the light reveal about this looming shadow in nursing, what can we learn from this media portrayal of a nurse carrying a gigantic shadow? Perhaps we can consider if academia may have some issues with screening students; that some nurses may consider a nurse who works a lot/takes the hard patients/ and makes the coffee to be a “good” nurse; that QA/QI/surveillance issues around safety as related to nursing practice and competence is apparent; that nurses may have not been empowered to take action when their suspicions arose; and that systems failed in protecting patients through monitoring and reporting.

By increasing our awareness of shadow, dark side incidents such as this obvious one, we can begin to create change and perhaps prevent future devastation. While this is an extreme example of a shadow in our beloved profession, the next entry or Part II will examine some less extreme shadow issues and Part III will focus on actions we can all take to shine the light into darkness and further support our autonomy and evolution as a caring- healing profession.

 

This entry was posted in Approaches to change, discussion, Health Care System, Image of the nurse and tagged , , , , , by Carey S.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Carey S.

Bio for Carey S Clark, PhD, RN, AHN-BC, RYT Dr. Clark has been a nurse for 22 years and her research interests are focused on caring and integral approaches in nursing and nursing education. She completed a qualitative research internship at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and she has been actively involved with the grassroots research of the Nurse Manifest Project, which focuses on the emancipation of the nursing profession. She has written about the nursing shortage and transformations needed in nursing academia and the profession. Following completion of a theoretical dissertation during her studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Dr. Clark has taught many online graduate nursing students for a variety of schools and she continues to write about the need for caring in nursing and nursing education. She is in a tenure track position at University of Maine at Augusta, where she has developed and implemented a caring-holistic-integral curricular framework for the RN- BSN program, which recently went through a successful accreditation site visit and won an award for Excellence in Holistic Nursing Education from the American Holistic Nurses Association. Dr Clark also teaches Reiki and Yoga with nursing students. Dr. Clark envisions a future world of academia where an integral and caring approach to education is the norm, and where nurses are empowered to create caring-healing-sustainable bedside practices.

2 thoughts on “The Light and The Dark of Nursing: Our Shadow, Part I

  1. Thank you Carey, for this excellent post! I just met the author, Charles Graeber, at a conference and heard him speak. He is a wonderful advocate for nursing! Your review and reflection here is a great tribute to what I believe his book is intended to do … provoke awareness and action on all levels to improve patient safety.

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  2. I have been meaning to read that book and I think for reasons you outline Ive somehow ‘forgotten’ to do it. I have been in done research on nurses’ healing intentionality and as a result have been interested in the flip side — the nurse who hurts. Needless to say Ive avoided that too but it continues to draw me as the dark side the illuminates the light. thanks Carey your work is very important.

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