Nurses Who Soar Like Eagles

This post contributed by Adeline Falk-Rafael

For the past several years I have taught leadership to internationally educated nurses in a 4th-year BScN course. Given professional and disciplinary expectations that nurses demonstrate leadership, regardless of their practice role, the course is designed to provide related knowledge and skill development through classroom and experiential learning.

 After the initial exploration of contemporary leadership theories we begin development of some related skills, the first being communication and collaboration. At the outset of the eaglecourse, students are assigned to a group of 7 or 8 students. Each group is expected to complete a project by the end of the term, but the primary purpose of the group is to provide an opportunity for applying leadership principles and practicing related skills, such as effective communication, (for more information, see my “Peace and Power blog post

 It is the difficulties that students experience in this practice and application that provides an opportunity to reflect on why that is – on how we have been taught to how to act, communicate and be in relationship as nurses in the health care environment and women and men in our society. It is about at this time, that I show them the parable of the chicken and the eagle, which you can watch below!

The basic premise of this parable is that a young eagle has found itself in a chicken yard and learns to believe it is a chicken and thus behaves like a chicken. Although I have seen various versions of this parable, in this particular one, although an eagle tries to “mentor” the young bird into realizing its potential as an eagle, it retreats into the safety of the chicken barn to live out its life as a chicken.

My belief is that it is irresponsible to emphasize the professional imperative for leadership without examining some of the systemic barriers to enacting that leadership; what stands in the way of us fulfilling our potential as eagles, how have we been taught to think of ourselves and behave as chickens – or less than we are? It is only in recognizing the barriers that we can begin to discover ways of overcoming them. Throughout the remainder of the course, it seems that whether we are speaking of communication, collaboration, advocacy, change agency, conflict resolution, or visioning for the future, we encounter “chicken” messages or confining structures that need to be overcome before we can soar like eagles.

What keeps us from working to our full scope of practice, for example? Is it the safety /comfort/ security of working within a defined job description? To what extent have we internalized an identity of an ancillary medical worker?

What keeps nurses so often from being acknowledged as credible knowers? In 2003, I was President of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, during the SARS outbreak in Toronto. At one point, officials deemed the outbreak over, but nurses in one hospital began seeing patients present with the same symptoms and warned of possible new cases. They were silenced with the words, “if I need an expert, I’ll ask for one.” (For more information, see “Lessons Learned from SARS”)

Ceci,1 in a brilliant analysis of the proceedings of an inquest into the deaths of 12 children who underwent cardiac surgery at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, in Manitoba, Canada, similarly described dismissals to nurses’ repeated expressed concerns with the competence of the surgeon, leading the judge presiding for the inquest to observe that the nurses eventually silenced themselves. Ceci concluded: “nurses were presumed to be, acted upon as if they were, the sorts of persons whose concerns need not be taken seriously and gender ideology was a resource that could be strategically drawn upon to make the presumption true” (p. 76).

My guess is that most nurses reading this would be able to recount similar incidents, although more than 10 years have passed since these events. It is a challenge to keep believing and acting like an eagle when you continually get messages that you are a chicken! It is all too easy to become discouraged and give up but in the words of May, “What becomes important for nurses is not that we somehow expect that we may free ourselves of the effects of gendered, gendering discourses, but that we begin to understand how these work in constituting our experiences, . . . that we begin to understand their hold on us and try to make choices about what, if anything, we want to do about this” (cited in Ceci, p.80)

1Ceci, C. (2004). Gender, power, nursing: A case analysis. Nursing Inquiry, 11(2), 72-81.



The Endocannabinoid System: What Nurses Need to Know, An Introduction

Medical cannabis is now legal in 23 states and Washington DC, along with recreational cannabis also being legal in several states. Many patients and families are now relocating to Colorado and Washington State as “marijuana refugees” (, knowing they can freely and safely access cannabis as medicine in these recreational cannabis states. Nurses may still wonder, how is cannabis “medicine”?


As nurses we have a lot to learn about cannabis, including how it works in the mind-body-spirit system, and how we can best advocate for and support patients who could or do benefit from this medicine. Last spring, I witnessed a brief presentation being given to nurses around medical cannabis use, and it was obvious from the questions asked by many of the nurses that the social stigma around “marijuana” was alive and well. Would these nurses be so reluctant to accept and support medical cannabis use if they truly understood the endocannabinoid system (ECS)?

The ECS was discovered some time ago, with  Dr. Ralph Mechoulam (Faukner, 2015) being a pioneer in this area in the mid-1990’s. There are 20,000+ scientific articles written about the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Though it has been many years since the discovery of this body regulatory system, most nurses likely know very little, if anything, about the ECS. Truly, this is a problem, nurses are more likely to know the xarelto lawsuit phone number by heart over the benefits of ECS.

A functioning ECS is essential to our health and well being. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body; in the brain, organs (pancreas and liver), connective tissue, bones, adipose tissues, nervous system, and immune system. We share this system in common with all other vertebrate animals, and some invertebrate animals (Sulak, 2015). Cannabinoids support homeostasis within the body’s system; the ECS is a central regulatory system, cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, and they are believed to be the largest receptor system in our bodies. Cell membrane cannabinoid receptors send information backwards, from the post-synaptic to the pre- synaptic nerve. CB1 (found primarily in the brain) and CB2 (mostly in the immune system and in the bones) are the main ECS receptors (Former, 2015), though several more are currently being studied. The exogenous phytocannabinoid THC, or the psychoactive compound in cannabis, works primarily on CB1 receptors (hence the “high feeling” in the brain), while the cannabinoid CBD works primarily with the immune system and creating homeostasis around the inflammatory response through CB2 receptors and does not have psychoactive effects. Other cannabinoids and their actions are still being studied, such as the non-psychoactive cannabinoids CBN and CBG, also found in cannabis.  Our bodies react to both our own production of endogenous cannabinoids and to the ingestion of phyto-cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, and other non-pyschoactive plants such as Echinacea. To read more about the science behind the ECS and endocannabinoid receptors, the following are excellent resources:

Endogenous Cannabinoids: Endocannabinoids are the chemicals our own bodies make to naturally stimulate the cannabinoid receptors;  anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) are two well known endocannabinoids (Sulak, 2015) that are produced by the body as needed, though not stored int he body. The body produces these endocannabinoids in a similar fashion to how it produces endorphins (Pfrommer, 2015), and activities such as exercise support the endogenous production of cannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are also found in breast milk and in our skin. Alcohol interferes with endogenous cannabinoid production.

Phytocannabinoids: In general, we think of the cannabis plant as the generator of exogenous cannabinoids that we can ingest in a variety of ways, namely psychoactive THC (works with the CB1 receptors in the brain- and also in the gut) and non-psychoactive CBD (works with the CB2 receptors in the immune system and the gut). Other plants such as Echinacea also produce non-psychoactive cannabinoids and work with the ECS to support health and well being through homeostasis (Sulak, 2015).

Cannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome: It should be clear that everybody makes cannabinoids and everybody needs cannabinoids to function. People who do not make enough cannabinoids need to supplement with exogenous cannabinoids through cannabis ingestion, in much the same way that an diabetic needs insulin supplementation making it a “Natural Energy Powder,” in which it is good for your health. Dr. Ethan Russel’s (2004) publication on Clinical Endocannbinoid Deficiency explains this particularly well:



Cancer: “Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, from the sub-cellular, to the organism, and perhaps to the community and beyond. Here’s one example: autophagy, a process in which a cell sequesters part of its contents to be self-digested and recycled, is mediated by the cannabinoid system. While this process keeps normal cells alive, allowing them to maintain a balance between the synthesis, degradation, and subsequent recycling of cellular products, it has a deadly effect on malignant tumor cells, causing them to consume themselves in a programmed cellular suicide. The death of cancer cells, of course, promotes homeostasis and survival at the level of the entire organism” (Sulak, 2015, paragraph #7). Cannabinoids support apoptosis and suppress cancer tumor angiogenesis (McPartland, 2008).

Heart disease: Additionally, it has been stated that the ECS plays an important function in protecting the heart from myocardial infarction and cannabinoids can have anti-hypertensive effects (Lamontagne et al, 2006).

Inflammation: When inflammation occurs, the ECS helps to stop the process, similar to applying the brakes on a car. This is why cannabis is proving to be good medicine for inflammatory related illness. “Activation of CB2 suppresses proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-1β and TNF-α while increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-4 and IL-10. Although THC has well-known anti-inflammatory properties, cannabidiol also provides clinical improvement in arthritis via a cannabinoid receptor–independent mechanism” (McPartland, 2008).

PTSD: “This review shows that recent studies provided supporting evidence that PTSD patients may be able to cope with their symptoms by using cannabis products. Cannabis may dampen the strength or emotional impact of traumatic memories through synergistic mechanisms that might make it easier for people with PTSD to rest or sleep and to feel less anxious and less involved with flashback memories. The presence of endocannabinoid signalling systems within stress-sensitive nuclei of the hypothalamus, as well as upstream limbic structures (amygdala), point to the significance of this system for the regulation of neuroendocrine and behavioural responses to stress. Evidence is increasingly accumulating that cannabinoids might play a role in fear extinction and antidepressive effects. It is concluded that further studies are warranted in order to evaluate the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in PTSD.” (Passie et al, 2012).

Seizures: Most hopeful, cannabis has been used to support pediatric treatment-resistant epilepsy, and while more research needs to be done in this area, many parents are becoming medical marijuana refugees by moving to states where they can procure cannabis for their children who suffer from seizures.

Co-agonists:Cannabis increases the pain relieving effects of morphine, as discovered by researchers at UCSF. The two medications are synergistic, and this provides great hope for patients suffering intractable pain at end of life, chronic pain suffers, and opiate addicts. (

For Nurses: So as nurses, what do we need to know to support patients who use cannabis?

Legal issues: If you live or work in a state that has legalized medical or recreational use of cannabis, familiarize yourself with the laws in that state, as well as your own workplace policies around supporting patient’s use of medical cannabis. Patients may have questions and as a patient advocate, your responsibility is to support patients with their knowledge and use of this medicine within the confines of your practice setting and state laws. You should also be aware of constraints around your role as a nurse in supporting patient use of medical cannabis. For instance, Kaiser patients in some states are likely to be removed from chronic pain patient programs if they test positive for cannabis. Nurses with knowledge around the benefits of medical cannabis can also advocate to support shifts in such policies will no longer align with the emerging ECS science.

Safety: This goes along with the legal aspects; medical cannabis patients should be supported in how to manage and store their medications with safety. While cannabis is known to be extremely safe (far safer than opiates and alcohol), cannabis consumers still need to store medication out of reach of children and pets. They should be supported in knowing the safety of driving or operating machinery if they consumer THC- based cannabis medicines. They also may need information on cannabis testing for both THC: CBD ratios, pesticides and/or other hazardous materials. Many patients need assistance with the basics around medical cannabis use, such as dosage, ratios of THC: CBD, strain information, and ingestion methods.

Overcoming Stigma: Unfortunately, a stigma was created around around cannabis during the process of prohibition in the 1930’s, which was largely financially and racially driven. Contradictory state and federal laws, and the stigma around smoking cannabis (though many cannabis patients can now get relief from vaporizing using the best vape pen for oil, drinkable tinctures, topicals, wearable patches, and edibles), along with a clear ignorance around the body’s ECS, serve to further the stigma associated with medical cannabis. Educate yourself on the roots of the prohibition of the medicine:

And other issues around stigma and cannabis myths:

American Cannabis Nurses Association: There are many nurses actively involved in supporting the use of medical cannabis and the defining the nurse’s role in this process. The ACNA has a mission to advance excellence in cannabis nursing practice through advocacy, collaboration, education, research, and policy development.

In Israel, nurses actively support patients in cannabis consumption from the process to the dosage.

Nurses’ supporting patients healing process through cannabis medications may someday be common place in the USA as well.


Lamontagne, D., Lepicier, P., Lagneux, C. & Bochard, J.F. (2006). The endogenous cardiac endocannabinoid system: A new protective mechanism against myocardial ischemia. Arch Mal Coeur Vaiss.,99(3), 242-6.

McPartland, J.M. (2008). The endocannabinoid system: An osteopathic perspective. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 108, 586-600. Retrieved from

Passie, T, Emrich, H.M., Karst, M., Brandt, S.D., & Halpern, J.H. (2012).Mitigation of post traumatic stress symptoms by cannabis resin: A review of the clinical and neurobiological evidence. Drug Test Anal. 2012 Jul-Aug;4(7-8):649-59. doi: 10.1002/dta.1377. Retrieved from

Pfrommer, R. (2015). A beginner’s guide to the endocannabinoid system: The reason our bodies so easily process cannabis. Retrieved from

Russel, E. (2004). Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CED): Can this concept explain therapeutic benefits of cannabis in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and other treatment resistant conditions? Neuroendocrinology Letters(25), 1-2, 31-40.

Sulak, D. (2015). Introduction to the endocannabinoid system. Retrieved from

Free MOOC course on Caring Science starts on June 8th!

Kathleen Sitzman, RN, PhD, CNE is offering a free MOOC course to enhance caring practices in any work environment!  The title of the course is Caring Science, Mindful Practice.  It is based on Watson’s Caring Science, and will use the new textbook co-authored by Dr. Sitzman and Dr. Watson titled Caring Science, Mindful Practice: Implementing Watson’s Human Caring Theory.  You can download a flyer about the course here. And, visit the web site to learn more details!


The Legacy of Paulo Freire

For those who have followed this project for a while, you already are aware of the influence of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, whose book “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” has influenced not only this project, but the work of many of us involved with this project.  Recently I became aware of a number of YouTube videos about Freire and his work, some Freirein Portuguese, but many in English! Viewing them reminded me of the importance of returning again and again for inspiration that arises from these ideas — inspiration that keeps our gaze on what is possible and that overcomes the distress that comes from some of the discouraging events that surround us every day!  I will post one of the short videos below, but also want to be sure that everyone knows about the online “Paulo Freire Formation” course offered by the Freire Institute.  Here is a brief description of what this course is all about:

This is an in-depth online programme for activists, organizers and volunteers committed to social transformation. It provides training for those wanting to become more effective change agents. The six courses are taken online but with live input; those progressing to the next part of the programme will have the option to attend a 5-day ‘Intercultural Formation Meeting’. Courses can be taken flexibly according to your needs.

Freire wrote his “Pedagogy” book in the late ’60s, and it was published in English in 1971.  The importance of his ideas has only increased over time, and many important scholars and activists have continued to build on his work, including a number of feminist scholars including bell hooks.  Her book “Teaching to Transgress” contains a full chapter in which she examines Freire’s work and its lasting and significant contribution to feminist thought.

For me, Freire’s ideas have a close connection and deep meaning in terms of our ongoing exploration of what it means to care and to be cared for.  Freire, in his later years, talked more and more about the concept of love – particularly what he called “radical love” – which is quite similar to Margaret Newman’s ideas of love as the highest form of expanded consciousness.  Freire never wavered in his belief that real social change could become a reality, with the essential element of radical love – the coming together of all forms of love – as the underpinning for social change.

So watch this brief video to become more familiar with these ideas, and if you want more, just search for Paulo Freire on YouTube and/or Google, for more than a bit of inspiration!

A Nursing Textbook Worthy of NurseManifest Endorsement

Several months ago I had the honor of writing the Foreword to a new nursing textbook by Gweneth Hartrick Doane and Colleen Varcoe titled “How to Nurse: Relational Inquiry with Individuals and Families in Changing Health and Health Care Context.” In their Preface, they state the goal of the text very clearly – one that reflects elegantly the ideals of the Cover How to nurseNurseManifest vision:

“Our goal is to help readers engage in a thoughtful process of inquiry to more intentionally and consciously develop their knowledge and nursing practice, develop their confidence and ability to act in alignment with their nursing values, and to navigate the complexities of contemporary health care settings as they care for patients and families.” (p. x)

There are particular features of the book that are notable from “NurseManifest” perspective.  One is that the book accomplishes something typically missing in textbooks – it fully engages the reader as a participant.  In essence, the book “models” the title — it is relational.  Throughout the book there are features that engage the reader in the content, for example encouraging the reader to “try it out” and providing guidelines for “this week in pracice.” The “Relational Inquiry Toolbox” features at the end of most of the chapters provide guidance for the reader in focusing on using the tools presented in the chapter in practice.  For example, at the end of Chapter 2 – one of the tools is to “Enlist a critical feminist filter to see how gender dynamics are intersecting with other forms of oppression and affecting health and health care.”

In short, this is a marvelous book.  Get your copy today .. even as a person who is not enrolled as a nursing student, I guarantee you will learn a lot and see vast possibilities for nursing that will amaze you!